Planning a trip is nearly as exciting as traveling. Your anticipation builds, and you become immersed in your destination. All in the comfort of your home, before you spend hours pancaked in an airplane seat or diverted to the wrong airport because passengers are brawling over the matchbook-sized spaces beside, in front and behind them.
In advance of a trip to Paris I’m doing my planning via three books — “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain, “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway, and “Old-fashioned Corners of Paris” by Christophe Destournelles — with a little Rick Steves thrown in for good measure.
Paris was a mecca for artists and writers in the 1920’s. The 2011 movie, “Midnight in Paris,” allowed us to experience that era in the main character’s fantasies. Ernest Hemingway figured large in the movie, as he did in life.
“The Paris Wife” imagines his years in Paris with first wife Hadley and is told from her point of view.
“A Moveable Feast” — which my husband bought at Shakespeare and Company — is Hemingway’s memoir of those early years in which he attempted to launch his career as a writer with the help of other expatriate writers living in Paris at the time. “Moveable feast” is a reference to Christian Holy Days, such as Easter, which are not set on the same date every year. But for Hemingway it also points to something deeper. He is quoted as saying, “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.”
These two books present her side and his in their deteriorating relationship. Both tell measured storiescir, though she is clear about how she suffered when he became involved with another woman. He’s more circumspect, but subtly acknowledges his role in the failure of the marriage.
“We’re lucky that you found the place,” [said Hadley, referring to their apartment].
“We’re always lucky I said, and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on, too.”
Both books do a wonderful job of putting the reader in Paris during that era and they tantalize us with references to streets, buildings, parks and other landmarks that still exist. Initially I planned to find these on the Paris map and create a walking tour. But someone else has done it for me. The blog, “easy hiker” has mapped out “Themed Paris Urban Walk: Hemingway’s Latin Quarter.” It turns out that we did much of the walk last year, but without awareness of any of the landmarks. “Easy hiker” has photos of streets, buildings and cafés, which will make our next stroll all the more interesting.
“Old-fashioned Corners” also takes us back in time to a clock maker, an old restaurant, a tripe butcher shop, a button store, the last phone booth. You’d find most of these sites away from the city center. The few remaining Parisian photo booths appeal to me the most. Remember the movie “Amélie”? The book describes the output of these machines. “A faintly grainy, coarse black and white picture taken in an unflattering light that vaguely distorts our features.” Finally an excuse to blame the equipment.