We’ll Always Have Paris

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

I am the most fortunate of persons: I have traveled to Paris on multiple trips. When I was studying French in college, I didn’t bother to learn the personal pronoun versions (tu, toi) of vous as I was quite sure that I would never know anyone that well in France. Now I find that my halting French at least gets me out of the starting gate. I can order sardines in a markets, like the charming Marche des Enfants Rouges–so named as it inhabits a former orphanage where the children where required to wear red.

In previous posts on Paris and France, I’ve covered several titles. A new one to me is the very popular The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, about a sad man who has mourned a broken love affair for 20 years. I’m grateful to my friend Andy for treating me to this novel. He calls himself a “literary apothecary,” and has an uncanny ability to pair books with readers to help them mend. When he finally reads his lover’s letter after two decades, Monsieur Perdu (appropriately lost in French) cuts loose his boat-based bookstore on the Seine and proceeds by waterway to the south of France to find out what happened to his love.

Along the way, he passes through some of my favorite countryside, the Luberon and coastal village, Cassis. It is a charming, four-hankie kind of read.

I also picked up Hemingway’s nostalgic A Moveable Feast (1961), in which he looks back on his time in Paris.

It was a lovely guidebook to his haunts: walks in the Luxembourg Gardens; drinks and writing at Les Deux Magots; his residences in the 5th arrondissement near Monde L’Arabe and the ancient Roman amphitheater, in Arenes de Lutece (39 rue Descartes and 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine). According to my dissertation advisor, Dr. Dorys C. Grover, the story about a hungry Hemingway hunting pigeons in Luxembourg Gardens and hiding them in the baby carriage is apocryphal. I trust her.

It was a return to a writer whom I’d admired greatly when in junior high through college—perhaps not so much now. The novel The Paris Wife from Hadley’s point of view was enlightening, and I reported on it during an earlier sojourn in the City of Lights. I also stopped by Shakespeare and Company, the groundbreaking bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach. She loaned books to Hemingway and other authors. He returned his; apparently Henry Miller did not.

Yet another novel to consider set in this time period is Francine Prose’s Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 (2014), which was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Although overpopulated with characters, none of which is sympathetic to the end of the narrative, the book offers insight into alternative lifestyles in Paris pre-World War II and the disastrous circumstances of France’s cooperation with the Nazis. It also includes vignettes of real people such as Josephine Baker and characters that mirror actual people such as Henry Miller.

In addition, I read a couple of American expatriate memoirs—women who had fallen in love and remained in the country. French Toast by Harriet Welty Rochefort was just okay while the more recent Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard was more satisfying, if also a bit more narcissistic.

Although not fiction, David Leibovitz’s L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, is anticipated, due out this fall. I’m a big fan of his The Sweet Life, essays about moving to Paris.

Having visited Paris before, we now seek the out-of-the-way experience: the Musee des Arts Forains (a delightful 3-hour experience of historic carnival/carousels in the Bercy area); a walk on the Promenade Plantee (think NYC’s Highline Trail); the little known Musee Trente (artwork from the 1930s); biking on the newly-pedestrianized highway by the Seine using the bike-sharing Velib service; an after hours concert in Notre Dame.

No matter how many times we visit the home of the Eiffel Tower, we never run out of activities or books to read.










Hemingway, Browning, and Stark in Italy

“One can only really travel if one lets oneself go and takes what everyplace brings. . . . I suppose that is the difference between travel and tourism.”
–Freya Stark
About a 90 minute drive north of Venice lies a plain that fronts the pre-Alps, highlighted by Monte Grappa and the towns beneath it, particularly the enchanting Bassano del Grappa, known for its walled city and medieval wooden bridge.

The TV1 Trail offers a panoramic route from the Grappa. Early on the path, the massive Cima Grappa Ossuary or mausoleum stands out. At the conclusion of the war, the various temporary graves on Mount Grappa were emptied, and the remains interred in this single monumental shrine that contains the remains of almost 23,000 soldiers—20,000 of them unknown. When we hiked the Valle San Liberale, we saw remnants of the war: caves that provided refuge from gas attacks, aqueducts that held water that had to be carted up the steep mountainside by donkey to the soldiers, who held back the Austro-Hungarian soldiers—somewhat.


