Discovering the 1920’s in Modern Paris

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In the words of Ernest Hemingway, Paris is “a moveable feast”—a feast of emotions and sensations that, once you’ve lived here, you carry with you wherever you go. I’ve only been living here for one month, but I already understand what Hemingway meant. His posthumously-published memoir about his expatriate years in Paris with the likes of Fitzgerald, Stein, Joyce, Pound, Picasso, Modigliani, and others, A Moveable Feast, is a phenomenal read; I have a copy with me and it is such a surreal experience to read it in the very places it was drawn from.

Part of the reason why Paris aways seemed so appealing to me was because of the city’s ties to the 1920’s and the Lost Generation—to those of you who know me, this post comes as no surprise. It was only a matter of time before I blogged about Paris’ roaring years hosting the best literary movement in history (and the copy of A Moveable Feast and three copies of The Great Gatsby I have already accumulated since coming here). In a wonderful twist of fate, I have class in Montparnasse, the very once-inexpensive neighborhood where Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and their fellow expatriates wrote and lived, and I live a mere fifteen minute walk from the bookstores, cafés, and residences they frequented. My inner English nerd is definitely showing through in this post, but I’ll detail a few of the Lost Generation haunts I have discovered so far.

1. Harry’s New York Bar

Okay, so it’s not very French. But Harry’s was always meant to be an American hangout, founded in 1911 when Harry MacElhone relocated his bar in New York City to Paris. It was a refuge for English speakers in a foreign country, and is famous today for inventing classic cocktails like the Bloody Mary, the Sidecar, and the White Lady and for hosting the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sartre, and Gershwin. Starting at 10 pm, the downstairs room turns into a live piano bar, in the very space where Gershwin composed “An American in Paris.” The piano lounge features red velvet lounge chairs, a mahogany bar, a beautiful piano, and small tables that really create a Roaring Twenties atmosphere.

The outside of Harry's located right near the Paris Opéra.

The outside of Harry’s located right near the Paris Opéra.

The downstairs piano lounge. (Photo courtesy of Harry's website.)

The downstairs piano lounge. (Photo courtesy of Harry’s website.)

2. Le Café de Flore

One of the many haunts frequented by Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Le Café de Flore is now a very expensive tourist attraction. Still, I made the trip and sat in the very restaurant where Fitzgerald once wrote (me getting excited over places where Fitzgerald sat or ate or wrote is a common theme throughout this post—you’ve been warned). It was a very unique dining experience I will always remember, and I even got a complimentary placemat that is going on my wall the minute I return to Temple!

3. Le Select, La Rotonde, La Dome, La Closerie des Lilas

These cafés line the street right by the Sorbonne, where my classes are held. Once cheap hangouts for struggling writers and artists, these restaurants now cater to tourists and the well-to-do—Le Select features 6-euro coffee (about 9 or 10 dollars) and La Closerie des Lilas offers very high-end dinners. However, each has really held its original charm and decor, and I love walking past La Closerie des Lilas (the site where Fitzgerald first showed Gatsby to Hemingway!!!) on my morning walk to school.

Le+Select+from+rue+Vavin

rotonde

Le Select, La Rotonde, et La Closeries des Lilas

Le Select, La Rotonde, et La Closeries des Lilas

4. Lost Generation Residences

Even more personal and interesting are the residences of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Oscar Wilde (although Wilde’s not associated with the Lost Generation, he’s still a phenomenal writer and fun to check out). Although I haven’t yet visited Gertrude Stein’s residence, I definitely plan to make the trip, since her home was such a popular gathering spot for her peers (Midnight in Paris is pretty accurate). Paris also offers walking tours of the city based around Hemingway and Stein’s hangouts and major locations, which is an affordable and neat way to discover the 1920’s in modern Paris.

5. Shakespeare and Company

I saved the best for last, as Shakespeare and Company is my favorite place in Paris. It is frequently featured on “Best Bookstores in the World” or “Top 10 Bookstores” lists, and for good reason—there is so much history and culture and literary beauty behind it. I like to go after school and read for an hour two in the upstairs reading room, which features a unique library and cool events that I’ll detail in a future post about interesting stumble-upons in Paris.

The front facade of the bookstore.

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway devotes an entire chapter to this bookstore (which I read in the very bookstore) and details his friendship with Sylvia Beach, the owner, and her generosity to struggling writers (she allowed Hemingway to take books from the store or library and read them even though he could not afford a membership). Beach’s store closed during the German occupation of Paris during WWII and never re-opened, but Englishman George Whitman opened a new Shakespeare and Co., modeled after Beach’s, in the 1950’s, and let struggling visitors sleep in the upstairs library (named after Beach). Today, Shakespeare and Co. is geared toward tourists, but the lesser-known aspects of it— the free Shakespeare performances, the visiting writers, the writers’ groups, the antiquarian bookseller, the weekly tea parties with an old British woman who also knew George Whitman, etc.—are uniquely Parisian, and especially for modern expatriates looking for an English-speaking refuge. Seriously, I’m considering applying for a job and not getting on the plane back home.

There are of course many more sites where one can discover the 1920’s in modern-day Paris, but I’ll sign off for now. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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