My enjoyment of a city grows so much with reading or learning the history of it, so I went to the Shakespeare Book Co. just on the other side of the Seine from Notre Dame to pick up some reading while in Paris. Retracing the steps of Hemingway, we found the only used copy of his book happened to be the one we were looking for: A Moveable Feast.
I read it in the Jardin de Tuileries with the immigrant girls making the rounds asking if we spoke English so they could hold up a piece of paper petitioning money. I don’t know what the paper said, because when they would ask, I would lie.
I read it in our apartment in the 12th arrondissment, where everything was quite peaceful except for the commotion that broke out under our window as we were preparing to leave. I understood enough French to know there was a fight, but that may just have been the screaming and pushing and occasional crash.
I read next to the fountain in front of the Palais Luxembourg, with the little kids running around catching and releasing their rented sailboats. Is it bad that I kept waiting for a kid to fall in?
And I carried it in my bag as we visited the Eiffel Tower, Montmarte, and the Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame, and all the other sights that had to be seen no matter how many times you’ve been to Paris, thinking we might sit and read. In those cases the cold rain or the sunny flowers, or the conversation with my beautiful wife, or the cheese and bread and wine and pastries all did their part to keep me more in the present than in the book.
There is so much I love about Paris, and the sights are only the beginning. I love the culture of people watching too. Cafes are set up with rows of chairs all pointing outward toward tables and the world passing by, not in little cliques around tables facing inward. Benches in parks, on the other hand, all face inward toward the passing scene, and not at the idyllic garden scenes around them. Maybe I’m romanticizing nosy-ness or even rudeness. I don’t mean to. But people are just so interesting sometimes, and…well…I like to get a good look. And sometimes I just space out.
Reading Hemingway in an environment like that always makes me want to write the way looking at Rothko makes me want to paint. It’s beautiful enough to inspire me to create, but simple enough for me to think: I could do that. Sometimes, I write a whole story about an immigrant couple trying to make it, or a fight and what started it, or and kid who falls in a fountain, all while I sit there with pen poised over journal, page as blank as my face.
What a treat these last 100 days have been! So many new stories to tell, and so many new sights to have seen. It feels impossible to write it all down and conclude the whole thing, so I won’t give myself that pressure, but I’m writing something down anyway so it doesn’t all stay in my head.
The exercise of keeping a blog felt a bit presumptuous at first, but I suppose I’ve always been a bit suspicious of mass emailing as well. I also don’t really like randomly spouting out long soliliquies. I feel honored that you (since you’re reading this) have taken the time to listen in on my trip, and I hope you’ve enjoyed some little tastes of our adventure. I definitely feel full.