Just before leaving for my very first trip to Paris back in 1992, my French teacher told me to go and see the legendary bookstore “Shakespeare and Company”. That’s what I did, and since then I’ve had a bit of an obsession with the history of this legendary English bookstore and all of those who helped to give it a name in history.
Fast forward about twenty years, and my obsession is mainly focused on Ernest Hemingway and his life in Paris in the twenties. Of course, sometimes I deviate and become fascinated with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda, and Gertrude Stein just to name a few.
Like many others, my passion was renewed with the release of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. I first saw this movie in June, 2011, while in Paris. I heard that the movie was released in Paris before being released in the United States, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Anyway, I was traveling with a group of my students, and had dropped them off for some exploratory time at the Louvre. It was pouring down rain, and I didn’t have an umbrella. I knew it would be pointless to rush, so I strolled at a leisurely pace through the Tuilerie Gardens, beyond the Place de la Concorde, on up the Champs-Élysées, and right into a cinéma where I spent the next hour and a half or so falling in love with the Paris that had just seen me drenched to the bone. What a treat it was to walk out of the theater only to find that it was still raining.
Fast forward another two years, and I’m back in Paris. I had about ten days in the city by myself. On the one hand, it sounds like a dream for a working mom who spends the entire school year trying to keep up with a hectic schedule. On the other hand, after about day 4, Paris can get a bit lonely when you’re missing your husband and kids. I decided to take advantage of the time and do something just for me. I spent a few days scouring the Internet , trying to map out a personalized walking tour of Hemingway’s familiar haunts. I found a travel blog that was MOST helpful to me, and if you’re interested in knowing exactly where to go on a Hemingway walk, I strongly suggest you read it:
When I’d at last finalized my itinerary, I knew it would be a long walk that would take all day. What an adventure! I put on my not so comfortable walking shoes (had to look good, it’s Paris, after all), grabbed a book and my journal, and I started out from the 15th arrondissement where our studio apartment is located. I made my way, by foot, over to the Montparnasse district. I basically did the walk described on the SlowTravelFrance blog, except I did it in reverse because it was more practical for me. I started down the Boulevard du Montparnasse, walked past La Coupole, La Closerie des Lilas… Originally I had intended to stop at La Closerie des Lilas for an afternoon refreshment. It was one of Hemingway’s favorite writing (and undoubtedly drinking) spots. Also, I’m of the generation of Robert & Mireille in French in Action, and many of their rendez-vous took place in this café. My plans changed when I had a look at the menu prices. Thankfully they’re listed outside. Instead, I planted myself on the bench out front, drank my bottle of water, smoked a cigarette from the pack that cost me almost $10 USD, and chewed on a piece of Hollywood Chewing Gum that I’d bought at the Tabac.
Once I’d rested up a bit, I continued on to the Rue de Fleurus, and that’s where Gertrude Stein’s apartment can be found at #27. I was mainly reminded of scenes from Midnight in Paris when I got there. I was the only person on the street who was stopping to have a look, and I felt a bit strange because even though it was Gertrude Stein’s apartment, it’s somebody else’s apartment now! I was gazing up at one of the windows, and when I caught sight of someone gazing back at me, I embarrassedly scurried off toward the Jardin du Luxembourg.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon, and it was hot in Paris on that day. I was ready for a cold drink, so before entering the Jardin du Luxembourg, I stopped in a shoddy little café for a beer. I’m usually not a beer drinker, but it sure did taste good as I sat on the terrace of this dirty-ish café and wrote in my journal. I don’t remember the name of the place where I had my beer, but even though it was dirty and they only had a one Turkish unisex bathroom, I’d recommend it because I made a great memory for myself on my Hemingway Day all by myself in Paris.
Next I went into the Jardin du Luxembourg. I decided to sit and read for a while. I knew that Hemingway had spent a goodly amount of time here, and some of that time was caught catching pigeons to eat so that he, Hadley, and Bumby wouldn’t starve to death. I wonder if the pigeons of the twenties were the mutant pigeons of today? It was a gorgeous day, so I found a shady spot on the grass and laid down with my book. I was quickly distracted by an American couple who were so in love! What I appreciated so much about them, and why I watched them unabashedly for about fifteen straight minutes, was because they were in love in Paris! And they weren’t attractive. They were not very well-dressed, they were slightly over weight, but they were in full PDA mode, and it was beautiful. I don’t think they would have behaved like that in the US.
After the PDA and about a chapter of my book, I was ready to carry on. I headed up to the Boulevard St-Germain-des-Prés, had a look at the famous café les Deux Magots, continued on rue St-Sulpice, and finally down the rue de Vaugirard. I made my way along the Quai des Grands Augustins and perused the bouquinistes of which Hemingway was so fond. On to Shakespeare and Company where Sylvia Beach once loaned books, and even fed and housed Hemingway and his contemporaries from time to time. Sylvia Beach had to close shop after WWII, but it has since been reopened by one George Whitman, who carries on the tradition of caring for artists and writers alike.
I only had two more stops to make on my walking tour. I wanted to find Ernest and Hadley’s first apartment at 74 rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, and I wanted to also see the room Hemingway rented in a hotel nearby at 39 rue Descartes. I couldn’t find the former, even though I must have walked up and down the narrow street a dozen times. I wonder if it’s just not marked with the number 74?? However, I did find 39 rue Descartes, where Hemingway rented a room and tried to write. There is a small plaque on the wall that says (in English) that “Ernest Hemingway lived in this building from 1921-1925”, but it’s not true. That’s just where he went to work, or more likely to get away from family life with Hadley and Bumby. There’s a larger plaque on the wall that says (in French) that “Dans cette maison est mort le 8 janvier 1896 le poète Paul VERLAINE…” I wonder if Hemingway knew that when he took the room?
By this time, it was probably getting close to 7 pm. I was tired (in a good way) from walking all day, and was starting to get hungry. It would have been easy to have a seat in one of the many Latin Quarter cafés for a little something to eat and to people watch, but I opted to take the Métro back to the 15th. When I got back to my neighborhood, I stopped chez l’Arabe (the neighborhood convenient store) and picked up some pasta, Barilla sauce aux olives, shredded emmenthal cheese, and a bottle of wine. I went back to our 11th floor studio apartment, cooked my poet’s repast, and opened the window to the view you see in the picture below. That was a day well spent.