Through the lobby of the Ritz hotel in Paris is a dim little bar where well-read Americans reminisce about a Paris of days past -- one that they know only from books. The bar, now dubbed Bar Hemingway after one of its most famous customers, draws a steady stream of Ernest Hemingway groupies. Under the eerie gaze of a bronze bust of the writer, everyone directs questions on Hemingway's life in Paris to the bartender -- but he's no expert. His wandering eye keeps a running count of the Ritz ashtrays and stares down potential thieves.
"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," Hemingway told a friend toward the end of his life. "A Moveable Feast," published posthumously, romanticized his period as a poor young writer, when he lived here with his first wife, Hadley, in a one-room apartment over a sawmill, worked out of a drafty rented room near the Pantheon and earned money selling articles to the Toronto Star.
Hemingway had come to Paris in 1920 at the urging of Sherwood Anderson and fallen in with other expatriates, including Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford and John Dos Passos. While living here, he wrote two short-story collections -- including some of his best "Up in Michigan" stories -- before the 1926 publication of "The Sun Also Rises," set on his Paris turf, gained wide recognition.
For legions of Hemingway fans, Paris still is a moveable feast. Enchanted by Papa's terse prose, they want to sample the expatriate cafe life he chronicled. The little shrine in the Ritz is a fine starting place -- but at almost $17 a drink, not exactly the place his books bring to mind.
It's still possible, however, to find much of Hemingway's earlier, poorer Paris intact -- as long as you're willing to venture into some less-visited Left Bank neighborhoods. That means going past the Latin Quarter, which you hit upon crossing onto the Left Bank near Notre Dame. Hemingway knew that area well, but the neon gyro and pizza joints there today offer little to get nostalgic about. No, for the real thing, think of how Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn and Lady Brett Ashley spent their time in "The Sun Also Rises." Right -- mostly in cafes.
Their three favorites were Cafe de la Rotonde, Cafe du Dome and Cafe le Select. " 'No matter what cafe in Montparnasse you ask a taxi-driver to bring you to from the right bank of the river, they always take you to the Rotonde,' " Jake Barnes said. Today, the Rotonde and the others still operate under the same names, on Boulevard du Montparnasse, near the intersection of Boulevard Raspail, once the center of expatriate life.
Montparnasse is easy to get to. From popular spots along the Seine, it is minutes by cab or Metro, maybe half an hour on foot. In one of the cane chairs lined up along the wide sidewalks, you can settle in with a cup of coffee and imagine yourself in the Paris of the '20s. Probably one of the best-preserved sections of Hemingway's Paris, Montparnasse is a busy place. Businessmen and artists, young mothers and construction workers pass by, gnawing on baguettes -- but they all seem to have hours to kill over a cafe' au lait in mid-afternoon.
The Select is a great place to relax after a long day of running around. A light dinner of beer, crusty French sandwiches and coffeewill run you about $19 and you won't be rushed out. If you get tired of just croissants for breakfast, try the Rotonde. It offers a hearty American-style breakfast (though they don't call it that) including an omelet and juice for about $12. The Cafe du Dome has slightly higher prices for the same sort of thing -- but then, that was Hemingway's personal favorite.
Most of the waiters up by Raspail are oblivious to the literary histories of these places. But the Closerie des Lilas openly trades on Hemingway's name. Down Montparnasse a bit, at the intersection of Boulevard St.-Michel (locally known as the Boul' Mich'), the Closerie has a small "E. Hemingway" plaque nailed to his favorite writing spot at the bar. A modern artist's rendition of his face decorates the cover of the menu. Hemingway called it one of the best cafes in Paris, and dropped its name generously throughout "A Moveable Feast," immortalizing not only the restaurant but the statue of Marshal Michel Ney outside. At $6 for bottled water, it apparently has grown more upscale since he hung out there with Ford Madox Ford and others. But you can nurse your drink to the pianist's tunes of "Somewhere" and "As Time Goes By," even if you don't want to splurge on the food.
Since tourists haven't completely invaded Montparnasse yet, you can have fun exploring. The Parisians there are generally friendlier than their Right Bank counterparts, and more patient with visitors' attempts at the language. If you know the slightest bit of French and can improvise sign language, they'll point out some notable spots.
We tried to find Hemingway's famed apartment above the sawmill at 113 Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, a tiny street behind Boulevard du Montparnasse, but alas, it's been demolished. On our way there, however, we met a women's clothing designer who'd set up shop across the street. She directed us to the patisserie/drugstore at 151 Montparnasse that Hemingway cut through regularly -- he used the back entrance to get to the alley behind the store. The back door is closed off now, but the store's alive and well. Now that you know its significance, make a point of stopping by -- it's the sort of place you'd walk right by without really seeing.
