Firstly, I would feel it was wrong to write some more on Paris and not mention Charlie Hebdo. I felt sick when I first saw the news – sick that I didn’t immediately know where my Parisian friends were and if they were okay. Sick that this violence, this small -mindedness, this terror, was happening in my Paris. The supermarket in Vincennes is about 100m from my good friend’s flat. It was difficult to take in, and in the aftermath you can’t help but wonder how this sort of thing can still happen. But you can take comfort from the fact that most of the world is thinking the same thing along with you – just look at Place de la République during the march. These terrorists hoped to cause fear and plunge Paris into silence, but Millions of people gathered not to be silent but to shout, sing, talk and unite. The gunmen may have managed to silence the artists, but their work and their voice is now known world-wide. Whether or not you condone or condemn the magazine’s work, be pleased that violence achieved nothing.
I stumbled by accident across a Hemingway quote at the time of the attacks, and thought how apt it was, and how strange that I would find it now. It reads as follows,
The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks,
the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues
make them vulnerable: they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.
Ernest Hemingway was not so much into sacrificing for his art…I feel it was more the women in his life that suffered the brunt of that. I’m pretty sure I would have made it my mission to marry him anyway. I love his obsession with finding the true essence of things, and of writing them exactly, and precisely, without unnecessary grandeur. Orwell wrote an essay in 1946 on the very subject, and gave rules to writers in order to avoid deliberately confusing language, which we probably would translate now simply by, ‘politicians’ speak.’ It would seem Hemingway was thinking along the same lines…he was a man that appreciated the simple things in life, provided they be split up with wild parties, adventure holidays and a good war every now and then. If you haven’t already, I beseech you, read ‘A Moveable feast,’ and you will see Hemingway at his most human, most sensitive and most vulnerable. The way he describes Paris tells you that he is in love with this city, and that he is in love in this city. His ode to Hadley, his first wife, aches with remorse, but most of the book is filled with his wonder at wandering the Parisian streets. He is the flaneur Baudelaire speaks of. And I would recommend you retrace some of his steps, to appreciate Paris for a day in the same, quiet way that he did. Let’s start at Shakespeare and Co.
It’s a funny little shop, situated on the left bank, just a stone’s throw from Notre Dame Cathedral. The name comes from a bookshop opened by Sylvia Beach, which was a haven to writers of the lost generation, such as Ezra Pound, and our man Hemingway. Sadly the shop closed during those dark year of the Occupation and never reopened. This copy-shop was opened in 1951 and renamed in Beach’s honour. The books are beautiful, with all the classics you could desire, along with a more modern, eclectic mix. Of course, it’s expensive…but at least go in for a browse…there’s something magical about the place despite all the tourists, and upstairs is still a place for writers to work, for readers to read, and for musical types to play the little piano. So take a little step back in time and start here.
Take a left out of the shop then a left again and follow the Rue Saint Jacques up the hill, and past the Sorbonne, until you hit Rue Soufflot, and take a left up it. There you will be faced with the magnificent sight of the Pantheon.
The Pantheon, originally a church built in honour of Saint Genevieve by Louis XV who thought he was dying (turned out to be syphilis – not surprising considering he enjoyed the company of about 100 mistresses). It’s now the resting place of the great men of the Nation (they’ve managed to squeeze in two women – bless em). Keep feeling that history, and walk round the left hand side, continuing briefly along Rue Clovis until you hit Rue Mouffetard. Now we’re in real Hemingway territory. He lived in the Place de la Contrescarpe, halfway down this cobbled street, said by some to be the oldest in Paris.
It’s a quiet, bustling place, filled with little boutiques, grocers, boulangeries, caves du vin, and cheap restaurants. If you’re hungry, either grab a crepe from one of the little windows, or if you want a real bistro experience, make your way all the way down rue Mouffetard until you reach a smaller place than that of Contrescarpe. Look for the unassuming resto with the brown awning, Cave la Bourgogne. This is the sort of place you could imagine Hemingway putting away the wine, and mopping up gravy with his pommes-sautées. Not only is the food delicious (recommend confit de canard, or la salade complète), but the atmosphere is great, the waiters friendly, and it’s one of the few places in Paris where I’d say it’s worth forking out the extra 2 euros for a café crème. Either read your book here or write some enlightened ramblings from your walk so far. I think a Hemingway tour passes through here in fact, as one time a couple at the next table started talking to me about it when they noticed me reading ‘A Moveable Feast’.
From one feast to another, finish whatever delicious thing you chose and make a little loop back towards the Jardins de Luxembourg, another favourite haunt of our beautiful man. If it’s nice enough weather there’ll be little boats disturbing the ducks in the pond, and maybe even a free concert in the band stand.
If you still have another 30 minutes of energy, exit round the far side of the museum and continue to Eglise Saint Sulpice, a tranquil refuge, often overlooked. Continue in the same direction and you’ll pass Pierre Durée (seller of the best, and most expensive macarons in Paris), and a host of high-end art and fashion boutiques, until you reach a large crossroads. To the right is Abbey Saint Germain, the oldest in Paris perhaps. To the left you have Café de Flore, a place where Sartre, de Beauvoir, Fitzgerald and Hemingway all went for un café, or something stronger. Be warned, the décor is still extravagant but the place has lost its charm. I reckon the Hemingway of Paris, who was at that stage of his life still down to earth and poor, would have avoided the current joint like the plague. But it’s up to you. I’d keep on walking straight to the Seine, in search of more adventure. If you have time in Paris, and don’t mind getting temporarily lost, I urge you to take at least half a day to just wander the city and see what you find. Don’t follow a guide book. Follow your heart. Follow Hemingway.