Bassano is home, unlikely as it may seem, to the Hemingway Museum, and the timing of this visit at the centenary of the Great War seems a good opportunity to revisit his classic A Farewell to Arms, which was reissued recently in a beautiful edition that includes the dozens of draft endings. Most folks know the story of how Hemingway at 18 volunteered as an ambulance driver and served in Italy. He saw the disastrous defeat of the Italian army at Caporetto, in which 40,000 soldiers perished and over 250,000 were taken prisoner by the German army. He was also wounded and fell in love with his nurse, which formed the basis for the narrative in his novel.
Today, the hilltop towns seem calm and serene. Asolo is capped by Rocca, a 13th century stronghold accessed by a steep climb past charming flower-bedecked stone buildings. img_5790Off the main square, the homes of actress Eleanor Duse, poet Robert Browning, and travel writer Freya Stark can be found.

Duse was a contemporary of the fabulous Sarah Bernhardt and her rival; the play Ladies of the Camellias, which I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival some years ago, speculates that the two leading ladies were playing the role of Camille in competing, adjacent theatres. Robert Browning was so taken with Asolo that he titled one of his poems, Asolando. The amazing travel writer, legendary for outings in the Arabian desert, Freya Stark, died in Asolo at the age of 100 (1893-1993); both she and Duse are buried in the St. Anna cemetery.
We had seen a part of Asolo while on a trip to Florida a few years prior; the historic 18th century theatre of the town had been disassembled and reinstalled in Sarasota in the 1950s in the Ringling Brothers museum complex and today hosts a vibrant repertory schedule.
Books that might provide good reading for this part of Italy include Hemingway, of course, plus Virginia Woolf’s portrait of the Brownings through the eyes of Elizabeth’s dog, Flush. A biography of Stark, Passionate Nomad or Stark’s own volumes of travel, Alexander’s Path or the intriguing Valley of the Assassins, reveals an astounding personality who found a home in Italy thanks to the generosity of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s son, Pen, who owned three houses in the rewarding village of Asolo.

Hemingway in Cuba Reads

I’m keeping this list from The Thread (Minnesota Public Radio) for when I visit Cuba.

Kerri Miller’s Must-Reads: The Hemingway in Cuba Reading List

House I’m about to embark on a journey to Cuba with a posse of other curious, adventure-seeking radio listeners. I think of it as a traveling book club.

(I’m not sure how Ernest Hemingway, who spent a lot of time on the island, would have felt about the trip — apparently he wasn’t a big fan of traveling with new friends. He warned, “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”)

Even if you can’t tag along, books are always a marvelous way to travel. Here’s my reading list for the trip. Every one of these books will give you new insights about the legendary writer and a place that many Americans are only now able to explore.

Hemingway’s Boat
by Paul Hendrickson
Buy this book

This unconventional biography is filled with “sentiment and speculation,” according to The New York Times.

Influencing Hemingway
by Nancy Sindelar
Buy this book

This is also a unique biography about the places and the people that shaped Hemingway’s writing. It’s interesting to discover how much of the geographical detail in places like Italy and Cuba ended up in his fiction.

The Old Man and the Sea
by Ernest Hemingway
Buy this book

The quintessential novel draws on Hemingway’s appreciation for Cuba. The story goes that Hemingway was out fishing when news that he had won the Pulitzer Prize was sent over the ship’s radio.

Mrs. Hemingway
by Naomi Wood
Buy this book

This is a fun and well-researched novel about the various women Hemingway somehow persuaded to marry him. The scenes that take place in Cuba are delightfully evocative, and Wood’s writing is charming.


Barcelona Books

4Catssign 4Cats IMG_2982Hemingway and Picasso hung out at Quatre Gats (4 Cats) on atmospheric Mont Sio, one of the narrow pedestrian streets that defines the Gothic quarter in Barcelona. Picasso’s drawing for the menu of the restaurant is unrecognizable from those who know his avant-garde work. His first exhibition took place in February, 1900 at the 4 Cats. Early works depicting his intereBoteroGatost in the human figure and portraiture is on display at the excellent Picasso Museum.

