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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

History is Not Even Past in a City like Paris

One of my favorite movies is Midnight In Paris.  For those who’ve not seen it, the movie takes place in both modern-day Paris and the Paris of the 1920s. The main character, Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) is engaged to Inez (played by Rachel McAdams). They are in Paris on a trip with her parents. Gil writes screen plays, but aspires for something more. He wants to publish a novel about a nostalgia shop. Not surprisingly, he wishes he lived in 1920s Paris. One night, his dream comes true, as a classic Peugeot pulls up and takes him away in time to a party where he meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and even Salvador Dali.

As an ardent fan of this movie, as well as the writings of Ernest Hemingway, I couldn’t resist a combination Midnight in Paris and Hemingway walking tour during my recent trip to Paris. Because the MIP stops on the tour are not particulary  food or drinking related, I will focus more on the Hemingway aspect. Of course, no Hemingway walking tour would be complete without a few stops at the local watering holes!

© 2014 Chris Terrell
Where Gil is first escorted to 1920s Paris
The first stop on the MIP tour—and the most important—was Saint Etienne du Mont, the church near the Pantheon where Gil is first whisked away to 1920s Paris. 

We were famished and grabbed fish and chips at The 
Bombardier just across the street from the church. Nothing seems more incongruous than eating fish and chips and mushy peas at an English pub in Paris!  But when you’re an American who needs a break from classic French brasserie food and want a wee reminder of home (without going to McDonalds), then a trip to an English pub is close enough. It is also nice that everyone there speaks English fluently (even though almost all Parisians speak excellent English.) The servers are either from the UK (ours was from outside London) or have spent considerable time there (like my French server last year), so they understand idioms and the subtitles of the English language. This is why even if I were an expat in Paris and spoke fluent French, I would still seek out places where I could speak my native tongue.

© 2014 Chris Terrell
The Luxembourg Gardens
After refueling, we headed off to the Luxembourg Gardens, Hemingway’s favorite place to walk and think—certainly my favorite garden in Paris. 

After a stroll up the Avenue de de l’Obversatoire, we arrived at the highlight of the day’s walk: La Closerie des Lilas. This is a great brasserie and bar in Montparnasse, guarded by a bronze statue of Marshal Ney (Napoleon’s right-hand man) and, more importantly, frequented by Hemingway. 

© 2014 Chris Terrell

Me and Marshal Ney
It is rumored that Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises here. I was fortunate to sit at the same place at the bar where he sat (memorialized with a small brass plaque). And I must admit that I had one of the best martinis I’ve ever had.  It helps that this is an “American” style cocktail bar, so you can be sure that you are getting the best of American spirits here.  We noticed, in fact, that La Closerie des Lilas had one of the best selections of American bourbon and rye, something not always easily found in Paris.

Hemingway writes frequently of the Closerie des Lilas, a short walk from his apartment, in a Moveable Feast:

© 2014 Chris Terrell
The Closerie des Lilas was the nearest good café when we lived down the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in the top floor of the pavilion in the courtyard with the sawmill, and it was one of the nicest cafés in Paris. It was warm inside in the winter and in the spring and fall it was very fine outside with the tables 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.

French cafe culture is fascinating indeed. There are several things I noticed. For one, lunch starts later for the French than it does for Americans. We typically arrived between 11:30am and Noon and the tables were pretty empty; by 1:00pm they were filling up; by 2:00pm, they were packed with French diners.

© 2014 Chris Terrell
The next day we had lunch at Cafe de Flore, and while it was not around during Hemingway’s time in 1920s Paris, it would have been the type of place he would have haunted. Cafe de Flore lies on the fashionable Boulevard Saint Germain. It is decorated in the classic French cafe style with a tiled floor, mirrored walls, and long red banquets. Diners are served by a complex ballet of waiters in starched white shirts, black ties, and white aprons. They move quickly and efficiently, yet elegantly. 

© 2014 Chris Terrell
What makes a Parisian cafe such an institution, however, is its pace. While the waiters hustle about, the guests sit and eat and drink and talk deliberately. Time seems to stand still.  And of course, a demitasse of espresso is a down-payment for a long-term lease to sit on the sidewalk and people watch throughout the afternoon.

One lease payment I don’t mind paying.

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