Strolling With Ernie

photo: bandstand in luxembourg

Ernie missed a lot of Paris by going to Spain
in the summer. This summer, Spain is here.

Down, Down To Sylvia's

Paris:- Saturday, 24. July 1999:- The sleek greeter at the Closerie des Lilas doesn't think they are doing anything about Ernest Hemingway's 100th anniversary, but he asks the even sleeker head-greeter all the same.

They both say there are 'so many Hemingway places; the Ritz, the...' - all on the right bank. They forget Le Dôme, Le Select, just down the boulevard, and maybe competitors. They think the Dingo may be closed.

It is very fine for July, in Paris or anywhere else. As far as I can see, the terrace of the Closerie des Lilas, is very full of very satisfied diners. It is just after lunch, when it seems fine to have another bottle of chilled white - some excess in the shade of the plane trees behind the screens of potted shrubs that hide the revelers from passing hoi polli.

There, see? Using Greek gets me kicked out of the Hemingway fan club. In this condition, on this fine day, I am notphoto: closerie des lilas traipsing all over town - not all the way to the Ritz! - to find out nobody in Paris cares about Ernest Hemingway and how he single-handedly put Paris on the map; or at least on the menu of a 'Moveable Feast.'

The Closerie des Lilas now caters to the discrete charm of the well-heeled.

I have walked down from Denfert-Rochereau along the avenue of the same name and cut over to the front of the Observatoire. I could have gone straight down Boulevard Raspail to Le Dôme, but I began by imagining Hemingway leaving his place in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs to walk down to Sylvia Beach's shop in the Rue de l'Odéon.

Hemingway could have gone the other way on Notre-Dame-des-Champs, but he would have had to go all the way down to Rue Vavin before getting into the Luxembourg Gardens.

If Shakespeare & Company was where he was going, he would have walked 150 metres up to the nearest corner and turned left - not into the Lilas where he might have seen Ford or Joyce - but into the Rue de l'Observatoire after a casual salute in the direction of the statue of Marechal Ney, just outside the Lilas.

I cannot tell you the story of Marechal Ney because my books are in disarray and I read it a long time ago. As I remember it, he was a huge hero and very many important streets in Paris are named after battles he won for Napoléon. Sweden invited him to be king and Napoléon didn't like this. Ney died in 1815 at the height of his glory; according to the inscription on the statue's pedestal. A typical French success story.

I am seeing what Hemingway probably saw every couple of days. When the meridian line of the Observatoire passes the Lilas it come to what I thought is the Luxembourg but is the Jardin Marco Polo instead. This is new to me.

It is a narrow space of trees and unwalkable grass and after the Ruephoto: entry, jardin marco polo Michelet it becomes the Jardin Cavelier-de-La-Salle. If it is the same one, he found parts of America and a fine car was named after him.

On the meridian line, the Marco Polo garden makes Paris complete.

On the left side there is an incredible building made of brick that vaguely looks like some sort of fortress-church. It appears to be square and its walls are as high as they are long and it has pointy things along the top of its walls. I must find my books.

After the faculty of pharmacy, which is across the Rue Michelet from the red-brick klotz, there is another unusual building. It is France's former colonial administrative headquarters with architecture to match. The windows have loopy tops.

The Luxembourg properly begins at the Rue Auguste Comte with a very high gold-tipped iron grill for a fence. After the first bit inside, there is a sort of view point with the central gardens arrayed in front of the oval pool with the Marie's château behind.

Today's weather has brought hordes to the park and they look like cotton balls flanking a green surrounded with brightly-colored flowers. The sun is crashing down on the earthen paths, bashing them clay-white. This is the best, the most impressionistic I've ever seen these gardens.

Many people have set up their chairs with arm-rests to face the sun and have their legs resting on chairs without arm-rests. They look like bleached sunflowers.

For one man, it is too much and he has his setup in the shade of a big flowerpot, with a handy can of drink near a limp arm. A brisk older lady asks him if she can borrow a nearby free chair and he does not seem to have the energy to nod 'yes' before she hefts it and lopes off with it.

Normally, a little more than seventy years ago at this time, I imagine Hemingway would still be in Spain, doing some fishing in the mountains. This is the kind of weather he would have had down there.

I hear music coming from the trees behind the terrace to the right, where the outdoor café is pretending to be a biergarten.

On the way there a glance at the oval pool reminds me it is as boring as usual close up and the people are standing around wondering what to do with it, as usual. The whole parkphoto: sunflowers in luxembourg is a classified monument so it's difficult to change anything - what Marie de Médicis wanted is what we're stuck with. Not all old stuff is exquisitely perfect.