Yet another cat to seek: Botero’s oversize Gato.

londonBarA popular hangout for the literary crowd—Hemingway, Orwell–was the London Bar at Carrer Nou de la Rambla, just across the street from an early Gaudi work, the Palau Güell (1886–88). Where didn’t Hemingway imbibe?

Barcelona is a paradise for architecture. Gaudi is rightly famous for his fantastical, nature inspired buildings, including the still-being-built Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera (1906–1910), and, my personal favorite, the Casa Batlló.


La Pedrera


Sagrada Familia and its Stained Glass




Another not-to-be-missed architect is Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whose Hospital de Sant Pau and Palau de la Música Catalana are both stunning. The former is accessible by walking the lovely Gaudi Avenue from the Sagrada Familia. The latter is somewhat hidden near the Gothic Quarter but worth finding; even better, attend a performance in the enchanting hall, filled with light from its stained glass ceiling.






All of these buildings have features that look like the late 19th-early 20th century architects could have been high on speed. Colored broken tiles decorate rooftop vents and sculptures, such as the lizard at Park Guell.ParkGuell



MiespavilonFor an entirely different architectural experience, visit the Barcelona Pavilion by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—one of the most influential buildings of the last century. Designed for the 1929 International Exhibition and then rebuilt in the 1980s, its simple lines are enticing after the whirl and swirl of Gaudi. Or, check out the Roman columns of an ancient forum found by venturing into a lovely courtyard. RomanColumns

What to read in a city filled with such extraordinary sights? The UK’s The Guardian provides a good starting point with its “Top Ten Books Set in Barcelona”: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/jun/08/top-10-books-barcelona-burgess. I read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s marvelous The Shadow of the Wind (2001) some years ago. Quatre Gats is one setting featured in the novel. Who can resist the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” in this literary thriller? From this list, I picked out a detective novel, The Angst-Ridden Executive. I’m not sure I’ll read the other 21 titles in the series, but José “Pepe” Carvalho, not only a detective but also a gourmet chef, provides walkers of Barcelona’s streets with familiar signposts such as La Rambla, a popular, tourist-filled boulevard.

The Guardian also provides a helpful list of “literary haunts”: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/jun/08/top-10-literary-haunts-barcelona.

I find it helpful when seeking RoadWorks to browse the shelves of the shops at landmark sites. The store at Gaudi’s La Pedrera offered these titles: The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones; Victus: The Fall of Barcelona by Albert Sanchez Pinoi; The Time in Between by Maria Duenas; The Angel’s Game, also by Zafon. Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones, reminiscent of Pillars of the Earth, describes the building of the Santa Maria del Mar Church, not far from the Picasso Museum.

The most enjoyable novel I read while in Barcelona was not on any of these lists: Love in Small Letters by Francesc Miralles. Those familiar with The Rosie Project may see similarities in this charming novel about an academic—a professor of German language and literature—who fears that he will be found dead in his apartment some years after the fact as he leads a lonely existence. The “Butterfly Effect” changes his life on New Year’s Day when a cat scratches at his door, and he succumbs to giving it a saucer of milk. How one small incident can lead to a transformation in an individual’s life is the plot of this funny and charming book. Follow Samuel through the streets of Barcelona, If you’ve been to Museum of Modernism (Art Nouveau), Balmes Avenue will be immediately recognizable. Miralles’ book provides a light and airy alternative to the more typical darker literature of the city.

BarcelonaCathedralgothicbridgeWalking in the same streets as authors and characters is always fun, recognizing places from the narrative, like a medieval bridge joining two buildings near the Cathedral. In Barcelona particularly, good places to eat are also easy to find, like a lovely cheese shop that offers a delightful cheese tasting for lunch: Formatgeria La Seu. Onofre Wine Shop and Deli is yet another delectable option. IMG_2960

Delicious reads. Delicious sights. Delicious eats. Barcelona truly is a spectacular city.


