The Writers Tour of Paris
Paris has always been a city of and for writers. Everyone from Molière to Houellebecq has called Paris home, called it inspiring, and therein found an audience for their writing. I have been visiting Paris annually since 2005, and I know the city very well, in fact I feel like a local (my fluency in French helps, of course). Every time I’ve been to Paris, I’ve never been bored or ran out of activities to do. This time, I decided that since I am in the process of writing my second novel, my activities this time might as well reflect that …. and therefore, to walk in the footsteps of the literary greats before me. So I fashioned my own Writers Tour of Paris. Why pay someone for a tour when you can do it yourself?
I did days-upon-days of research online before I went, taking endless pages of notes, and re-read A Moveable Feast on the train to Paris from Cologne. Here is the fruits of my labour.
#1 Ernest Hemingway, 74 Rue Cardinal Lemoine
Of course he would be my first port of call. Hemingway called Paris “a moveable feast” and wrote some of his greatest works, including The Sun Also Rises, whilst living there in the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley.
In 1922, he moved to 74 Rue Cardinal Lemoine, around the corner from Place Contrescarpe and the Luxembourg Gardens.
This is the blue door leading up to his flat that had no bathroom or toilet of its own (not uncommon in flats of the time, where tenants would all share a bathroom down the hall. I’ve stayed in some hostels that maintain that architectural oddity). I have read conflicting reports that he & Hadley either lived on the 3rd or 4th floor. Hemingway writes about scribbling in his notebooks in the early morning when only the cat and his baby boy “Bumby” were awake. After Hadley would wake, he would scoot off down to some of the nearby cafes and bars. He also talks about the dance hall “la bal musette” which was situated underneath the flat. That was located where the left window is under the plaque, it is now used as a convenience store. Of course people still live in this flat today, so I couldn’t go inside, but I peered in through the front door and saw the classic black and white checkered floor tiles, obviously orginal as they were cracked and warped with time in a gorgeous latitude, and the narrow spiral staircase to the back with the wrought iron bannister, clearly dating to at least 100 years prior.
For you non-French speakers, this says that Hem lived here from 1922-23 on the third floor with Hadley. It says the neighbourhood, which he loved above all, was the birthplace of his style, form and content. He became friendly with his neighbours, including the owner of la bal musette. It then quotes from A Moveable Feast, where Hem says, “That was the Paris of our youth, at a time when we were very poor and very happy.” The “we” being him and Hadley, whom Hemingway later regretted cheating on and divorcing. A Moveable Feast was published after his death, but he was writing it in the early 60s when he was on his fourth wife. In that context, when he writes “I wish I’d died before I loved anyone but her,” we can deduce that, 40 years after their separation, he still held her in his highest regard.
As I tried to photograph the 3rd and 4th floor windows, I noticed a sign that said “Under Hemingways” which was for a travel agency.
#2 Hemingway, 39 Rue Descartes
This location, around the corner from Rue Cardinal Lemoine, used to be a hotel where Hem rented the top floor flat as a studio to write and work. He said that staring out over the rooftops of the quarter and seeing the chimneys was very inspiring to him. Now it’s a restaurant with a somewhat uninformed plaque.
He never lived there, just worked. Above that plaque, it says that poet Verlaine died in this building in 1844. So I guess Hemingway must have enjoyed the ghosts and spirits of good company.
#3 James Joyce
Back on Cardinal Lemoine is the courtyard leading up to the gated house where James Joyce lived when he wrote Ulysses. Hem was a fan of Joyce’s when they finally met via Sylvia Beach.
I once visited Dublin where Joyce was from, and ate at the very pub where he used to eat and write all the livelong day.
#4 Gertrude Stein, 27 Rue de Fleurus
Gertrude Stein was a writer but she was mostly known as an art collector and for entertaining in her flat all of the most current and du jour artists and writers of the time. It was here that she received Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, among others, and lived with her partner Alice B. Toklas.
It’s hard to know which window was hers, so let’s just pretend it’s one of these.
