“Paris et une fete” Hemingway.
My mother and I are sitting at a table for two in La Closerie des Lilas where Hemingway wrote “The Sun Also Rises”.
Next to us is a young Canadian couple who have just become engaged and are keen to share the joy, even with strangers. Perhaps especially with strangers!
They are a particularly attractive couple, bright and intelligent and plugged into a future I can only hope comes to pass. She is a climate change expert, savvy, optimistic, switched-on and wise beyond her tender years. She assures me she will work hard to save the planet and if anyone can, she can. I sense in her not only tireless energy but also that fearless determination that comes with being right! He is a professor of philosophy with an ambition to write a great work of fiction, preferably Sci-Fi based with an alternate world of human expats on another planet. I meant to ask him if they are visionaries or convicts, either way, I hope they get it right in his imaginary world.
I have already discovered the plaque for Hemingway, not at a table as I expected, but perhaps more predictably at the bar! I conclude Ernest wasn’t drinking a bottomless cup of coffee as he penned/scrawled The Sun Also Rises!
In front of the young professor is another plaque claiming the patronage of Paul Eluard, Andre Gide, Jean Giraudoux and Romain Rollaud. None of us knows who Romain Rollaud was. Googling him later I discover his quote; “Most men are essentially dead by thirty” and I must admit to being impressed by his foresight, for indeed too many men do seem to feel exhausted and disillusioned by thirty if success, that panacea, hasn’t prolonged their resolve. I wonder if women scored an extra decade before disillusionment set in? Or do we pre-empt the inevitable demise when we breed?
But back to Hemingway and our charming young couple. I must admit I am not a fan of Hemingway. I am a fan of language and in my opinion he massacred language. The professor has a copy of both “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Movable Feast” by Hemingway in his backpack and at this point he takes both books out and places them on the table.
“Of course he can’t write for shit,” he says eloquently.
His fiancé opens startled dark eyes. “So why am I supposed to read them?”
A fair enough question, I think.
“Because he opened up pathways for better writers to relax their language,” he explains. “He should be read as an intellectual exercise.” He pauses because his fiancé looks unconvinced. “Regard him as the curve in the literary road.”
“A detour,” she says.
They are so much in love this banter barely makes a dent and he turns to me. “What do you think of Hemingway?”
“I adore F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
‘Enough said.” He smiles. “What a writer he was. The best.”
She shakes her head. “So, why am I not reading F. Scott Fitzgerald?”
‘He’s next,” he says, gazing at her with a look that amounts to worship.
I feel suddenly very old and tired and sad that I won’t get to see the world she cleans up and he creates. They ask me if I like music and feeling sure they would probably love wrap I tell them I’m too old to appreciate the music they would like. He tells me I am talking rubbish, that age means nothing in the scheme of things and she repeats the question.
“Well,” I begin hesitantly, “my favourite composer is Beethoven and I adore Gershwin, Sondheim and Brel. Oh, and Cat Stevens.”
“Do you like Led Zeppelin?” she asks.
‘Of course! Stairway to Heaven is the best rock song ever.”
‘Isn’t it though?” She laughs and sings a few bars and I am filled with a sense of gratitude and relief. Maybe the world hasn’t passed me by after all.
A few wines later, yes we’d progressed from coffee to wine, and they ask me what I do. I tell them I’m a writer and express the wish that my name could be immortalised on a plaque at this very table. Three wines will do that! He googles me and discovers that my books have been published and my show featuring songs from three of my musicals is going on in London in September 2019 and he tells his fiancé that I am famous and they must remember this day forever because they sat next to me!
Suddenly I feel as if my life story has found a perfect arc.
An hour or so later, I watch them walk away, half-wishing I could follow them and start my life over in their wake. I trust them to make the difference my generation have failed to make. I trust them to fix the problems my parents’ generation set in motion. I trust them to raise enlightened children. I project far too many expectations on them as I shrink my own expectations down to my name on a plaque in La Closerie Des Lilas and my mortality down to one immortal book, Catch the Moon, Mary and another charming tome, Fields of Grace.
That night in our apartment in Montmartre I am thinking about Hemingway again and wondering why he killed himself at the height of his fame and it makes me shudder to think that maybe fame doesn’t deliver on its promises.
Feeling morbid I spend the next few days looking for myself in Paris. Everywhere I see monuments reaching for the stars and the sun and glory and a God the French intuited as benign and cultured. The traffic is alarming and the press of people suffocating. Temporary tourists posed against timeless monuments look like stains on the culture and indifferent locals going about their routine business invalidate their own history by never looking up and all around us like a silent storm, the homeless hover in the shadows, soiled blankets wrapped around them and Styrofoam begging cups tinkling with a few tossed coins, hopefully enough to buy whatever comfort they need to get through another lonely night. I drop coins into every cup I can and make eye contact where possible. For now, it’s all I can do to make a difference. My books can’t reach them and so my smile must suffice.
Evening falls late, around 10pm, and I am thinking about gold horses and towering monuments, sad-eyed beggars and a dazzling young Canadian couple who are burdened with changing the world and suddenly I know who I am. I am my words and I have a gift that should never be squandered on cheap literature or deviations from the path. Cheap literature lacking moment does not feed the soul or make a footprint on the earth. A writer who does not put her soul on the page has no business writing. And suddenly I see Hemingway in a more generous light. The man put his battered, animus-withered soul on the page and there he hoped to make restitution and find mercy.
Later that night I remember Hemingway committed suicide not long after he won the Nobel Prize and it puzzles me. Did he finally regret his pruning back of words? Did he finally realise he was no F. Scott Fitzgerald? Did he lament never knowing the joy of marrying Art with Craft and creating beauty? It’s all around you in Paris; this marriage of Art and Function. A bridge is not just for crossing a river, it’s a canvas for Art. A building is not just for housing people or industry, it’s a palette for flowers and murals and carvings. Isn’t that why Hemingway went to Paris? To find the words?
Back in Idaho in 1961 did he finally realise he missed everything Paris has to offer?
Maybe. But one thing is for sure, Paris has claimed Hemingway. He haunts the cafes in a way that Fitzgerald and Gide do not and I wonder if it’s because he’s still looking for the words he never found.
And my words have flown free of me now, forever bannering my soul and one day, hopefully finding a plaque in Paris where young visionaries will trace my name and murmur, “She loved Paris, too.”
CATCH THE MOON, MARY the story of a musical genius who attracts the attention of a desperate fallen angel amazon.com/dp/1700193538……… FIELDS OF GRACE bittersweet romance set in 30s London’s glittering theatreland bit.ly/WWFOG
Paris ete une fete.