I used to live next door to Ernest Hemingway in Paris.
It’s true – in a manner of speaking.
He rented rooms at 117 rue Notre Dame des Champs, above a saw mill, with his first wife, Hadley. I had an apartment at the top of No. 115, a six-story Art Deco wedding cake with a view that took in three-quarters of the city. The gold dome of the Pantheon straight ahead, the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides to the left, the chestnut trees of the Luxembourg Gardens below and nearly close enough to touch. I could even peer down into the glass-roofed ateliers that once housed various Montparnasse artists.
Of course, our paths never crossed. By the time I got there, all traces of the mill were gone. His apartment had been absorbed by the exclusive Ecole Alsacienne. The sound that filtered up to my balcony on warm spring mornings wasn’t the whine of band saws, but the greetings and laughter of school children.
But his spirit was everywhere, especially if one happens to be American.
I never tired of the city, tried never to take it for granted. Paris will ensure it is appreciated, as anyone who has ever been there knows. It took me three years to make a second visit to the Louvre – it was just across the river, and could always wait. But I still know the number of steps – 278 – from the front door of my apartment building to the bar at La Closerie des Lilas, where I, and Ernest, used to drink. We remember what’s important, and hold it close.
Hemingway was wrong about one big thing, though: Paris is no moveable feast. If you are fortunate enough to have ever lived there, even briefly, it will belong to you in a special way. But once you leave, something will always be missing. It can be loved, honored, romanticized, enshrined… but never replicated.
Of course, A Moveable Feast was never about Paris, as writer G.K. Dryansky once said. It was all about the man.
Pretty much like the observations here. They’re not all about Paris, but Paris, in no small part, inspired them.
Not a bad model to follow.
Introduction to Why French Women…, a personal memoir of Paris and beyond.