“A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure.” – Charlie Chaplin
Though Chaplin is not associated with the lost generation of Paris, I don’t believe there was a more appropriate quote to round of this day than his little blurb describing his legendary tramp character–mainly because it was much in the way of this little blurb that I set out on my own to discover Paris.
To set the stage, it’s perhaps best to know the movie Midnight in Paris. In it, the character Gil Pender is magically transported back to the Paris of Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and the rest of the artists and writers who filled these streets after the Great War. He is a man disillusioned with the present he is in; and who ultimately learns an appreciation for his time. I recommend that if you haven’t seen it, you pick up a copy right now because it’s a love letter that you will fall in love with over and over again.
This movie and the artists that it portrays have made me fall deeper in love with this city, and much like Gil Pender, I wanted a day to follow in their footsteps…so I figured why not?
The start was a bit late, I’ll admit. I only just rolled out of bed around 11, but I rather doubted that those literary idols I wanted to emulate would have woken up any earlier, so I pressed on and took the metro out to Saint-Michel, where a fountain in the honor of the archangel Michael stands. From there, I did what any good wanderer would have done. I walked.
Imagine the things you see when you take the time to really see a city. In Paris it is the narrow medieval streets that branch off the boulevards of Haussmann, the cafes of Saint-Germain that have stood the test of time and weathering, and the people, as they hurry on or play their music, or rush you on your way while at the same time making you stay. You can lose yourself there, and I did. For about an hour too. I wandered aimlessly and ended up near my university by pure chance, and by that time I was beginning to feel hunger settle in. Imagine being in Paris, the place of a million cafes, and trying to really choose one. It is exhausting. By that time, I found myself walking to the metro, and I remembered a little stop that would take me to a restaurant that could be absolutely perfect. So I set out for Vavin Station where I would exit to face the famous La Rotonde of Montparnasse.
The history of this place is incredible. It used to be the spot for artists such as Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, and Modigliani, who would be allowed in by the patient owner who let them pay for their bread with paintings (copies of which still hang around the restaurant). It was the place where Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Scott Fitzgerald would eat and write in their heyday, and I hoped that maybe a little spark would rub off on me (a modest novelist with one work down and another one pending).
The place was packed, but I was still graciously seated at my own table where I given menus in English and French. I was afraid they would think me just another tourist, and I think they feared the same until they saw my little blue writing book come out. My server got the message almost instantly and proceeded to present my meal (a delicious duck plate with mushrooms and potatoes), my wine, and my two mini-baguettes (just like those that Picasso would steal for a later meal) and gave me the space to eat and enjoy while I scribbled away. He offered my café in the same fashion and just watched with a smile as I sipped and wrote away, and in a way, I believe he was happy to see that the legacy of writers had not left the place. I left the place after a good 2 hours of dining and scripting, and I returned back to my hotel with Cole Porter music ringing through my mind as I rode the metro home.
I now sit here, in my lobby, in what has become my makeshift writer’s studio, planning to type out my scribbles into coherent thoughts (much like the writers of the past would have done in their little flats), and I smile thinking that this day, this little child of the lost generation followed in her predecessors’ footsteps in a way that made me feel as if I walked with them side by side; that this little writer sat where they did and enjoyed bread that, almost 100 years ago now, they enjoyed. It was my turn now; my Midday in Paris, and my turn to fall absolutely in love with the city.