Regardless of how enamored of Hemingway you are, you might want to look into hotels in Montparnasse for a casual, low-budget alternative to more central locations. And if you want to go Hemingway all the way, head for Hotel Beauvoir, 43 Avenue Georges Bernanos, right across the street from Closerie des Lilas. Hemingway's first wife Hadley moved in there after she left him.
The Beauvoir can best be described as charming. The rooms are tiny (and ours was called "la grande chambre" !), the beds soft, the water pressure faint, and the chambermaid may wake you by 10 without being asked. But the front rooms are sunny and offer a sweeping view of the Closerie and Montparnasse. And downstairs, there's all the cafe au lait you can drink, croissants and baguettes for a reasonable price. Everything from the Louvre prints hanging in the lobby to the other guests (few Americans) adds to the authentic European flavor. Everything, that is, except for the disco channel the room radios are tuned to.
Most of the other cafes that were a staple of Hemingway's early writing career are on Boulevard St.-Germain, which runs parallel to the Seine a few blocks into the Left Bank. There is the Brasserie Lipp, No. 151, where, in "A Moveable Feast," a hungry Hemingway chowed down greasy potato salad and beer after bookshop owner Sylvia Beach scolded him for skipping a meal. One of his most famous hangouts is Cafe de Flore, No. 172. Today, Americans there still seem to outnumber the French students who pack themselves around the tables and smoke endlessly. Next door is Deux Magots, No. 170, where Hemingway drank dry sherry with James Joyce, although as noted in "A Moveable Feast," "you will always read that he drank only Swiss white wine."
Boulevard St.-Germain also has plenty of clothing stores, street artists and Paris's oldest church, St.-Germain-des-Pres, right next door to Deux Magots. These sights might come in handy if your travel companion isn't thrilled with the Hemingway tour.
Another must-see is Luxembourg Gardens off the Boul' Mich', not far from Boulevard du Montparnasse. A typical, neatly manicured French garden, it has delicate fountains, gravel paths and a pond where French children play with toy sailboats. Jake Barnes passed through there a lot, as did the real-life Hemingway. Popular rumor has it he killed pigeons there and brought them home for Hadley to cook. Whether he did the job with his bare hands or a slingshot is a matter of popular speculation.
As a newlywed the second time around, a frustrated, impotent Hemingway went to pray at St. Joseph des Carmes, 70 Rue de Vaugirard, which runs along Luxembourg Gardens. Pleased with the results, he later became a Catholic. For a look at the money he married into the second time, check out the imposing facade of the apartment he and wife Pauline shared at 6 Rue Ferou, not far from the church. In an expansive seven-room flat here, he wrote "A Farewell to Arms."
Of course, no Hemingway pilgrimage would be complete without a taste of the outdoors. Fortunately, he brought fishing scenes right to the heart of Paris. An excellent place to fish, he said in "A Moveable Feast," was at the end of Ile de la Cite below the Pont Neuf where "the island ended in a point like the sharp bow of a ship and there was a small part at the water's edge with fine chestnut trees, huge and spreading." You're free to throw a line in if you want to, but it's not exactly a big fishing spot today.
Some of the most mentioned Hemingway haunts have changed. The original Shakespeare and Company, the bookstore owned by Beach that was the center of expatriate literary life in Paris, operated at two successive locations, 8 Rue Dupuytren and 12 Rue de l'Odeon, along the Seine. But its reincarnation, at 37 Rue de la Bucherie, is still worth a visit. You can browse through the English-language books on the sidewalk as Notre Dame fills the sky behind you. The new owner invited us up to a "literary tea" to view the Sylvia Beach collection.
And, in place of Michaud's, whose urinal became a literary landmark for Hemingway's account of meeting up with F. Scott Fitzgerald there, found a restaurant called L'Escorailles. The bathroom now is fluorescent, and doesn't lock, so it has most likely been redone since Fitzgerald posed with his pants down, comparing his own endowments to those of the nudes in the Louvre. Still, it might be nice to say you were there. It's at 29 Rue des Saints-Peres, close to the St.-Germain-des-Pres cafes. And oh yes, it's an equal-opportunity peek: The bathroom is unisex.
For more information, contact the French Government Tourist Office, 610 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10020, 1-900-420-2003 (50 cents a minute).
Andrea Orr is a freelance writer in New York.