The Paris Wife: Hadley Hemingway

In my first trip to the City of Lights in 1989, my friends and I put on the dog one evening to dine at Le Dôme Café; not only is it a famous restaurant, but it was a literary pilgrimage for us: to eat where Hemingway had dined in Paris (along with a remarkable set of other writers and artists!).  I began reading such works as The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls in junior high as they were so accessible, so direct in prose style. As an adult, I’m much more aware of what a difficult personality Hemingway could be, but I continue to admire his writing.

Cover of The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife, the recent novel by Paula McLain, was a natural choice to include on a trip to Paris–although the Hemingways cover a lot of territory in their almost five year marriage: skiing in Switzerland; running with the bulls and viewing bull fights in Spain; working in Toronto. They lead an exhilarating life, even if it is on a few dollars a day. (At one point, they note that they are scraping by on $3000 a year while Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald fritter away $30,000 easily in the same time.) In addition to the scintillating, if sad, Fitzgeralds, the Hemingways are, in Paris, in the middle of an amazing array of literary giants: Gertrude Stein (and her partner Alice B. Toklas), Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford. It’s almost as if the reader is a voyeur on a group that was to take on celebrity status, literary lions; Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is just out, and Hemingway is “on the brink” although he and Hadley live in very low-rent digs.

I read this novel rather quickly as the sense of impending doom and great sadness pervades the story. It’s a known fact that Hadley was the first of four Hemingway wives, perhaps the “best” and certainly a “better” individual than Hemingway himself, more honest and sincere. But, Hadley is also without a lot of interest. She’s attractive, sporty, and loyal. But does she have the intensity and drive that Hemingway has in his quest to produce great writing? Hardly. She is the classic wife-helper, and it can be a lesson for any woman that perhaps devoting oneself to wife and mother roles entirely while sacrificing self may result in a partner who’s not very interesting or intellectually stimulating.

And Hadley makes mistakes. Most costly is the one in which she packs up all of Hemingway’s manuscripts to take to him, uninvited to do so, and then loses the valise on the train. Can he ever forgive her? (Charles Cagle wrote a wonderful short story about the lost manuscripts that appeared in the early 1980s in The Little Balkans Review, a journal of southeastern Kansas, housed at Pittsburg State University.) In addition to the manuscript tragedy, Hadley also left at home any birth control although Hemingway had distinctly said “no children” until they were more financially stable. Her pregnancy with their son John (more commonly called “Bumby”) was not happy news. But, having a child made her existence more bearable, given the regular absences of her husband.

But absences she could stand, his dalliances with other women less so. But she overlooked several until it became clear that wife #2, Pauline, was in the wings. (Pauline might be called the “Key West Wife” if a novel were written about her since the two of them decamped Europe when married.)The portrait of Hemingway is not a flattering one as it appears that he think he can have it all–wife and mistress–as he’s watched others in his circle manage to do that successfully. But Hadley comes to the realization that she is not interested in being less than the only woman in his life. McLain does a nice round-up at the end of the novel about what happens to Hadley Richardson post-Hemingway, and the Q&A apparatus for book clubs is also helpful.

Hemingway finally addressed the Paris years with Hadley in his late-in-life memoir A Moveable Feast, which would make an excellent companion to read with this book written in Hadley’s voice.

For readers traveling to Paris, it is easy to walk in the Hemingway footsteps: their first apartment at rue du Carnidal-Lemoine; Shakespeare & Company bookstore, where owner Sylvia Beach nurtured aspiring writers; Jardin du Luxembourg, where he took Bumby to play.

The draw to Hemingway is strong, and he achieved almost mythic status in his lifetime. At one point in our lives, so taken with Hemingway’s broad reach of travel and writing, my husband and I contemplated a project we called “The Hemingway Year,” visiting sites that he wrote about. It seemed a wonderful romantic fantasy to explore Hemingway-related sites with a round-the-world airline ticket, and we spent some good times mapping out the journey. We began by visiting his gravesite in Ketchum, Idaho. Much of the pleasure of travel is in the planning, and we didn’t regret any of those conversations about what where we might visit, but in the end,  Monty Python alum Michael Palin beat us to it.