Chasing Literary Ghosts in Paris
La Coupole and Le Select (two of Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s favorite restaurants/hangouts) are now two big tourist traps. As I write this, I am at L’Atelier (next door to Le Select), a place I imagine those two great men would be more likely to frequent if they were here today. It is the restaurant that has become my regular place for breakfast since my first night here. After dinner that night, I made my way around the corner to 113 rue Notre-Dames des Champs (one of the apartments that Ernest and Hadley Hemingway rented for quite a while) only to find it with boarded-up windows and “no entry” signs on the sides of the doors — even though the building is (as I’m told) not the one that he actually lived in.
The next morning I went to Shakespeare and Company – possibly the only bookstore in which I’ve ever been intimidated. But of course, it is also not the original, and was only renamed and dedicated to Syliva Beach after her death. Though they pay much tribute to Beach and the Lost Generation, who lived and wrote here in the golden days of the 1920s, none of them ever stepped foot in that particular establishment.
Maybe I’m being overly sentimental and philosophical, but it seems that the more I try to find these icons, the more obvious it is that they are long gone. Upstairs in the bookstore, there is a reading library dedicated to Beach, and when I asked if the books were the ones she owned, a bookseller said that though some of them were he couldn’t begin to tell me which. (I went ahead and ran my hands along the oldest looking ones just in case because that’s the way I roll.) Upon leaving the iconic store I saw an old man who looked exactly like Hemingway at the end of his life. He was standing across the small cobbled street from me at Shakespeare and Company, made eye contact with me and slowly walked away. I almost slapped myself for being so silly and romantic about the experience.
So, maybe chasing ghosts is futile, but I can’t help it. I am, and always have been, a “ghost” chaser. In part, it’s because I’m a lover of history, but it’s also because I spend much of my time in stories – like many of you who are reading this right now. And when the story is true, as history is, you can almost always catch glimpses of ghosts. Even just by knowing that your feet are stepping down the same lanes as those who have walked them before. That their eyes took in the same visions that yours are 90 years later. The distance between you and these legends is time – not proximity. Because though they are gone, they are also everywhere around you.
Are any of you ghost chasers when it comes to your bygone literary heroes? Or maybe it’s just me… the crazy girl roaming the streets of Paris hoping to run into Gertrude Stein so I can ask her if I can step into her salon for a romp down memory lane.