When I went to Paris a couple of months ago, I had only one day to prepare for the trip. (It was a surprise birthday present to my wife, sprung only 36 hours before we left.) When I went to our local Borders for reading material, I struggled for a long time to find something appropriate. They store did have any of my first choices, and as for their stock, either I’d already read the book or it seemed too much of a cliche. Eventually I settled on Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book, which didn’t really fit the occasion but it was an enjoyable read. Our whirlwind trip didn’t allow for much reading time. I ended up reading most of the novel on the plane ride home.
One book I didn’t consider buying was Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I read it in college, but I don’t remember whatever happened to the volume I read. I haven’t read a word of Hemingway since I completed a chapter on The Sun Also Rises in my dissertation, but I’m tempted to pick up A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition when it comes out in July. Christopher Hitchens, who is always about 5% right about things, points out that Hemingway’s book is “an ur-text of the American enthrallment with Paris. To be more precise,
it is also a skeleton key to the American literary fascination with
Paris.” This is true. In the rest of his review Hitchens picks through the dirty bits left out of the original edition. Hitchens’ sourness extends to the city itself. He dismisses the Left Bank as “a banal tourist enclave in a Paris where the tough and plebeian districts are gone, to be replaced by seething Muslim banlieues all around the periphery.”
I didn’t comb every square meter of the Left Bank when I was there, but I didn’t find a banal tourist enclave there. We encountered some mediocre restaurants and a half-dozen Roche Bobois stores on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and we ditched out of Les Deux Magots before ordering because it was so lifeless. But during a chilly week in late March, when the streets were full of Parisians going about their business, it was possible to imagine what a daunting and exciting experience it must have been for the young Hemingway family.