In May of 2010 I spent a week in Paris looking up some of the cafés, clubs, restaurants and residences that were frequented during the 1920’s and 1930’s by the American, English and French poets, writers and artists and in particular some of Hemingway’s Left Bank hangouts. I then wrote an essay for my friends on Facebook, most of whom had never been to Paris. It was more or less a personal account of my stay there and the places I found. The essay was accompanied by numerous photos. I intend, over the next few days, to post that essay, slightly revised, here along with some of the photos. Today I begin with a preface, which covers a bit of the background for the project. In subsequent posts, divided into four parts, I will first present various aspects of Parisian life and then visit the different locations, some of which still exist and others that have unfortunately completely disappeared. If you have been to Paris or are fortunate enough to live there, you will more than likely be familiar with the things that I relate here, but if you have never been to the City Of Light perhaps you will enjoy reading about and seeing some of the things that are off the normal tourist’s beaten path.
THE PARADOX OF PARIS – PREFACE
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
Ah yes, Paris, my marvelous muse and my hard mistress. What is it, living here in Europe, with so many wonders to see, that keeps me going back again and again to The City of Light? Paris has become my opium, whose sweet taste lingers in my mouth and whose visions vacillate in the nether regions of my consciousness. As many writers have observed, and it is really true, each visitor to Paris experiences a different Paris. And each time I return it is always a different Paris, yet the same one. A paradox that lies deep in the mystery of both my life and the soul and spirit of this unfathomable woman that is Paris. And as Oscar Wilde wrote, “Women are made to be loved, not understood.”
This trip to Paris in 2010 was my fifth in the past three years. Definitely not often enough, but then it is always a question of time and money isn’t it? As a child I had a couple of careening taxi rides across the city from one train station to another, and had stopped briefly, early on a rainy, fog shrouded August morning, on the way to Greece on my travels in 1979, but the first time I really spent a few days in Paris was in 1991 when I went with a girlfriend to see an exhibition at the Rodin Museum of Camille Claudel’s works of sculpture. That was just for three and a half days and, of course as first time tourists, we took in the typical sites, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Boulevard de Clichy, Boulevard de Rouchechouard and the like. It was a first small whiff of that Parisian perfume, the tantalizing fragrance that seeped deep into the recesses of the olfactory crevices of my inspiration, but then I ate the poison apple of daily routine and went into a deep, long sleep. Ah, but many years later there appeared a beautiful Princess who kissed me and I awakened.
Due to the circumstances of my archaeological work, the gradual decline of my parents’ health and their eventual passing, it wasn’t until February of 2007 that I was able to return, this time with a different girlfriend, that Princess who awakened me. She was an experienced visitor to the city, and thus gave me an insider’s initiation into some aspects of the allure of that mysterious mistress. Paris always sucks me in like the vortex of a black hole. And when she spits me out on the other side somewhere, I’m never the same but always enriched. We were to go there three more times together before circumstances re-arranged our lives and sent us in different directions. This excursion in 2010 was my first solo sojourn to the city, the occasion being the non-celebration of my 60th, a short getaway to relax and write and walk once again in the footsteps of some of Paris’s literary ghosts.
After that first visit in February 2007, during which with her expert guidance I concentrated on learning the layout of the city and finding my way about, on each of the other visits (November 2007, April 2008, December 2008/January 2009) I tried to concentrate on a particular American, English and French literary period that took place in Paris within the time realm of approximately 1900 to 1960. This encompasses the beginning of the Modernist movement in the years before, during and to the end of World War I, the Lost Generation period of the 1920’s and 30’s, the Occupation of Paris during World War II, the era of the Existentialists from 1946 to the 1960’s and later the American Beat Poets from 1957 to 1963. Through the centuries Paris has always been both a refuge for art, music and literary exiles and a center of international artistic creativity and intellectual endeavor. And one of the most interesting of these epochs was the one that occurred from 1900 until 1939. Unfortunately I cannot take the time here to detail the many different movements that were born in The City of Light and influenced art, poetry, literature, theater, music, fashion and philosophy worldwide, but I can suggest that the interested individual take advantage of the literally thousands of excellent books written about Paris that deal with these periods. What I find truly incredible is the role Paris has played throughout history in the development of the human experience. The great cities of the world, London, New York, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Amsterdam, Moscow and numerous others have all seen their moments of creative influence come and go and sometimes return, but Paris is, in that aspect, eternal. The Muse never abandons Paris. Since it was first founded, centuries ago, the influence of Paris on art and creativity has never ceased. Paris encompasses a spirit that is truly without equal and one that has yet to be extinguished. And no one can really define it. No one knows what it is, understands why it is or how it works. But it does. The paradox again
As I have stated, my agenda on this trip was to combine some writing and relaxing with visits to some of, among others, Hemingway’s haunts and the places in which he lived while in Paris. The time he spent there in the early twenties had an amazing influence in the development of his style and in the formulation of his later success. Though I am no fanatical fan of Hemingway, it is interesting to see what effect living in Paris had on his early writing and, for that fact, the writing of the many other “exiles” who lived there in the decades between the wars. There is a lot of Paris in Hemingway’s early work.
TO BE CONTINUED
Relaxing with a glass of tea at the Mosque in Paris in July 2013.
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