Paris In Ernest

Tracing the footsteps of a literary giant in the City of Light.

By Bridget Williams

August 17, 2018 4:00 PM

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I arrived in Paris 96 years and 29 days after Ernest Hemingway and his new bride Hadley, who were somewhat unprepared  for the dreariness of winter in the city. During those first few months, Hemingway wrote to his colleague, American novelist Sherwood Anderson, remarking about the cold and his low spirits saying, “I do not know what I thought Paris  would be like but it was not that way.” Indeed, it is easy to love Paris in  the springtime, but I find it even more beguiling in the winter, when its soul is laid as bare as the leafless trees that line the banks of the Seine. Admiring the architecture of naked branches reaching out in all directions, I am reminded of the decorative iron railings that adorn the famous façades of Baron Haussmann buildings lining the boulevards.

With no indoor plumbing, the Hemingway’s first apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine in the 5th arrondissement was less-than-ideal. In spite of the primitive conditions, the couple embraced their bohemian lifestyle, buoyed by a strong US dollar and an influx of stellar literary and artistic luminaries that made the 1920s a great time to be a writer in Paris. Capitalizing on convivial connections and the pervading creative atmosphere, Hemingway was soon on a path to infamy. I know I’m not alone in my romanticized and heavily rose-colored view of the people and places of this era (perpetuated even further by the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris), so for my most recent trip to the City of Lights, we made it our mission to tread the timeworn footsteps of literary legends.

Eschewing the traditional hotel route, we opted instead for a more “authentic” Parisian experience by renting an apartment through Paris Perfect, a company founded more than 20 years ago by a former French cardiac surgeon and his American investment banker wife. Working with the Paris Perfect team to whittle down the  available properties—ranging in size from a studio unit to a sprawling five-bedroom villa, based on our likes, dislikes and intended activities—we were able to find an ideal match. And ideal it was, as our “Champagne” apartment, located on the Left Bank in the heart or the 7th arrondissement (from $435/night), was a far cry from the squalor of Hemingway’s first abode.

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Paris Perfect’s “Champagne” apartment located on the Left Bank in the heart or the 7th arrondissement

Although we were aware of the apartment’s straight-on, postcard-perfect view of the Eiffel Tower from its wraparound balcony, as well as the living and dining rooms and the kitchen, it was truly something else to behold in person. The experience of starting and ending the day in the midst of such a global icon was simply magical. Our one-bedroom, 590 square-foot apartment was fully equipped for a comfortable home-away-from-home stay, including a modern kitchen with granite countertops, a petite dining area perfect for candlelight dinners, and a spacious living area outfitted in classic Parisian style.

Outside of the mesmerizing view, what I loved most about renting through Paris Perfect was the comprehensive neighborhood and visitor guide (more than 40 pages in total) that was provided to us digitally prior to arrival and in hard copy form in the apartment. Chock-full of insider information that would take the occasional Paris tourist years to acquire, it allowed us to easily plot out where to dine and what to see, and even more helpful, what places to avoid based on client and staff feedback.

The neighborhood surrounding our chosen apartment is well- known for its street markets (including the Rue Cler food market and Ront de l’Alma open market), and we had grand plans to visit the butcher, baker, and macaroon maker in order to create a locally-sourced feast, but with a vast array of enticing dining options ranging from charming family-owned bistros to extravagant Michelin-star dining within walking distance, we opted to leave the cooking to the experts.

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Paris Perfect’s Charlemagne apartment

Paris Perfect offers scores of walking tours and itinerary planning services tailored to an array of interests, from art to wine and everything in between. As this was only our second time in Paris and our time was limited, we opted to book a private, customized tour with Michael Osman, an American who has called the city home for the past 15 years. Affable and energetic, with a background in fine art and a deep love of his adopted city, he seized on our ambitious itinerary with aplomb. We managed to ogle the greatest hits at the Louvre, treasure hunt at the Les Puces flea market and visit several of his key “must see” stops, all before dinner.

Though we regrettably had Michael to guide the way only for a single day, he did provide us with a wealth of information to craft a self-guided literary tour, focused on the cafés and watering holes frequented by Hemingway and his contemporaries. Hemingway was known to be a keen people watcher, and then, as now, one of the best places to take in the ebb and flow of street life in Paris is at a sidewalk café. At Brasserie Lipp (151 Boulevard Saint-Germain), you can still partake of an Alsatian meal a la Hemingway–beer, pommes à l’huile and sausage—albeit at a far higher fare than Hem paid in his day.

Hemingway often drank with fellow writer F. Scott Fitzgerald at the Hôtel Ritz Paris (15 Place Vendôme). In 1944, Hemingway “liberated” the bar from the Nazis in cahoots with a group of displaced soldiers, ordering a round of champagne for every patron and thereby prompting the spot to henceforth be known as Bar Hemingway. Fresh off of a four- year, $400 million property-wide renovation, the revamped bar is helmed by the charming duo of Colin Field and Roman Devaux. Popular among Americans, the atmosphere is courteous and lively, and ladies’ drinks are presented with a delicate white rose balanced on the rim of the glass.

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The living area of a two-bedroom apartment near Montmartre from Paris Perfect

Opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1911, Harry’s New York bar claims to be the birthplace of the Bloody Mary in 1921. A popular hangout for “Lost Generation” writers of the 1920s, George Gershwin is purported to have composed An American In Paris there. The mahogany bar and wall paneling are original; the latter is now plastered with pennants hailing from American colleges and universities.

Given my affinity for Midnight in Paris, we included a dinner at Maxim’s on our itinerary even though it isn’t known as a Hemingway haunt. Although the food didn’t knock our socks off, the service was outstanding, and the ambiance in the Art Nouveau institution, founded as a bistro in 1893 by Maxime Gaillard, and since frequented by countless celebrities and royals, made it a worthwhile stop.

Other stops of note for the literary-minded traveler include Café le Dome (108 Boulevard du Montparnasse); Closerie des Lilas (171 Boulevard du Montparnasse); Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain), one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris; and Les Deux Magots (6 place Saint-Germain-des-Pres), which opened in 1875 and was a favorite of American artists for decades. One of the best places for people watching, the café’s terrace overlooks the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founded in the 6th century.

After spending a few short days and nights eating and drinking our way around the City of Lights, it became that much easier to understand the affectionate nostalgia pervading Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir about being a struggling young expatriate journalist and writer in Paris. ”If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”