A few weeks ago, while up in my mountain fastness, I rewatched MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, the Woody Allen film about a struggling writer visiting modern Paris (played by Owen Wilson) who finds himself travelling back in time to Paris of the 20s, where he finds himself bumping into Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Dali, Picasso, and the other artists and writers who made that such a special time. It’s a lovely, entertaining movie about nostalgia. I have enjoyed it before and I expect I will enjoy it again.
Watching it, however, made me realize that I had never read Hemingway’s A MOVEABLE FEAST, his memoir about his days in Paris as a hungry young writer in the 20s. That book, and the times it chronicles, were obviously what inspired Allen to do MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. I have never been a huge Hemingway fan, as it happens — I have read several of his novels, of course, though by no means all, and when I look back on the writers of that era, I find I much prefer F. Scott Fitzgerald — but I was curious, so I went and ordered the book and devoured it as soon as it arrived.
A few random thoughts–
— Woody Allen really nails Hemingway in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, hoo boy,
— I liked A MOVEABLE FEAST more than I have any of Hemingway’s novels, truth be told. It was a vivid glimpse back into a vanished time and place, and into the author himself as a young man. The book was not entirely what I expected. Parts of it were moving and nostalgic, but other parts were surprisingly funny, like Hemingway’s efforts to assure Fitzgerald that his dick was not too small by showing him statues in the Louvre. Other parts were sad, like the account of his estrangement from Gertrude Stein. And his thoughts on life, love, and writing are always fascinating,
— Hemingway could not have been an easy friend; his judgements of others could be scathing and acidic. Alice Roosevelt Longworth would have wanted him sitting near her, for certain,
— whatever golden glow might light the moveable feast of Paris in the 20s, I can never escape the knowledge that after the 20s came the 30s, when the lights went out all over Europe. You know. Nazis. And that makes me think of the world today, and shiver.
Thing is, while A MOVEABLE FEAST is about Paris in the 20s, it was not written until decades later. It was, in fact, published posthumously, after Hemingway took his own life. He was writing and editing it during the last years of his life… an old man, rich and famous and sad, looking back on his youth when he was poor and struggling and unknown, but alive and vital, in love with his first wife and with Paris, drunk on dreams of what the future might hold, of all the possibilities that lay before him. The whole book very much exemplifies what Woody Allen was talking about in MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Papa, in those final years, is writing of the time and place when he was happiest… or at least the time and place he remembers being happiest… but I do wonder whether or not he is only remembering the good stuff.
Reading it, I could not help but reflect on my own life. We all have our own moveable feasts. For me, I think, it was science fiction fandom in the 70s. I was a struggling writer then, just as Hemingway was in the 20s; writing, writing, going to workshops, collecting rejections, trying to get better, never knowing when the next sale might come. No, I did not get to hang with Scott and Zelda, or Hemingway, or Gertrude Stein, or Dali… but I had Howard Waldrop and Jack Dann and Lisa Tuttle, I drank with the Haldemans, I hunted the hallways of worldcon with Gardner Dozois looking for the Secret Pro Party, went skinny-dipping in hotel pools and met Parris in a sauna. When I got hungry I went looking for an editor with an expense account who might buy me a meal (elsewise I was scrounging in the con suite). Giants walked the halls in those days, and I had the good fortune to meet a few of them, if only to tell them what their work had meant to me. I shook the hands of C.L. Moore and Edmond Hamilton and Murray Leinster, I had actual conversations with Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury and Ted Sturgeon, I got to share meals with Julie Schwartz and Wilson Tucker, with Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg.
Like Hemingway in Paris, I never had much money. I shared rooms at cons, slept on floors or in a bathtub, got to the cons on a bus or in the back seat of a friend’s car… walked to the hotels from the bus station, lugging my suitcase in my hand (no wheels on luggage in those days) since I did not have the money for a cab. Were those the bad parts? Or the good parts? From 2020, it is not easy to say. They make me smile now, as I look back. But if I try, I know that there were really bad parts too. Like Hemingway, though, I choose not to dwell on them. The world was a fucked-up place, then as now, but fandom was a refuge; warm, welcoming, strange (but in a good way), a community unlike any I had ever known, united by a shared love of our peculiar little branch of literature and the people who wrote it.
To quote one of Hemingway’s contemporaries, however, you can’t go home again. By the time Hemingway sat down to write A MOVEABLE FEAST in those last years of his life, he surely knew that the Paris he had known and loved in the 20s was gone forever… and the fandom that I knew and loved in the 70s is gone as well. This year the worldcon is in Washinton DC, in the very same hotel where the 1974 worldcon was held… the worldcon where I lost my first Hugo, accepted Lisa Tuttle’s Campbell Award, and prowled the halls till dawn with Gargy, looking for parties we never found. There is a part of me that somehow hopes that going back to the same hotel in the same city, I might somehow recapture something of those nights. But my head knows better. My head knows those days are gone forever, along with so many of the people that I shared them with. I wonder how often Papa Hemingway returned to Paris in the 40s and 50s, and what he thought of the place when he did.
Anyway… I quite like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, and I loved A MOVEABLE FEAST. Maybe you will too.
Current Mood: melancholy