#5 Man Ray, 2 bis Rue de Férou
Not a writer but just as influential on the culture of the time, anyway. I have always loved Man Ray ever since my first year in university where I gave a presentation on his photography. Considering that he photographed everyone in his studio from Hem to Stein to Dali, et al, I think he deserves some inclusion.
Right next to his door, on the wall, the city had painted the words of one of Rimbaud’s poems. It was said that when Rimbaud wrote the poem near Saint Sulpice, which was to the right of Man Ray’s studio, the wind was blowing up the street, from right to left, so that is why the poem was painted from right to left… the verse you see here is the final verse.
#6 Sylvia Beach, 12 Rue de L’Odéon
Sylvia Beach was the original owner and proprietor of the infamous Shakespeare & Company bookstore. Most anglophones in Paris these days know of the shop’s location on Rue de la Huchette, directly across la Seine from Notre Dame. That is where second owner George Whitman moved the shop. But in the 1920s, this is where Sylvia had her store and lending library. Hem wrote of her and shop as the greatest, that Sylvia would lend him novels and tomes without really knowing him, and not expecting money in return. Sylvia also was the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses, when no other publisher would take him.
Right next door was this charming bookshop, and I originally photographed it because it resembles what Shakespeare & Co might have looked like in the 1920s.
Then I noticed the plaque above it, and realized that is where writer Thomas Paine lived when he wrote The Rights of Man during the French Revolution.
#7 Sylvia Beach, 8 Rue Dupuytren
Before Beach set up Shakespeare & Co on Rue de L’Odéon, she set it up here on Rue Dupuytren, where she also lived above.
I love photographing the windows of these places, imagining these great people pushing aside the curtains, peering out over the city, and wondering about their place in the world. Just like I do.
#8 Shakespeare and Company
I and many other bloggers have photographed the snot out of this shop for decades, so I didn’t necessarily feel the need to photograph it again and again, as I have over the years. I visited it, as I do every time I visit Paris, just to read, think, write, and get out of the rain. I sat upstairs in the library for about four hours, doing just that. Where the books have a wonderful old-book smell, where the window looks out over Notre Dame, where the typewriters no longer work from worn-out ribbons, and the floor tiles click with each heel.
Shakes & Co has a history of letting struggling writers live in the shop for free while they work on their tomes. If you want to know more about this, I highly suggest reading the memoir Time Was Soft There, written by Canadian Jeremy Mercer. It details his life as a struggling writer living in the shop with George Whitman. It’s great and moving.
Whilst there, I read the first four chapters of this. What is this? The hardcover with the lovely H & E initials coupled together?
It’s The Paris Wife. A fictionalized account of Hadley and Hemingway’s early years together in Paris, told from Hadley’s point of view.
#9 Pablo Picasso, 7 Rue des Grands-Augustins
Here, beyond the gates, is where Pablo Picasso’s studio was located in the 20s and 30s. It was here that he painted Guernica.
What’s also incredible is that this is also the setting for Balzac’s short story “The Unknown Masterpiece” in the 19th century. Picasso was, apparently inspired by that, even though his masterpiece is well-known.
So the gates of this house were open, and I couldn’t seem to find a single soul on the lot, so, being the curious case that I am, I wandered inside.
And look what had happened right across the street a couple hundred years earlier:
It says, in that spot, Louis XIII received the sacrement one hour after his father, Henry IV, died.
And for some reason, this wheatpaste was on the wall.
#10 F. Scott Fitzgerald, 14 Rue Tilsitt
Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda lived here with their young baby as he was writing The Great Gatsby. This is literally around the corner from L’Arc de Triomphe
I wasn’t sure which window was his, but again, I like to pretend one of these was his, and he would stare out onto the street, over the top of L’Arc de Triomphe, and wonder about his future. The Great Gatsby was a modest hit during his lifetime. Sure it was made into a film back then, but by the end of his life in the 60s, he was a Hollywood hack, working only on the strength of his name, rather than his successes. He was known to purchase copies of his own book, just to increase his sales. He died thinking himself a failure.
