WISH YOU WERE HERE
Hemingway’s Love Letters to the City of Light
No American ever loved Paris more than Ernest Hemingway, whose letters from the City of Light are packed with earthy detail and sensuous appreciation.
The timeless appeal of Paris has lured American expatriates of all shapes and varieties for more than a century. We went there to touch history, and romance, and creative freedom. American artists as diverse as Man Ray, Henry Miller, Aaron Copland, Edward Hopper, and William Faulkner spent time there (to say nothing of the thousands that aped them but fell short of immortality). Of course, Paris became a celebrated destination in the years following World War I when Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and the rest of what Stein dubbed “the Lost Generation” made their bones in the grand city.
Sylvia Beach opened her bookshop, Shakespeare & Company, in 1919, and it is still open for business. Just this week, according to Bloomberg, copies of Hemingway’s Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast (titled Paris est une Fete in French), sold briskly.
So who better to turn to than Hemingway himself for a glimpse of the city that so inspired and invigorated him and countless others? From the recently published and essential collection, Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 3: 1926-1929, edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier, and Robert W. Trogdon, here’s a selection of the author’s missives in which he is so plainly enthusiastic about his writing, about Europe, and especially about Paris. Please enjoy this glimpse into the City of Light.
[Note: The letters below appear as they were originally written, complete with any misspellings.]
To Ernest Walsh, 7 April 1926
113 Rue N.D des Champs. Paris VI April 7 1926
How the hell are you anyway. I’ve heard not a damned thing since I wrote you just before leaving for America. We saw Pauline Pfeiffer the other day—She’d visited with you and said you were well. I wrote her at your address to pay her some money I borrowed going through Paris. She bought me some night gowns for Hadley. God Nose I havent been writing letters. Havent written Ezra [Pound] since December. He must think me a fine shit. I’ll write him tomorrow. The Sun Also Rises is finally finished. Scribners are going to publish it and The Torrents of Spring. I got enough of an advance so that I scuttled back with it practically intact and after deducting the cost of the trip we can still go to Spain next month for 3 months. My writing is shaky from 9 hrs at the 6 day bike race with a fiasco—completo—of chianti and 2 btls. Volnay. Maybe that wouldn’t make your hand shake but it makes my hand shake. I’m healthy as hell and very fit. Going to write stories for the next 3 months. Every body in N.Y. was reading This Quarter—I saw it everywhere I went where there were any literary guys.
Paris is exciting as hell to be back in. I’ve been drinking a great deal of wine and feeling very damned good to have the book done. McAlmon is in town and is very nice and pleasant and we all get along swell.
Enclosed picture of Bumby and his old man. This is a rotten letter but if you write I’ll write a good one. I cant write letters but have better luck answering them. I’m very anxious to write stories again. A novel goes on too long and I dont know anything else while I’m doing it and it raises too much hell.
So Long and good luck and write!
To Henry Goodman, 16 January 1928
Switzerland, Jan.16, 1928.
Dear Mr. Goodman, Thank you very much for your letter.
For the guidance of your classes: The way in which I wrote a story called The Undefeated was as follows:
I got the idea of writing it while on an AE bus in Paris just as it was passing the Bon Marche (a large department store on the Bd Raspail). I was standing on the back platform of the bus and was in a great hurry to get home to start writing before I would lose it. I wrote all during lunch and until I was tired. Each succeeding day I went out of the house to a cafe in the morning and wrote on the story. It took several days to finish it. I do not remember the names of the cafes.
I wrote a story called The Killers in Madrid. I started it when I woke up after lunch and worked on it until supper. At supper I was very tired and drank a bottle of wine and read La Voz, El Heraldo, Informaciones, El Debate so as not to think about the story. After supper I went out for a walk. I saw no one I knew and went back to bed. The next morning I wrote a story called Today Is Friday. I forget what we had for lunch. That afternoon it snowed.3
My other stories have mostly been written in bed in the morning. If the above is not practical for the pupils perhaps they could substitute Fifth Avenue bus for AE bus, Saks for the Bon Marche, Drug Store for cafe— I believe there would be little difference except that they might not be permitted to write in a drug store.4
Yours very truly
(Signed) Ernest Hemingway
To Marcelline Hemingway Sanford, 8 June 1928
I lost your fine letter on a fishing trip— It dissolved in the pocket the 4th
time I went in the water—so I didnt realize how soon you were going— Wrote the family and am writing now—will send you a wire to the boat.1
Hadley’s address is 98 Bd Auguste Blanqui, Paris XIII. She can tell you tousands of places to eat, buy clothes, etc.
If you want a tailored suit go to O’Rossen in the Place Vendome.
Millions of citizens will recommend places to you— It is some peoples
main life to get people to go to the wonderful attractive little places they found themselves. So I wont bother you with many. However—
Eat outside at the Pavillon du Lac, the restaurant of the Parc Montsour[is], get fresh trout—tournedos and asperagus—and drink Pouilly (white) and St. Estephe (red) with the tournedos. It’s grand there on a warm evening.
Eat at the 4 Sergents du La Rochelle 4 Bd Beaumarchais (on the Place du Bastille). Eat anything but drink Richebourg, the best burgandy in town— They have it in magnums if youve any friends with you. But for Christ sake dont tell people to go there because there are only five magnums left. All their wines are lovely. Try the Margaux (red bordeaux) Tell the wine waiter your my sister.
Go to Brasserie Lipp on Bd Saint Germain opposite Cafe des Deux Magots for Beer—potatoe salad and choucroute garnie. Best beer in Paris.
Eat to spend money at Foyots, Tour D’Argent etc. But still spending money you can eat better at Laperouse and if you want to get your hair cut or a permanent go to Antoine’s in Rue Cambon, only decent coiffure in Paris.
If you want the best perfume there is, get Chanel’s Gardenia at Chanel7— also on rue Cambon.
Go to the Ritz for a cocktail and see the fraternity pins. I wish to God I was there to take you to the real places but we’re not. Mrs. Moody will know all the places but they arent my places. Best love and good luck.
I’ve no friends in Paris in the summer time so am not giving you any letters. Everybody is out of town. If you want a fine place to go, go to Saint Jean de Luz on the Basque coast. Swimming and everything else.
If you want to go to Pamplona, it is the 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th and 12th of July— Go to Don Juan Quintana at Hotel Quintana and tell him you are my sister and he must get you tickets. Give everybody my love.
So long kid and I hope you get this.
Love always— Ernie
To Guy Hickok, 27 September 1928
I am cockeyed nostalgique for Paris—for Buffalo and the Parc du Prince and the rue de la Gaitre and the bloody Luxembourg with the leaves fallen and riding down the Champs Elysees on the bike from the Etoile to the Concorde—and for everything to drink—Cinzano and Lipp’s Beer and I could drink 200 bottles of St. Estephe—that’s what I miss—not the burgundys or Chateau Yquems of literature but good 6 to 11 franc Bordeaux—but I got to rewrite this book and get a belly full of D’america so I'll have some stories to write when I come back...
Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 3: 1926-1929, edited by Rena Sanderson, Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway (in the USA) © 2015 The Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society and the Hemingway Foreign Rights Trust. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.