In France with Ernest Hemingway

Yesterday, I wrote about a few of Ernest Hemingway’s drinking haunts in Europe,  but there are way more places where he dallied here over the years.

France Reimagined: On The Road with Ernest Hemingway

During his travels between Spain and Italy, Hemingway had a knack of sniffing out the best little towns in southern France before anyone else had, and over the years, his powerful prose has inspired many a reader to visit France.

Hemmingway1924 paris

Paris

By 1956, aged 57, Hemingway had done it all. Yet, despite a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize, he began to suffer from depression as his physical state declined. And then, a serendipitous find on a winter’s day, when Hemingway breezed into his old haunt, Paris’ Ritz Hotel Bar, and was handed a trunk, forgotten in a storage room since 1927, full of dusty notebooks.

Inspired by the notebook material, the ‘fictional’ memoir A Moveable Feast fondly revisits Hemingway’s early years in France. He masterfully captures the atmosphere of 1920s Paris when he lived above a sawmill at 113 Rue Notre-Dame des Champs with his wife Hadley and their baby son, Bumby. His refuge from the dark, narrow apartment and whirring saw of the lumberyard below was the La Closerie des Lilas on Boulevard du Montparnasse.

As newlyweds, Hemingway and Hadley spent their first few weeks in Paris at the Hôtel Jacob in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, now the beautifully refurbished Hôtel d’Angleterre, until they found their first apartment at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, a dark, damp dump with no running water. A couple of minutes’ stroll around the corner, and just off Place de la Contrescarpe, the opening setting of A Moveable Feast, is 39 rue Descartes.

The South Of France

The Garden of Eden, Hemingway’s unfinished last semi-autobiographic novel, published posthumously in 1986, is set against a lush Côte d’Azur backdrop with road trips into the heart of Provence.

Here, he departs from his usual themes to explore the complexities of a love triangle and, perhaps surprisingly, gender identity. Largely inspired by Hemingway’s own troubled relationship with his first wife, Hadley, and the wealthy heiress and Vogue journalist Pauline Pfeiffer, whom he met in 1925, the novel recounts the story of David Bourne, a young American writer married to a woman who is jealous of his success, and the erotic games they play when they both fall for the same woman.

Hemingway stayed at the Imperator in Nîmes, near to the Maison Carrée;

Over a span of more than three decades Hemingway passed through Arles:

……not a place for a writer but I would love to know how to paint…..

Nîmes, Avignon, Saint-Rémy, Les Baux-de-Provence, Aigues-Mortes, Le Grau-du-Roi, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Cannes, Juan les Pins, Nice and Monte Carlo. He was 25 when he made his first trip south in 1924 with Hadley; his last was at 60, a year before his death, with his fourth wife, American journalist Mary Welsh.

In The Garden of Eden, the Bournes live west of Cannes, in a “long low rose-coloured Provençal house……. in the pines on the Estérel side of la Napoule”. The characters spend much of their time lounging in the sun, swimming and cycling, just as Hemingway, Hadley and Pauline had done during the summer of 1926, while visiting Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Sara and Gerald Murphy on the Cap d’Antibes.

, a copy of The Garden of Eden

The Murphys, who served as the initial inspiration for Dick and Nicole Diver inTender is the Night, became close friends with Hemingway and supported him during his break-up with Hadley. Gerald, an heir to the Mark Cross luxury leather goods company and visionary painter of proto-Pop Art, and Sara, a Midwestern beauty who became Picasso’s secret muse, were the Riviera’s original trendsetters, establishing their summer HQ at the Hôtel du Cap Eden Roc well before it was fashionable to do so.

July 1926 was, in Fitzgerald’s words:

….the summer of 1,000 parties.

To celebrate the publication of The Sun Also Rises, the Murphys threw a lavish party in Hemingway’s honour at the Juan les Pins casino terrace (recounted in ‘Hawks Do Not Share’ in  A Moveable Feast). The Hemingways stayed at the Villa Paquita (now called Villa Picolette) in Juan les Pins, just down road from the seaside villa Saint-Louis, where the Fitzgeralds were living, which is now the delightful Art Deco 5-star Hôtel Belles Rives.

Drama ensued when Pauline Pfeiffer offered to come and stay to help out with Bumby, who was ill with whooping cough…….and never left. The trio moved into the pretty Hôtel de la Pinède in Juan les Pins.

In The Garden of Eden, the vivid descriptions of La Camargue are reminiscent of Hemingway and Pauline’s 1927 honeymoon trip. In the secluded village of Le Grau-du-Roi, they stayed at the Grand Hôtel du Pommier (called Hôtel Grande Bellevue today), where Hemingway wrote some of his best short stories.

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway (née Pfeiffer) in Paris in 1927

As in the novel, the couple also spent time in Aigues-Mortes and Avignon, and wanted to cycle from there to the Pont du Gard. But the mistral was blowing so they rode with the mistral down to Nîmes and stayed there at the Imperator, an elegant Art Deco hotel that later became the haunt of famous bullfighters and where Hemingway would return with Mary in 1949. The hotel was recently refurbished and is now home to Duende, a Michelin-star Pierre Gagnaire restaurant. If you’re in Nîmes, stop at the Imperator’s Hemingway Bar and order a Bloody Mary – which the writer claims to have invented in order to trick the watchful eye of his wife Mary, since alcohol was forbidden by his doctors.

As is only fitting, I’m letting Hemingway have the last word(s):

Imagination is the one thing beside honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience the more he can imagine.

31 Comments on “In France with Ernest Hemingway

  1. He wrote a mouvable feast on Paris but if travel a bit more he could had prepare a second volume France is a mouvable feast !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Andrew, this appears to have gone down well with a number of readers. I’ll have to hang onto his coattails some more

      Like

  2. Interesting read as always. 🙂

    If you do more Hemingway, I wouldn’t attempt to duplicate his 1942 U-Boat hunt in the Caribbean though. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have a good point there but so many « greats » either drank or took illegal substances. Who knows what they might’ve achieved clean and sober?

      Like

  3. Interesting post. He, after three wives, realized Hadley had been his faithful love. She really got the short end of the stick with him. A real shame how those richest in love and talent squander them.

    Liked by 1 person

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