It was a sunny Saturday morning and we were off on our Hemingway Walk, our copy of Forever Paris by Christina Henry de Tessan in my hand. Christina’s starting point for the walk was a mile away in the fifth arrondissement. But stop # 6 was right around the corner from our apartment on Rue de Condé. So we changed the sequence of our walk just a tad.
It took just a couple of minutes to walk up our street to Carrefour de l’Odéon where Rue de Condé merges with Rue de l’Odéon and Rue Monsieur-le-Prince and then down Rue de l’Odéon to #12, the home of Sylvia Beach and her business, an English-language bookstore and publishing company she called Shakespeare and Company.
Sylvia Beach is famous for publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922 after it was banned both in England and the United States. Ernest Hemingway was one of her many admirers and he writes in A Moveable Feast how she helped him and many other American expatriates who frequented her store and used it as a gathering place. She encouraged Hemingway to read the works of Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and he borrowed these and other books from her lending library.
Sylvia Beach closed her business when the Germans took over Paris in 1940. In 1951 George Whitman opened up another English-language bookstore called Le Mistral on the banks of the Seine across from Notre Dame and it soon became a haven for another generation of expatriate writers and is now a popular tourist spot. In tribute to Sylvia he renamed his store Shakespeare and Company in 1964. There’s a scene in Midnight in Paris that takes place at this current Shakespeare and Company. We visited this place one night with our Irish cousins. Whitman died in 2011 at the age of 98. The store is now run by his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman.
We then walked back up to the Carrefour and turned right again to begin our exploration of Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, named along with our street after the Condé family who were relatives of Kings Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV and whose palace and palace grounds stretched from Rue Vaugirard across from the Luxembourg Palace to Carrefour l’Odéon. The Condé palace was demolished in 1770 and most of the buildings in the neighborhood including our own apartment date back to the late 18th century. We soon came across another English-language bookstore, this one called San Francisco Book Company at 17 Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, and we just had to stop and take a look at a place named after the city where I grew up. I struck up a conversation with the British manager and told him I had recently visited Stonehenge, Glastonbury and Avebury. “Are you a Druid?” he asked. I noticed that there was a copy of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in the window.
We walked down another block and soon found our stop # 7, a little old restaurant called Le Polidor. Hemingway went here a lot because the food was cheap. Students still come here a lot because the food is still relatively inexpensive. Tourists come, too, mostly because the place is recommended by Rick Steves. The majority of reviews on the Internet, however, are rather negative: The service is lousy. The food is mediocre. And don’t go anywhere near the 100-year-old restroom. Otherwise, it’s a terrific place!
Remember the scene in Midnight in Paris where Pender asks Hemingway to read his manuscript and gets a mouthful of advice about death and writers? Well, that scene was shot inside Le Polidor. I guess a lot of moviegoers also come to see the restaurant. There’s a picture of Woody Allen in the window. “Merci,” says Woody to the owners. I think they have probably said the same to him many, many times.
We continued on Rue Monsieur-le-Prince past Rue Vaugirard to Boulevard Saint-Michel just above Place Edmond-Rostand. On the way we passed # 54 where the famous philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal lived and wrote his Pensées. There’s a sushi restaurant there now on the ground floor.
At Place Edmond-Rostand my wife decided to do her own exploring of the shopping possibilities along Boulevard Saint-Michel while I crossed the street and entered the fifth arrondissement on my way to find the first stop on Christina’s Walk, the apartment on Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine where Hemingway and his wife Hadley lived for a couple of years. We agreed to meet in an hour.
My next posting — Our Hemingway Walk, Part Two — will cover that hour.