The Jardin du Luxembourg is an oasis in the middle of the Quartier Latin, even if some do not chose the abundant shade.

Under the trees the shade is deep and soft, and hundreds of people are sitting around the bandstand which is full of a orchestra, with a conductor. A piece ends and there is enthusiastic applause, which the pigeons ignore.

It is a 'Paris Quartiers d'Ete' concert, judging from the de-mobbed RATP bus, also resting under the trees. This is a whole lot more interesting than the inert oval pool and a lemonade hawker passing through here could probably make a fortune if he happened to meet some spectators who remembered to bring their own gin.

I think the overhead leaves hold in the orchestra's sound, because it isn't necessary to move too far from the bandstand before the traffic noise from Vaugiraud and Saint-Michel begins to become deafening.

Just next door, Marie's fountain is drawing its usual oohs and ahhs while doing nothing at all, like a zoo where all the animals are asleep. The usual loungers are surrounding its pool in the cool shade; ignoring the oohs and ahhs.

I get across Vaugiraud without injury and go down the Rue Roitou side of the Théâtre de l'Odéon. Facing its place, it flies one French flag and about eight European Union flags, with the French one higher than the others.

This place is the top end of the Rue de l'Odeon. You may wonder about the 'top' and the 'going down' I have been using. From somewhere between Denfert-Rochereau and the Boulevard Montparnasse, a gentle slope glides down to the Seine - which is more pronounced on the Boulevard Saint-Michel or Rue Saint-Jacques, just to the east. 'Down,' therefore is topographical, not literary.

The Rue de l'Odéon goes down too. Except for the late-model cars lining it bumper-to-bumper on both sides, it has not changed much in a long time. Take away the cars and it is 1923 again.

Number 12 is the second and last location of Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare & Company and there is a modest plaque on the wall saying Sylvia Beach published James Joyce's 'Ulysses' here. There used to be a Chinese import outlet of some sort until recently, but today it is closed and the shop is being renovated. By whom? For what?

For Hemingway and old times' sake I go right at the Carrefour de l'Odéon at the bottom, and then left into the Rue Dupuytren, where Sylvia opened her first shop in, I think, 1919. It is still a hairdressers.

Imagining still; Ernest Hemingway was taking back books he borrowed - the original shop was a lending library. He would have stayed and talked to Sylvia and most likely would have gotten a couple of new books to read; likely some she recommended. He could have stayed in the shop to read near the warm stove if it was winter and cold outside.

Or he could have hiked up the gentle slope to home, through the Luxembourg. Or halfway through, to the Fleurus exit, and gone along there to Miss Stein's place - although I don't think she would have thought much of him showing up with books that she hadn't written or recommended.

Our Ernest was an astute fellow and if he wanted to read, he could have stopped in any of the first three cafés in the Rue de Fleurus, and have been sure there was little likelihood of being bothered for a few hours.

Afterwards, he would have had three choices. Straight along to Miss Stein's. Back and up Rue Guyemer to Rue d'Assas, Vavin and home. Or go twist into Rue Duguay and turn into Rue Huysmanns; and from it there are two main choices for getting to the Boulevard Montparnasse.

Straight up Boulevard Raspail would have put him at the Dôme or the Dingo in Rue Delambre, orphoto: rue de l'odeon if he cut to the right off Raspail at Rue Vavin this would have brought him out at Le Select - if it was 1926 or afterwards. He usually went to the Dôme though.

Today's Rue de l'Odéon - has too many cars, but not a lot of traffic.

I have done these return walks many times without thinking about Hemingway or Miss Stein at all. From Odéon the métro will do it too; to Vavin at least. The Vavin stop is right at the centre of the 1920's world; at the intersection of the Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse.

Today I take the métro, to get away from the thundering, overheating traffic jam on the Boulevard Saint-Germain. I ride it two stops past Vavin, to my stop: Denfert-Rochereau. I guess the right end of the train and take the right exit, up the stairs to Rue Daguerre.

It is busy in the glaring sun but the Avenue Général Leclerc is in shadow and it stays that way for the two blocks it takes until I get to my door.

At the Closerie des Lilas the greeters said it was Hemingway's birthday on Thursday. The idea for finding out what Paris is doing to commemorate Ernest Hemingway's 100th birthday was sent in by Laurence Wechsler yesterday. I'll see if there's anything about it in the papers tomorrow.

When I do, I will do it where I can watch my washing machine, to make sure it behaves properly. If it doesn't, I'll use the coin laundry across the street; which I might use for drying anyway.

Did Hemingway ever write about washing his clothes?

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