A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway
(Restored edition, Arrow Books, London, 2011)
I have just finished reading what is considered to be Hemingway's first book during his years in Paris. A 'Moveable Feast' are his memoir of the five years he spent in the French capital in the 20s.
It is absolutely fascinating in many ways. Besides giving an insight on Hemingway's life, it revives a period of time when all the major artists met & worked there. The author takes us on an artistic whirl where famous poets, writers or painters would meet, befriend one another and exchange ideas & thoughts. We learn the real story behind Gertrude Stein's quote of the lost generation ('la génération perdue'), which Hemingway skillfully reveals. We encounter James Joyce, who had just finished 'Ulysses' or Scott Fitzgerald, who had published his first novel 'The Great Gatsby'. Many poets are there as well: Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, Fargue, Paul Fort or Blaise Cendrars. Hemingway also talks about the painters he met like Picasso or Miro, as well as those he admired most: Cézanne, Manet, Monet, Braque.
This book is like a promenade through the streets of the City of Lights, mostly on the Left Bank where Hemingway lived with his wife, first in the Latin Quarter and then later at Montparnasse. You understand the importance of the cafés for all of these artists. Besides the Deux-Magots, the Lipp's, the Dôme or the Rotonde, Hemingway talks of his favorite hangout at Montparnasse, the Closerie des Lilas where he once met with Blaise Cendras.
Sean Hemingway – his grandson – wrote in the introduction that “Paris was simply the best place to work in the world, and it remained for him [E.Hemingway] the city that he loved most”.
After the café crème, the book tells us about French food and wines too. Hemingway shows he is a true connoisseur when he talks of Beaune, Cahors, Pouilly-Fuissé, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, champagne, St.-Emilion, Mâcon, Fleurie or even Corsican or Algerian wines. He said: “ In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight.”
As you can see, I would highly recommend reading this new restored edition of 'A Moveable Feast'. There is much to learn about the writer, the people he met, the things he liked to do or read (he had a passion for Russian Literature). The style is pure and simple, a bit like Camus's. Above all, it brings a new light on the brilliant cultural life of the early 20th century. Pages after pages, it seems you could not end reading wondering what will come next. Perhaps, this is what Hemingway himself hints on his last pages, saying:”there is never any ending to Paris.”
Bangkok, June 2014