Our apartment on Rue Vavin is right in heart of Hemingway’s Paris described in the middle portions of A Movable Feast (which covered the time Hemingway lived at 113 Rue Notre Dame des Champs). Gertrude Stein’s 27 Rue de Fleurus studio is one block over, and I walk by it almost daily to buy mandarins. The Jardin du Luxembourg and my pétanque courts are a mere 40 meters away.
Hemingway’s lean prose is offset by his expansion of time and distance. In that expansion lies literary detail and significance, but in purely physical terms Hemingway’s walks are far shorter, the hills slighter in grade, than they read in A Movable Feast or The Sun Also Rises.
I often take morning coffee at Le Select, and we frequent the other “principal cafés,” The Dome, Le Rotund, and Le Coupole. All are still operating near the tortuous intersections of the Boulevard Montparnasse, with the Boulevard Raspail and Rue Vavin. All are just a two minute walk from our apartment on Rue Vavin. The Dingo bar around the The Dome on the Rue Delambre is gone, but another bar is open in the same spot and retains the same wooden bar where Hemingway first met Fitzgerald.
For all the cafés, this side of the 6th is far quieter and more livable than the Senate/St. Germain side. Tourists can crowd Le Select on weekends, but a bit father up Rue Delambre lies a favorite of Henry Miller, the Café de la Liberté. It’s almost always quiet, and thus a good place have a conversation.
Our favorite restaurant, especially since the passing of the Patricia Wells’ beloved Chez Gramond at 3 Rue de Fleurus, is Chez Marcel at 7 Rue Stanislas (about two blocks from Le Select). There are nights when everyone in the kitchen is over 70 years of age. It’s small, authentic, and wonderful. Make reservations in person. Enjoy.
Hemingway’s apartment at 113 Notre dame de Champs is long gone. Around 1924-1925, he lived with his first wife, Hadley, and infant son Bumby in an apartment above a sawmill. A school now operates at the site. A few weeks ago I was walking home from the café La Closerie des Lilas along the narrow Rue Notre Dame de Champs. It was cold. The rain still dripped into fresh puddles that commanded my attention to avoid. Just as I reached Hemingway’s old address, an unmarked door cracked open across the street and a woman popped out, carrying her baguettes for the day. Although it had been a few years, I remembered a passage in A Moveable Feast where Hemingway described walking out his apartment door and cutting into the back door of a boulangerie as a shortcut up to the Blvd. Montparnasse. The shortcut saves a walk of several blocks.
Intrigued, I investigated. To my delight, I found the very steps and back door Hemingway described. I took the stairs to find they still open into the back of a boulangerie that operates on the site (fronting the Blvd. Montparnasse). In fact, they have a small image of Hemingway on a hidden glass door at the top of the stairs! I know it is really nerdy, but it was a delightful find I would have otherwise missed had I not remembered the obscure reference from A Movable Feast.
My English professor colleagues are now nodding in approval at this annecdotal evidence in support of “close reading.”
What is interesting is that the image of Hemingway is the one associated with Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea (the older Papa wearing a turtle neck sailor sweater). Hemingway was a young man in his 20s living in Paris when he used this back door shortcut from the Rue Notre Dame des Champs to the Blvd. Montparnasse. At one time in the past (I’d guess the 60′s or 70s by the condition of image) someone decided to pay homage to Hemingway by painting a ghostly image on the glass.
The day was good.