#11 Honoré de Balzac, 47 Rue Raynouard
It’s crazy to think that at the time Balzac lived here in the 1800s, this was beyond the city limits of Paris, considered suburban, and therefore, one could live in a house with such a huge garden! Surrounding Balzac’s surviving house is row upon row up high-rises (ornate and sumptuous as they may be, from the early 20th century), but urban nonetheless. His house stands out.
Balzac’s house has been turned into a museum that’s free to the public. It’s a charming little home, which details his writing habits. He would wake up around midnight and, fueld by endless cups of coffee, he would find inspiration in the stillness and solitude of the night. He would continue this way until it was time to eat in the morning and afternoon.
Here is his chair, his writing desk, and one of his manuscripts under glass.
#12 Emile Zola, 21 Rue de Bruxelles
At the time Zola lived here, it was a swinging hotel behind Place Clichy. Now it’s just another abandoned but beautiful architectural relic.
He wrote his infamous essay J’accuse here, and also died here.
Windows as far as the eye can see. Ideas, tantamount.
#13 Ezra Pound, 70 bis Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs
There was no plaque, and very little information on what Pound did here during his time here. I was mostly on Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in order to find Hemingway & Hadley’s second home at 113 Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, but, oddly, to my surprise, I couldn’t find it! I found 111, I found 115, and I found 115 bis, but no 113! Is it unmarked? Hidden? Torn down for 115 bis?
#14 Marcel Proust, 102 Boulevard Hausmann
They turned Marcel Proust’s home into a bank.
#15 Tamara de Lempicka, 5 Rue Guy de Maupassant
This is where my most favourite artist lived in the 1920s when she painted her most deliriously sumptuous art-deco portraits and had some scandalous affairs. I have been in love with Tamara de Lempicka’s work since I saw her work at Montreal’s Musée des Beaux-Arts when I was ten and bought a bookmark. In my 20s, I bought her posters, ripped her stuff out of magazines and books, framed them and hung them around my various shitty apartments.
So when I was taking the metro in Paris, I noticed by pure luck that the Pinacotheque was putting on a Lempicka exhibit, so I rushed to see it. You’re not allowed to take photographs inside the exhibit, but all the security guards were huddled in one corner having a gossip-fest, so I quickly whipped out the iPad out of their view, and snapped these images licketty-split.
#16 Victor Hugo and Les Misèrables
Les Mis is based on the June 1832 rebellion, not the French Revolution as many people erroneously believe. A student rebellion that only lasted a couple of days, where they barricaded the streets just north of Chatelet-les-Halles, but were bloodily defeated by the army.
According to wikipedia:
“On June 5, 1832, Victor Hugo was writing a play in the Tuileries Gardens when he heard the sound of gunfire from the direction of Les Halles. The Gardens were deserted and the park-keeper had to unlock the gates to let Hugo out, but instead of hurrying home, he followed the sounds through the empty streets, unaware that half of Paris had already fallen to the mob. All about Les Halles were barricades. Hugo headed north up the Rue Montmartre, then turned right onto the Passage du Saumon, and at last turning before the Rue du Bout du Monde (World’s End Street). Halfway down the alley, the grilles at either end were slammed shut. Hugo was surrounded by barricades and flung himself against a wall, as all the shops and stores had been closed for some time. He found shelter between some columns. For a quarter of an hour, bullets flew both ways.”
Doing some digging, I found that these above streets were still there, exact renamed. Passage du Saumon is now called Passage Ben Aiad, and Rue du Bout du Monde is now called Rue Leopold Bellan. So I decided to follow the footsteps of Hugo on that fateful day. I hung out in Les Tuileries for a bit, sitting under some trees to shield myself from the rain.
Then walked up Monmartre which is now a fashionable shopping district. I finally came upon Rue Leopold Bellan:
but finding the Passage Ben Aiad was more difficult than I imagined. Like Hugo getting trapped behind the grilled fences during the gun battle, there were a lot of passages that were closed off to the public by grilled fances, and not many of them are marked or well marked… so I wandered the area for about half and hour searching for the previously known Passage du Saumon, where he had to huddle from shooting death.
