I had hoped to go to Paris this summer. I had planned to take the train from London after visiting a friend in England. I thought of it more or less as my swan song. Long before Florence took hold of me, Paris was the place I always loved most. But a few days before I was to leave, I caught a very bad cold and did not want to become seriously ill so far from home. So I cancelled the trip and instead read Hemingway memoir of his early writing days in Paris, A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition.
It was good to read the book again and frankly I can’t tell how or where it’s been restored nor am I interested in the reasons it was done. Hemingway takes you right into the mood of being in Paris, a Paris that I’m sure still exists and is what I had hoped to discover in my own time there.
He goes to the cafes a great deal--some to write, some to talk, and some to hide, and some to eat or drink. Everyone had their private cafes there where they never invited anyone and would go to work, or to read or to receive their mail. I can’t imagine writing much of anything in that terribly interesting and therefore distracting setting. But I can imagine talking. But with whom? I don’t know anyone in Paris. Does it matter?
He writes about the craft of writing and how he did it and how to do it better. I am sure that is one of the reasons I read it the first time and very definitely the most recently too.
Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about.
Work could cure almost anything. I believed then, and I believe it now.
To have come on all this new world of writing, with time to read in a city like Paris where there was a way of living well and working, no matter how poor you were, was like having a great treasure given to you.
…mot juste—the one and only correct word to use
How can a man write so badly, so unbelievably badly, and make you feel so deeply?
It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.
…Paris, the town best organized for a writer to write in that there is….
…how good a book is should be judged by the man who writes it by the excellence of the material that he eliminates.
And then he writes about what it felt like to be in Paris. These passages are among the most beautiful in the book.
The trees were beautiful without their leaves when you were reconciled to them, and the winter winds blew across the surfaces of the ponds and the fountains were blowing in the bright light.
Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold wintry light.
Paris was never to be the same again although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed.
There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were nor how it was changed nor with what difficulties nor what ease it could be reached. It was always worth it and we received a return for whatever we brought to it.
And Hemingway writes about the people he knew in Paris, the people who became his friends. He writes a great deal about Scott Fitzgerald and somewhat less about Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Beach. He had many friends and many others who he didn’t care for at all.
The only things that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.
Everybody has something wrong with them.
The last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again.
For the girl to deceive her friend was a terrible thing but it was my fault and blindness that this did not repel me. Having become involved in it and being in love I accepted all the blame for it myself and lived with the remorse.
And so I didn’t go to Paris this summer and I am not sure if there will ever be another chance. Instead, I will have to depend on Ernest Hemingway to take me there and back. There are advantages of that—no jet lag, no budget-busting expenses, no effort at all. Just a book and a comfortable chair.