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looking for hemingway’s paris and the génération perdue, part 1

When a young mechanic failed to repair the car quickly enough, the garage owner shouted at the boy, “You are all a “génération perdue.”  Stein, in telling Hemingway the story, added, “That is what you are. That’s what you all are. . . .all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

I was 23 years old and single when I went to Paris for the first time.  Ernest Hemingway was 22 years old and married to Hadley Richardson.  They arrived in Paris in 1921 not quite 100 years ago; I arrived in 1971 not quite 50 years ago.  I carried with me a copy of A Moveable Feast.

Recently,  I thought I might retrace my steps of 50 yers ago.  I went looking for the Hemingway who had lived for 7 years in the 1920’s in Paris.

When I arrived in Paris that first time, I rented a room in a Balzac-like pension, think Père Goriot, which exists still at the corner of rue Vavin and rue d’Assas in the 6e arrondissement.  I felt lucky: an apartment where Hemingway had lived was around the corner and down rue d’Assas and to the left on rue Fleurus I could look at the entrance to the building where Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas had lived and directly across the street of the pension was one of the entrances to the Jardin du Luxembourg and certainly one that Hemingway had often used.

Ernest Hemingway and Hadley spent their first night in Paris together at the Hotel d’Angleterre, in room 14.  Ernest returned to the hotel many times after. The hotel still stands, and still allows guests to stay in room 14.

Hemingway and his wife Hadley stayed their first night in Paris at the Hôtel d’Angleterre at 44, rue Jacob.  It is now a 3 star hotel and room #14, une chambre superieure, where they stayed, is offered today for 310 € a night.  During a walk along rue Jacob, one can see where Colette lived (28, rue Jacob) and Wagner lived (14, rue Jacob) and further along and into the court on rue de Furstemberg one can visit the residence and studio of Delacroix, which is now the Musée national Eugène Delacroix.

“He [Hemingway] sat in front of Gertrude Stein and listened and looked. They talked then, and more and more, a great deal together. He asked her to come and spend an evening in their apartment and look at his work. Hemingway had then and has always a very good instinct for finding apartments in strange but pleasing localities and good femmes de ménage and good food.”  —Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

The Hemingways moved to the rue Mouffetard area and into their first apartment at 74, rue Cardinal Lemoine.  Finding it hard to write there, he rented a studio as well around the corner at 39, rue Descartes.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

I thought I would go down and buy a morning racing paper. There was no quarter too poor to have at least one copy of a racing paper but you had to buy it early on a day like this. I found one in the rue Descartes at the corner of the Place Contrescarpe. The goats were going down the rue Descartes and I breathed the air in and walked back fast to climb the stairs and get my work done.  —Ernest Hemingway,  A Moveable Feast.

La Maison the Verlaine is a small restaurant at 39, rue Descartes.  From the photograph it does not look promising, but it is one of my favorite places to eat in the area.  If the pictures of celebrities on the interior walls attest to its popularity, I am not the only one who finds the meals worth repeated visits.  They serve simple traditional French cuisine and will assure you that their meals are made with fresh products.

In addition, the French poet Paul Verlaine died in the building on January 8, 1896 at the age of 51.  Hemingway knew of the death in the building, an hotel at the turn of the 19th century, where he had his writing studio on the top floor.

Around the corner from their apartment on rue Cardinal Lemoine is the Place de la Contrescarpe.  It is surrounded today by modest brasseries and cafés.  Tourists will gather here or at the market at the base of Mouffetard and faire une pause.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The taxi went up the hill, passed the lighted square, then on into the dark, still climbing, then leveled out onto a dark street behind St. Etienne du Mont, went smoothly down the asphalt, passed the trees and the standing bus at the Place de la Contrescarpe, then turned onto the cobbles of the Rue Mouffetard. There were lighted bars and late open shops on each side of the street.  —Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.

If I could somehow enter Mr Peabody’s Wayback Machine and be transported back to Paris, 1919 and enter the recently opened Shakespeare and Company, I would ingratiate myself as much as I could with Sylvia Beach,  the owner.  I would already know, of course, who she was and what influence she would have.  I would sit quietly in a corner and read all day, waiting like the books on the shelves.  I could then peak over the top of my book and watch the patrons come and go, the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, TS Eliot, James Joyce, André Gide, Paul Valéry, Jules Romains, Ezra PoundGertrude SteinGeorge AntheilDjuna BarnesMina Loy, Man Ray, Gide, Claudel, Henri Michaux, Nabokov.  Think Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Sylvia Beach had two bookstores.  She opened the first one at 8, rue Dupuyrten in 1919.  It was there she met James Joyce and began her collaboration with him to publish Ulysses.  The store front still exists today, more or less.  In 1921 she moved Shakespeare and Company to a nearby street.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The next Shakespeare and Company was at 12, rue de l’Odéon.  Sylvia Beach kept it open until 1941 when she had to close it.  That store front, unlike the first one, does not exist today.  A plaque on the wall between two windows says: “En 1922, dans cette maison Melle Sylvia Beach publia ‘Uysses’ de James Joyce.”  Translated it says, “In 1922, in this building Miss Sylvia Beach published James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’.”  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

In those days there was no money to buy books. Books you borrowed from the rental library of Shakespeare and Company, which was the library and bookstore of Sylvia Beach at 12 rue de l’Odéon. On a cold windswept street, this was a lovely, warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive.  —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

Ernest Hemingway was living at the rue Cardinal Lemoine address when he walked shyly into Shakespeare and Company for the first time.  He joined her lending library, and borrowed books by Turgenev, DH Lawrence, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky.

And we’re going to have all the books in the world to read and when we go on trips we can take them.” “Would that be honest?” “Sure.” “Does she have Henry James too?” “Sure.” “My,” she said. “We’re lucky that you found the place.” “We’re always lucky,” I said and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on too.  –Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

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