Then, I turned down the opposite street, and found the back entrance to it!
Let’s take a minute to ponder upon this, munchkins. This is the exact spot that, without which, we would not have one of the most rousing novels, one of the most stirring musicals, and one of the greatest documents of an otherwise-forgettable bloodbath. This is where it all happened. June Uprising, not forgotten, nor it’s auteur.
I stuck my camera through the gates, and the passage is now apparently home to many flats, but the grilled fences are still there.
It dons a historical marker, but it says nothing of the June Rebellion, oddly.
Speaking of Les Mis, in the novel, Hugo describes the battle as happening just south of this location near St Denis and “Rue de la Chanverrerie” which, in reality, was the Rue Rambuteau, which still exists today. It is also a disgusting shopping district with no historical markers visible (fucking Starbucks on the corner too), but I decided to photograph the street corner nonetheless.
#17 Edith Piaf, 18 Rue Véron
Again, not a writer, but an inspiring and talented artist nonetheless that is synonymous with Paris. I found out through my digging that, in the early 1930s when she was only 20 years old, she took a room at this location to focus on cultivating a singing career, which came later. So I wandered the hilly narrow streets of Montmartre to find it.
Again, no historical marker, but still standing. It says it’s a hotel, which I’d wager it was back then as well, but it appeared to be abandoned. No sign of life at the door. I stood in the opposite doorway as it rained and rained, imagining her running in and out of that door, in the rain as well, looking for a gig.
#18 The writer cafés of Montparnasse.
The Lost Generation of Hem, Fitzgerald, Stein, Pound, Beach, Picasso, et al, all talked about these cafes. They would come here to socialize, to drink, to write, to drink, to be inspired, and to drink. Walking along the boulevard, you can’t swing a bottle of Merlot without cracking it on 5 massive Parisian cafes.
L’Auberge de Venise (Dingo bar)
Now this one is super important, because it is where Hemingway first met F. Scott Fitzgerald. He details this encounter in A Moveable Feast, and says he didn’t much care for Fitzgerald. Later on in their friendship, Fitzgerald pulled Hem into the loo’s to show him his penis, insecure about it’s size because Zelda had given him a complex. Hem had to (much to his chagrin) assure the poor Scott that yes, his wang was of adequate size.
This is also where Hem first met Lady Duff Twysden, who would become the inspiration for the character of Brett in The Sun Also Rises.
Hem’s picture on the wall.
The bar where all these encounters went down.
La Closerie des Lilas
Another super important cafe because Hem writes about this cafe in detail. He loved coming here to write daily.
Le salon of Closerie des Lilas, where he undoubtably scribbled some of his most brilliant works.
#19 The Cafés of St Germain des Pres
Les Deux Magots
Hem writes a lot about writing at Les Deux Magots, which 100 years ago was a Chinese shop (the two “magots” in question are the Chinese figures which rise above the bar) but turned into a bar at some point. Hem wasn’t alone, the cafe is littered with photographs of other writers who frequented.
Here’s a pic of Hem sitting in the cafe, and it’s hung right above the spot where he was sitting.
This photograph of Simone de Beauvoir is hung exactly in the spot where he is depicted.
Cafe de Flore
In reality, I only photographed this cafe because I recently saw the Quebecois film Cafe de Flore starring Vanessa Paradis, and it was SO FUCKING GOOD that I figured the place the deserved a photo. Also, I love that woman that I captured turning around in front of the joint. She was being called out to by her young son who was being taken away by a nanny. It was a glorious moment in time.
As you can see, this tour was all-encompassing and took me an entire week to complete, as it traverses all across the city. But it was so worth it, so inspiring, and it helped me launch into the goodies of my second book (oh yes, this novel will be loaded with the goods).
I have much more to blog about Paris, and will do so tout suite. Expect more to come, my little munchkins.
Are you fan of the Parisian writers? Have you also visited these spots? Do you have your own inspiring Paris story? Tell me in the comments below!