I’m an American. But you probably guessed that. Was it the Birkenstocks and knee socks? I’m also, at varying times, an American in Paris. That confers an obligation – I must follow in the path of Hemingway. So says Mike Zampa in his humorous wander in the footsteps of the great writer who lived in Paris from 1921-1928.
Americans from Lindberg to Louis Armstrong have left their mark on Paris. But none so much as Ernest Hemingway. Walk out of any hotel in Paris, you’re in Hemingway’s footsteps. There are Hemingway walking tours, restaurant tours, probably drunken tours, too.
He’s a cottage industry in the French capital. It’s not clear why. Benjamin Franklin spent more time here. Jerry Lewis got more laughs (can’t explain that one, either). But everyone wants to see where Hemingway ate/slept/philandered.
Hemingway wrote “A Moveable Feast”, his tale of life in Paris. I don’t like moveable feasts. You move, someone else sneaks the last piece of chicken. Nevertheless, I’m American. I must measure myself against America’s literary he-man. Here’s how we stack up:
Hemingway drove ambulances on the front lines in World War I. I didn’t.
Hemingway loved to fight. I had one at age 12. Got punched in the nose. He was the only kid in the entire sixth grade taking boxing lessons.
Hemingway was a prodigious carouser. I’m home at 8 waiting to pull warm socks from the drier for bedtime.
Hemingway wrote short, laser-sharp sentences. I Try. But. I. Can’t. Get. The. Hang. Of. It.
I personally find Hemingway humorless. I’m told we have that in common. Hemingway was disciplined, setting aside time to write thousands of words a day. Me, too, sort of. Every day after lunch I sit at the desk like Hemingway. I just can’t find the thousands of words. You could call it a dearth in the afternoon.
Hemingway was a starving artist in1920s Paris. So they say. According to myth, he hunted pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens for dinner.But his financial picture isn’t clear. There may have been family money from first wife Hadley. I hope so. I’m planning a Hemingway café stroll (a British pub crawl without darts). I can’t see how he afforded the places he went.
The tour starts at La Closerie Des Lilas, between the Luxembourg Gardens and the Paris Observatory. Leafy and quiet, it’s where Hemingway wrote away from fawning crowds. Legend says it’s also where Fitzgerald showed him the original Gatsby manuscript. Filet of Beef ‘Hemingway’ style costs 52 euros. The seafood platter is 115 euros. I don’t have shoes nice enough to get in there, much less the money.
Next, we go to what I call Paris’ Golden Triangle. In the U.S., that would be Arby’s, Red Lobster and IHOP. In Paris, it’s an intersection of Boulevard Saint Germain des Pres. On opposite corners are Café de Flore and Café Deux Magots. Across the boulevard is the Brasserie Lipp. Hemingway drank at the first two. He had potato salad and beer at the Brasserie.
Hemingway lived in Montparnasse. He’d stop at La Rotonde, La Coupole, Le Select. If Washington slept in as many places as Hemingway drank, he’d have missed the Revolution. And Times Square would be known as the Piccadilly Square Annex.
A must-stop on our crawl is 12 rue de l’Odeon. It’s the original site of the world famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. Proprietor Sylvia Beach published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” there. She also loaned books to Hemingway when he was too poor to buy them.
Our last stop is Polidor, a 180-year-old storefront restaurant near the Odeon Theatre. Hemingway ate cheaply there. He found literary inspiration there, too. We know this from recently discovered notes in the secret diary of Hemingway confidante Ezra Pound. Read the poet’s recollection of an historic Hemingway conversation at Polidor:
Waiter: What’ll you have?
Hemingway: Veal parmigiana.
Waiter: It’s off the menu.
Hemingway: Then, eggplant parmigiana.
Waiter: That’s off, too.
Hemingway: Say, what’s going on here?
Waiter: A farewell to parms.
Pound: Wait…Hem…where are you going?
Hemingway: To the park for pigeon. Then to call my publisher. I just got an idea.
Mike Zampa is a communications consultant and retired newspaper editor and columnist splitting time, along with his wife, between Southwest France and the San Francisco Bay Area.