A Moveable Feast – Why Experiences Are Worth More

A Moveable Feast – Why Experiences Are Worth More

I’ve recently finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast, written in the 1920’s while he worked for the Toronto Star as a foreign correspondent. The novel chronicles his personal accounts and experiences living in the city and his observations about life and the people around him. It’s a rather priceless and rare look inside his life as a struggling young writer and his first hand accounts of interactions with such famous writers as Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and of course, Gertrude Stein. The title of the book originated from a conversation Hemingway had with his biographer. He commented that Paris leaves an impression on those who live there. Anyone who has lived there as a young person can attest to the fact that the city will stay with them for the rest of their lives. In essence: Paris is “a moveable feast”.

A Moveable Feast was published posthumously in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death. Edited by his fourth wife Mary, it was compiled using the unfinished manuscript and a collection of material which Hemingway had indicated he did not want included in a final draft. At the time of his death he had not wanted his Paris memoirs published because he felt it lacked a true ending and was therefore not a complete story. A restored edition was published in 2009 by Hemingway’s grandson Sean. This was intended to more accurately reflect the original work of Hemingway, disregarding the majority of Mary’s edits. It’s widely agreed that the new version can’t be regarded as any more definitive than the original. Ann Douglas, professor of literature at Columbia University put it best when she said “there can be no final text because there is not one.”

One of the things I loved most about A Moveable Feast was the simple pleasure of being able to read about Hemingway’s life in Paris as a young man. His vivid descriptions of the city transported me to the Boulevard St-Germain & Place St-Michel. His incredible eye for detail was able to capture what makes Paris a timeless city. He is able to describe the simple staples of Parisian life with intimate articulation. Hemingway encapsulates the most wonderful and rewarding experiences: be it strolling across the Luxembourg gardens, wandering through the Latin quarter, or sitting in cafes enjoying a café crème while observing people.

A common theme throughout A Moveable Feast is the poverty in which Hemingway and his first wife lived. Many times Hemingway makes reference to their poor financial situation. He writes about life in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods and the sacrifices they made on a daily basis to get by. He paints a portrait of his early life and the struggles he experienced as a writer while having to endure continuous hardships. Despite their circumstances, I was most shocked by their ability to live such a full life. Hemingway writes:

“But then we did not think ever of ourselves as poor. We did not accept it. We thought we were superior people and other people that we looked down on and rightly mistrusted were rich. It had never seemed strange to me to wear sweatshirts for underwear to keep warm. It only seemed odd to the rich. We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

They made sacrifices to have the life they wanted: a life full of rewarding activities with those close to them. If affording this life meant having to use public baths by the river, or having to often skip lunch, or borrowing books instead of purchasing them from Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, it was all in an effort to be able to enjoy a lifestyle that made them happy. Spending the money they saved on dining out with friends and on European excursions, such as winter in the mountains for a skiing holiday or summer in Spain for the San Fermin festival, shared a common theme.

Hemingway chose to spend his money on experiences and in no way was he the last person to promote such a lifestyle.  David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, suggests that people shouldn’t be afraid to admit when they can’t afford something and encourages spending more money on experiences rather than on “stuff”. Hemingway was able to live well while poor, not because it was easier back then, but because he understood what was important. Being able to live a life surrounded with good friends, good food, and good drink was the foundation not only to a fulfilling life for him but also a starting point for many of his great stories.

In the original version, the book is concluded with a rather fitting last line: “But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” This still holds true almost a hundred years later. Just below the pricey restaurants and cafes is a vast expanse of places where people can go and still enjoy a great quality of life on a budget.


The Sun Also Rises – The Lost Generation, Then and Now

The Sun Also Rises – The Lost Generation, Then and Now

Last week I finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises. Published in 1926, this novel helped to establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. The Sun Also Rises is widely considered to be the quintessential novel of the “Lost Generation”. The book focuses on a group of thirty-something American and British expatriates living on the Left Bank in Paris during the 1920’s. It follows their extravagant night life in Paris and their trip to Pamplona, Spain for the San Fermin festival (The running of the bulls). The book is an emotional investigation of the cynicism and torment which the post-World War I generation went through in their attempt to find their place in the world after returning home.

The theme from the book that resonates most with me is the aimlessness of the Lost Generation to which the characters belong. The Lost Generation, named by Gertrude Stein, describes the men and women who came of age during the Great War. Their experiences during that horrific conflict undermined and shattered their beliefs in the traditional notions of morality, justice, and love. Without these values and ideals to rely on, the members of this generation found their lives to be unfulfilling, causing them to no longer believe in any one thing. Their lives became empty and they wandered aimlessly in a world that appeared, to them, to be meaningless. They filled their time with purposeless activities, such as drinking, dancing, and debauchery. They slowly became psychologically and morally lost.

Recently, my generation, Generation Y, the Millennial Generation, has been described by The New York Times as Generation Limbo:

“Highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects. And so they wait: for the economy to turn, for good jobs to materialize, for their lucky break. Some do so bitterly, frustrated that their well-mapped careers have gone astray. Others do so anxiously, wondering how they are going to pay their rent, their school loans, their living expenses – sometimes resorting to once-unthinkable government handouts.”

Most of Generation Limbo’s hardships can be traced back to the Great Recession thanks to it’s long-term impact. During the recession the number of Americans aged 25 to 34 living with their parents jumped 25 percent resulting from the highest levels of unemployment for young people since World War II. While The New York Times refers to us as Generation Limbo, Harvard economist Richard Freeman takes it a step further saying “These people will be scared, and they will be called the “lost generation” – in that their careers would not be the same way if we had avoided this economic disaster.”

Aside from the original Lost Generation of the 20’s the only other age cohort to carry this moniker was the Japanese youth who grew up in the 90’s during Japan’s decade long recession. They experienced widespread unemployment which meant that the majority of this generation never had an opportunity to start real careers. During the recession the number of young people working temporary or contract jobs doubled and created a spike in suicides.

What we are seeing today is that Generation Y is becoming increasingly challenged by listlessness, a condition that will lead to a future of consequences for both the children and parents of their generation. It’s no secret that a large portion of young adults are being forced to postpone adulthood because they don’t feel like they have any other options.
It’s surprising how easy it is to draw parallels between two generations nearly 90 years apart. The average member of Generation Y will tell you that they feel helpless. That their lives are unfulfilling and they aimlessly move from one frivolous task to another. The lives of this generation are full of meaningless pursuits such as TV, videogames, and the internet. Their belief and faith in society has slowly been eroded and those finished school either unemployed or underemployed feel empty, without a sense of purpose. Many in this generation are seeing their futures flash before their eyes as they sit dormant, slowly losing faith in that promise of a better tomorrow.

Fundamental change. A serious conversation needs to be started, a conversation about the fundamental principles which undermine today’s society. This conversation can only be spurred on by a generation so incredibly affected by it, Generation Y. They must reach out to “the establishment” and begin a conversation about the necessary changes they want to see in society. The last few years have seen wide spread change on the issues that were once hotly contested, proof that change is possible. Although, before this conversation is possible, Generation Y will need to ask themselves: “Are we satisfied leaving policy decisions to those who are out of touch with both reality and the needs of the people?”