Monday, November 02, 2009

La Closerie des Lilas

On this, the day before my latest novel The Big Wake-Up hits stores, I thought it appropriate to return to my lurching tour of Hemingway's 1920s Paris by writing about my visit to his favorite cafe, La Closerie des Lilas.

As Hemingway says in A Moveable Feast:
The Closerie des Lilas was the nearest good cafe when we lived in the flat over the sawmill at 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, and it was one of the best cafes in Paris. It was warm inside in the winter and in the spring and fall it was fine outside with the table under the shade of the trees on the side where the statue of Marshal Ney was, and the square, regular tables under the big awnings along the boulevard.
It was at Closerie des Lilas that Hemingway wrote the Nick Adams short story "The Big Two-Hearted River" and finished the first draft of The Sun Also Rises.

He describes in A Moveable Feast how he worked on the story:
I sat in a corner with the afternoon light coming in over my shoulder and wrote in the notebook. The water brought me a cafe creme and I drank half of it when it cooled and left in on the table while I wrote. When I stopped writing I did not want to leave the river where I could see the trout in the pool.
He also places a scene from The Sun Also Rises there when narrator Jake Barnes and his friends Lady Brett Ashley and Bill Gorton take a taxi to the cafe:
Sitting out on the terraces of the Lilas Brett ordered whisky and soda, and I took one, too, and Bill took another pernod... Brett looked at me. 'I was a fool to go away,' she said. 'One's an ass to leave Paris.'
Finally, the cafe was the scene of Hemingway's second meeting with F. Scott Fitzgerald, during which time Fitzgerald complained that his masterpiece The Great Gatsby was not selling and asked Hemingway go with him to Lyons to pick up a car. The trip, too, is documented in a humorous passage in Feast.

When I was in Paris a year ago last summer, my wife and I visited the cafe and had lunch there. I made a point of taking in the photo of Hemingway they have in the bar near his favorite seat (pictured above). And once I returned to our table outside, I pulled out my notebook to record a few notes on The Big Wake-Up (which was still under construction at the time) to cement my claim that I, too, composed a work at the famous cafe!



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