COVID-19 and Paris

Hemingway and Bumby
Hemingway and Bumby

Elmore Leonard, who admired Ernest Hemingway, and looked to him as a role model, once lamented that the famous author “didn’t have a sense of humor.”

I disagree.

I’ve been busy during our global time-out. I’ve been reading new fiction, as well as re-reading old favorites, including Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a series of vignettes of Hemingway’s early days as an author while starting a family in 1920s Paris.

This little book cannot be drained; every time I read it, I discover more treasures. And if the honorable Mr. Leonard were alive, I could tell him Hemingway displays a wicked sense of humor in A Moveable Feast.

Let’s look at a few examples.

The metaphor that links the book’s poignant scenes together is the sumptuous food and drink of Paris. Here’s how Hemingway launches our little tour:

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

That should whet any appetite. It certainly works for me.

Hemingway depicts Paris as a sprawling, lusty muse for all artists. In those days, he knew no greater joy than parking himself at a little café and setting a freshly sharpened pencil to his notebook. Pure writerly bliss. But every paradise has its snake, and for Hemingway, it’s the aggressive follower:

“Hi Hem. What are you trying to do? Write in a café?”

Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook.

Other artists, and especially writers, cannot evade Hemingway’s sharp, scrutinizing eye:

Wyndham Lewis wore a wide black hat, like a character in the quarter, and was dressed like someone out of La Boheme. He had a face that reminded me of a frog, not a bullfrog but just any frog, and Paris was too big a puddle for him.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and his melancholic wife Zelda get much scrutiny. Scott and Zelda had what you could call a rough and tumble, bittersweet relationship. When Zelda informs Scott she considers his, um, manhood inadequate, Scott looks to Hemingway for reassurance, which he kindly offers:

“You’re perfectly fine,” I said. “You are O.K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.”

“Those statues may not be accurate.”

“They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.”

Ah, the healing power of art.

17 thoughts on “COVID-19 and Paris”

    1. I’ve never seen any such references in Hemingway’s letters or in articles about either writer. I think their meeting would be as memorable and noisy as the introduction of Nitro and Glycerin.

      Liked by 1 person

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