Last month I reviewed Mary McAuliffe’s When Paris Sizzled: The 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Chanel, Cocteau, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker and Their Friends. Hemingway was working on The Sun Also Rises during that period, traveling to Spain and attending bullfights, and skiing with his first wife, Hadley, in the mountains of Switzerland, far from the cocktail-infused madness of Montparnasse.
Almost thirty years later, he recovered a trunk of his belongings that had been stored in the basement of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. Amid assorted clothing items, fishing, hunting, and skiing equipment, racing forms and receipts were the long lost notebooks that would serve as the basis for A Moveable Feast. Hemingway started writing it in 1957 in Cuba (I can almost the smell the strong, sweet, scent of a Havana cigar wafting in the humid air), and continued to work on it in Ketchum, Idaho, and Spain before it was completed in 1960. He committed suicide the following year. His fourth wife, Mary, had the memoir published posthumously in 1964.
The vignettes of his life in the City of Light from 1921 to 1926 are peopled with thinly-disguised acquaintances and friends. They are praised, they are criticized, and sometimes both. Hemingway is candid about how he interacted–he was generally regarded as arrogant–with the likes of Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, which treatment eventually resulted in the erosion of some initially strong relationships. Interestingly, he is revealing in his retrospective look at the unraveling of the fabric of his marriage to Hadley, although I got the impression he’d like us to believe “the other woman” was more responsible than he was. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
The book is a study in how an economy of words can yield a big payout. Written in simple, elegant, prose, the language is often so real you can taste the copious amounts of wine that flow at endless rounds of parties, as well as feel you are seated at “a table outside of the Closerie (des Lilas) watching the light change on the trees and buildings and the passage of the great slow horses of the outer boulevards.” A print by artist Guy Buffet depicting a scene at the restaurant hangs in my living room here in Portugal.
A Moveable Feast is a picture window into a remarkable, if tragic, life. If you’ve ever wondered what “Papa Hemingway” was all about, this is a must-read. For a view of the author from the perspective of his high school crush, check out the article from The Paris Review which follows.