Pages from Paris
“How different it was when you were there.”
— Ernest Hemingway, about Paris
Our plane took off from Charles de Gaulle airport. My 10-hour flight began, and so did my 10-hour movie marathon.
First in line was Wonder Woman. I nearly jumped in my seat when I saw the Louvre in the opening scene. Hey, I was just there, I thought to myself, delighted, with a tinge of sadness about having to leave that city that was my home for the last 8 days.
In my 39 years of existence, it was my first trip to Paris. I spent all 8 days in Paris, enjoying the city as though I lived there. I was visiting friends and they let me stay with them, so I got to do everyday things like eat their home-cooked food, ride buses and trains, buy stuff at the grocery (and try that cool orange juice-squeezing machine), visit shops and restaurants, have coffee and hot chocolate, and walk in the freezing November air. And that’s how I made an acquaintance with the city and experienced the strange becoming familiar, one street at a time. By the time I left, it was no longer Paris; it was Paris.
One of the things I brought home from the trip was A Moveable Feast, a paperback I purchased from Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore on Rue de la Bûcherie.
It seemed unthinkable to leave without a Hemingway book. Hemingway was featured in many of the bookstore’s memorabilia and wall displays.
So it came home with me to Manila and sat on my shelf for months until I picked it up as my book of the week.
And on page 35, I think I did jump in my seat when I saw that Hemingway mentioned Shakespeare and Company in A Moveable Feast.
Here is page 35:
Today, Shakespeare and Company (not the same location though as the 12 rue de l’Odeon mentioned in the book) is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of both new and second-hand books. On the second floor are some exhibits and displays, with some descriptions about the place, stories about famous writers who frequented Sylvia Beach’s library — Hemingway and James Joyce were among them.
“Paris is a Moveable Feast”, Hemingway is quoted as saying. The book is nonfiction, and the events in the book take place when Hemingway was a young writer.
Hemingway talks about visiting Gertrude Stein in her studio, times spent with Ezra Pound, who he describes as such a kind man, and his travels with F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby.
The stories share what it was like to be a writer in the 1920s, and part of the so-called “Lost Generation.” In the chapter called Une Génération Perdue, Hemingway narrates:
“That’s what you are. That’s what you all are,” Miss Stein said. “All of you young people who served in the ware. You are a lost generation.”
“You are,” she insisted. You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death…”
A Moveable Feast shares a glimpse of the literary culture in the 1920s-of young writers being drunk, hungry, and happy.
Hunger was Good Discipline, Hemingway entitles a chapter, and it begins: “You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. “
Then he says the best places to go when hungry are through the paths where you don’t smell any food and into the museums.
“There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry.”
Hemingway had to skip meals because he had little money for food. He sometimes went to the races to bet on horses and earned more money to spend on food and wine and travel.
“There is no money coming in since I quit journalism,” he said in a later passage.
That suffering state of an artist who left a well-paying job to write stories is so familiar even today. The experiences of Hemingway in the 1920s shares that same tug-of-war we know today, between livelihood and what can perhaps best be described as what one must do.
And it is for those who do what they must, that places like Paris come alive. Where you can be hungry yet filled with passion, and so poor yet so alive.
They were the lost generation but Paris is where they always found themselves.
“We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached.”
This character of Paris is the most recognizable, I’d like to believe — it is always home to art and love of life.
“Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”
It feels like I brought back more than an old book. I brought pages of Paris, and in the short week of reading it, felt a nostaligic spark of that air in Paris — that love for life, a familiar sensation, maybe a little taste, of that moveable feast.