It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I’d had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.
When I returned to the Tennessee from my memorable first trip to Europe – I carried something unexpected with me…. something entirely undetected by Customs… a secret thing, savored and relished, that surprised both myself and my friends… I now possessed a passion for Paris.
Did I see it coming? No. I seriously had no way to have foreseen my capture. I knew that I would find the famous city interesting, just as I would the other places on my planned route of Amsterdam, Lausanne, and a small castle town in Germany… But Paris was to be visited as a “stop along the way” as we traveled to a longer stay in Switzerland. And after only a day and a half there… I cried when I left.
Once more at home, I began to look for things in my resident town of Nashville that would remind me of the feel of Paris… scarves and light, fragrant French perfume, dark chocolate and big bowls of strong coffee,… an almond croissant from anywhere that I could find it. I began French lessons and discovered that my favorite music was comfortably seating itself in French pop/rock. And… I began to read books about France and ones that were set in… preferably… Paris.
When I discovered Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast for the first time, I found an immediate atmospheric “fix” that was very satisfying. The book even starts with a sensory tingling description of Paris at the beginning of winter that is not filled with the flowery loveliness of April but presents a place real and evocative. And it takes me there in my mind in a way that causes me to breathe out a deep sigh and want to walk – again – those leave-strewn avenues.
When Hemingway began this book describing his early years in Paris as a young man, a young husband and a young writer, he entitled it “The Paris Sketches”. The chapters all tie together in an artful and cohesive way but involve many varied aspects of his life and day-to-day writing process in Paris.
Published posthumously, the title A Moveable Feast was given to the book by Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary, as she and a Scribner’s editor, Harry Brague, edited and readied the manuscript for publication. The title was suggested to Mary by American editor, novelist and playwright, A. E. Hotchner, who recalled Hemingway mentioning this particular phrase to him while at the Ritz Bar in Paris in 1950:
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.
This new restored edition is made up of the original manuscript text as Hemingway had it at the time of his death in 1961. Some of it is troubling, raw and despondent. But there are light moments, happy times with his first wife, Hadley, and a clear, distinctive window into a Paris that included the troubled F. Scott Fitzgerald, a roughly nurturing Gertrude Stein, friend Ezra Pound and the Parisians who populated Hemingway’s world from café waiters to a young black Canadian boxer just trying to survive.
If you’ve wanted to read Hemingway – start with this book. If you haven’t read A Moveable Feast in a few years – pick up this edition! If you need inspiration as a writer – ponder this revealing of his routine and the development of Hemingway’s style and craft. If you love Paris – you will simply enjoy this journey.
There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were nor how it was changed nor with what difficulties nor what ease it could be reached. It was always worth it and we received a return for whatever we brought to it.
A Moveable Feast – The Restored Edition
By Ernest Hemingway