After reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, I became addicted to thinking about Paris in the ‘20s. For Americans at the time, Paris was a city of freedom: the dollar was strong so living was cheap, and of course there was no prohibition in France so the wine still flowed like water. The Latin Quarter buzzed with artists and writers talking, writing and of course drinking in the cafes and brasseries on Boulevards Saint-Germain, Saint-Michel and Montparnasse.
Here are some important addresses that compose a little walk through Hemingway’s Paris. Come along with me:
74 rue Cardinal Lemoine
Take the line 10 metro to Cardinal Lemoine. Walk uphill on rue Cardinal Lemoine, and at number 74 on the left you will see a plaque with Hemingway’s name on it. He lived here with his first wife Hadley on the third floor (fourth American floor) from 1922-1923. At the time this was a working class area, and a dance hall occupied the ground floor. When Hemingway lived here there was no sewage system, the toilet was out on the landing, and coal bricks were brought up for heat and cooking. Rent was 60 dollars a month.
39 rue Descartes
Continue on to Place de la Contrescarpe, once the home of Café des Amateurs, which Hemingway describes as “the cesspool of the rue Mouffetard.” Today this is a charming area with leafy trees, cobblestone streets and bars and cafes circling the place. Make a right on rue Mouffetard which turns into rue Descartes. At number 39 at the top floor, Hemingway rented a room where he would go to write. Here he would light a fire to keep warm in the winter, eat tangerines and burn their peels.
Make a left on Rue Clovis just as Hemingway did after a day of writing and pass the majestic Pantheon and the renowned Sorbonne. This is the heart of the Latin Quarter. Students and teachers alike are dressed up in black, puffing on cigarettes, discussing their lovers or Proust in the same hushed voices. Admire the scenery until you reach boulevard St Michel. Hemingway used to walk north to Place Saint-Michel, where he would go to a café that unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. Here he would drink rum St. James and dine on oysters with white wine as he tells us in “A Good Café on the Place Saint-Michel” from A Moveable Feast.
12 rue de l’Odéon
Instead of walking up to Place Saint-Michel, take a left on Boulevard Saint-Germain. This area has become very commercial, so the FNAC and Sephora may prevent you from imagining the old days. Make a left on rue de l’Odéon. This street is quiet, with old book shops and designer clothing stores. At number 12 on the right is where Shakespeare and Company, the Anglophone bookstore run by Sylvia Beach, used to be located. Hemingway used to borrow books from the lending library here when he had no money: “On a cold windswept street, this was a 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.” A Moveable Feast, p. 35
Jardin de Luxembourg
Walk south on rue de l’Odeon until you reach the jardin de Luxembourg. Hemingway would often walk here to think or go to the museum where he was deeply influenced by Cezanne’s paintings. They taught him to write simple, true sentences. Walk west through the park or along rue de Vaugirard, as Hemingway did in order to avoid seeing cafes when he had no money for food.
27 rue de Fleurus
Make a left on rue d’Assas and then right on rue de Fleurus. At number 27 Gertrude Stein lived with Alice Toklas. Hemingway loved to stop by Gertrude’s for some raspberry liquor and to discuss her Picasso paintings. Stein introduced Hemingway to the bullfights in Spain and encouraged him to give up journalism to write full time for himself. She criticized much of his early work and helped him evolve as a writer before their falling out in 1926.
171 Boulevard Montparnasse
Head back the way you came to rue d’Assas and take a right. Follow the road all the way down to Boulevard Montparnasse. At 171 is the Closerie des Lilas, a Hemingway favorite:
“The Closerie des Lilas was the nearest good café when we lived in the flat over the sawmill at 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, and it was one of the first best cafés in Paris. It was warm inside in the winter and in the spring and fall it was very fine outside with the tables under the shade of the trees on the side where the statue of Marshal Ney was, and the square, regular tables under the big awnings along the boulevard.” A Moveable Feast, p. 81
Open since 1847, the Closerie des Lilas is much changed since the ‘20s and the menu, with its oysters and lobster, is quite a bit pricier. Wouldn’t it be nice to stop in for a pint here back when it only cost a few francs?
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway:
Hemingway’s Paris, A Moveable Feast. Google Maps:
Slow Travel in France, Hemingway’s Steps Through Paris:
© 2011 Pasa’s Paris