Shot Behind The Theatre

A whimsical and readable blog

Matthew Willis on Paris

Yeah, the streets are never this empty on the Seine. Ever.

Yeah, the streets are never this empty on the Seine. Ever.

On the most popular places I visited during my week in Paris was an English book store called Shakespeare and Company. I suspect its popularity stems from its reputation of having Earnest Hemingway, James Joyce and other celebrated 1920s writers stay or at least visit the premises. There, I bought a charming book by Hemingway called , apppropriately, “Hemingway on Paris”.

I’d never read anything by Hemingway prior. A heresy for someone who calls himself a writer, but alas, there are so many “classics” someone will criticize you for not reading, what can a person do? In this book, Hemingway provides a charming and humourous picture of Paris during the early 1920s when he was living there, also in his early 20s. The book is made up of a series of articles he wrote for the Toronto Star (why he was writing for a Canadian newspaper, I have no idea). He writes very much for someone interested in both visiting Paris and simply for someone interested in learning more about the city. He makes the postwar 1920s Paris sound so attractive, giving the reader “insider” tips about where to visit and what to experience, that it wouldn’t be a surprise to me if his depiction of the city is what started the North American fansciation and fantasy with Paris. The Ideal Paris. The Romantic Paris. The Mythical Paris.


These two had a Starbucks built around them.

Unfortunately, Paris in Hemingway’s 1920s is not at all the same to what it is in 2015. In fact, when I arrived in Paris in February, it barely looked any different from any other modern North American city minus all the train stations. Paris is the winter looks no different than Vancouver: rainy, cloudy and full of people who’ll barely give you the time of day. The summer, probably, is no different from Vancouver either: overwhelmingly sunny and overcrowed with gawking tourists. Visitors should beware that Paris of the 1920s is no where to be found nearly 100 years later. It is still a beautiful place, with stunningly dressed women and men, with all the famous cultural icons we associate with the city, but it does not radiate, if you really listen to it without your trumped up fantasies and presumptions, anything of Hemingway’s Bohemian, post-war epicenter of culture.

It’s terribly expensive, full of tourist restaurants, peppered with French people with English accents that sound like condescention. For all it’s beautiful and romantic atmosphere, the architecture has erroded  from two world wars and endless renovations so that it really is only the atmosphere that remains. The art has faded from millions of camera flashes so that digital versions online offer better viewings. Starbucks and Burger King has invaded the shopping centres, explained to me as being “a la mode” for it’s sought-after American culture. The irony of this being that Starbucks here in Canada is attempting to be more “French”. Globalization does funny things with hypocrisy.

Despite all this, Paris and Edinburgh remained my two favourite locations to visit. Tourists looking for the Belle Epoque Paris and the Interwar-war city of bohemians will be sour when they find Paris has had a lot of time to prepare and cater to their coming, but it is still a sensory feast to walk through. Hemingway’s Paris was of an era, one that is nearly 100 years old. Old Paris is long dead and decomposed; New Paris is alive and well, wearing a fashionable neckscarf and discussing art in a way that makes North American culture sound like Mr. Dress-up, holding a grande mocha in one hand, and your wallet in the other.


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This entry was posted on May 12, 2015 by in Drafts.
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