Off The Beaten Path: Paris, France
Rediscovering The Lost Generation: Disillusionment, The Jazz Age, Expatriates: .
“Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain? Imagine this town in the ’20s. Paris in the ’20s, in the rain. The artists and writers!” Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender in the 2011 Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. An instant favorite of mine, this film follows the life of a Hollywood screenwriter as he time travels back to Paris in the 1920s and meets his literary heroes.
My time spent in Paris was very different than how I spent my stays in other cities. The day before we decided to leave, my best friend and I booked an overnight bus to Paris, France from London, England. The day our bus left we had spent the whole afternoon in a bar in Grantham, England and just made it to Victoria Station as our bus was leaving.
Upon arriving in Paris, we booked a room at the first hotel we found and then headed to the Left Bank. Though Paris is a number one tourist destination for many people and is popular for its attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Lourve and Arc de Triomphe (to name a few), we had other things on our mind for the weekend. As literary and film aficionados, the first place my friend and I wandered into was the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, nestled in between Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter. Sylvia Beach opened Shakespeare and Co. in 1919 and it quickly became a gathering place for writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford.
My mission for the weekend was to take a tip from Gil Pender and indulge my nostalgia. Paris does something to a person that is hard to explain. But not everyone feels it. You have to be open to the city and welcome her beauty. Walking along the Seine will always be one of my favorite things in the whole world. To not walk Paris is a crime against the city. Her tranquility can be overpowered by the tourists and street dwellers, but dart down a side street and you get swept up in the magic all over again.
As we wandered through the aisles of novels in Shakespeare and Co., we found the book Walks in Hemingway’s Paris: A Guide to Paris for the Literary Traveler. We quickly purchased our guide and and our adventure began. It was important for me to experience Paris beyond the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, though we still saw all of the typical attractions on our little journey through the past.
Over 80 years later, we are still able to see how our legendary idols lived when Paris sizzled with life during the Roaring Twenties. Beginning at Shakespeare and Co., we then wandered down the Seine, taking time to stop at many bouquinistes that line the river. These iconic secondhand bookstalls sell everything from vintage postcards, novels, posters and little souvenir items, and are just as eclectic today as in the 1920s. We quickly found ourselves at 27 Rue de Fleurus, the former home of Gertrude Stein. She was the first to call Hemingway and his contemporaries “The Lost Generation.” In that same area, we found the former homes of Pablo Picasso and Hemingway himself.
We decided our next stop was for afternoon cocktails at Harry’s New York Bar. Located at 5 Rue Daunou, between the Avenue de l’Opéra and the Rue de la Paix in Paris, France, the bar opened in 1911 and quicky became a spot where expatriates and international celebrities such as Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Humphry Bogart and Coco Chanel would frequent. The bar is also the birthplace of the Bloody Mary which, naturally, we had to try for ourselves.
Now on the Right Bank, we found ourselves in front of the Arc de Triomphe and on the crowded and famous Champs-Elysees. The street was packed with tourists and shoppers, but our destination was not the bustling street, but the former home of the Fitzgerald’s – which was just a quick walk away. Turning a corner, the excitement and noise from the Champs quickly faded and we found ourselves at 14 Rue de Tilsitt. One day, Hemingway met Fitzgerald at the Dingo Bar in Rue Delambre. They both also frequented the Ritz Bar, which is currently named after Hemingway himself. Sadly, the Ritz was under renovation while we were in Paris and we were not able to see the famous Hemingway Bar.
Our last stop for the day was 31 Rue Cambon; which if you’re not up to date on your fashion, is the apartment of Coco Chanel. One of my absolute icons, Chanel was the revolutionary designer who achieved her dreams and her home is just as exquisite as she was. Chanel lived at the Ritz, but worked and entertained at Rue Cambon. There are four floors: the Chanel store is at street level, haute couture dressing rooms are on the second floor, her apartment is on the third, and her workshop is on the fourth. The rooftop of the building is said to have some of the best views of Paris.
Of all the cities I have been to on my travels, Paris will always be one of my favorites. This city is unparalleled; it glows with love and intelligence. Years pass and the city is still preserved in its historical beauty. Having drinks under the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower and strolling along the serenity of the Seine are things that no other city can ever offer. The City of Light is overwhelming and soothing all at once; for as Hemingway said, “Paris is a moveable feast.”
“The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald