What if we could raise Hemingway from the dead for a single day and send him off to Paris. What would he make of it? Of Havana too, by the way, but especially Paris.
I remember a trek back to Cambridge in the 90s, several years after graduation, and feeling a sensation akin to a punch in the gut attached to the sudden realisation that I no longer really knew anybody in town. Not a single door I could haphazardly knock on in order to cadge a coffee or a glass of port.
Back in the day when I was cycling around, bouncing off one fortuitous encounter after another, I'd knock on a random friend's door and sometimes unexpectedly find other mates already in situ within. And memorable conversations would ensue. (Once we had moved beyond the business of gently ridiculing all those not present.)
This I think is what Hemingway was writing about in the first third of The Sun Also Rises.
That buzz one gets from being 'one of us' — member of a select group within a select group, simultaneously an insider and an outsider in an incredible town.
That one could show up at a particular place, the sort one could 'stop in at' without prior arrangement, and have a pretty good idea exactly who one was likely to run into.
In my teens there was perhaps one such venue in London. Around the same time my parents had several. (Drones*...)
I've never really understood all that twaddle about the 'lost generation'. This has always struck me as a mis-read of those chapters, whatever the author himself said in that epigraph.
As if a bit of 'directionlessness', as a collective, were somehow a bad thing.
Hemingway wrote about Notre Dame 'squatting against the night sky'. In what world does a Gothic cathedral squat?
"Someone had put it on the American Women's Club list as a quaint restaurant on the Paris quais as yet untouched by Americans, so we had to wait forty-five minutes for a table."
* Some of the reviews of its short-lived replacement were spectacularly drôle:
"Seldom will you be battered by such a perfect storm of cloyingly cutesy decor, astoundingly intrusive service, utterly abysmal food and extortionate pricing. Not content with beggaring belief, this odious clip joint then hunts out belief and kicks it in the cobblers with a steel-capped toe."