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.

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What I Learned This Summer In Europe

What I Learned This Summer In Europe

I’ve been home about a month now and beyond it of course being nice to catch up with friends and family, I do rather miss the streets of Paris, the tastes of Florence, and the sights of Venice. In reflecting back on the trip while going through photos I am reminded of the friends I made and the old ones I got the opportunity to see again. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. It was more than just a vacation it was a master class in French and Italian culture. I want to share some of the few lessons I learned while away:

1: Paris is Real.
In all the hustle and bustle of sightseeing, tourists, and attractions you forget that Paris is a city like any other. People are born there, they live there, and they die there. They fall in love there, they get married there and they start families there. Paris isn’t a make believe place that only exists in our dreams. It’s a living breathing place. It evolves and changes over time. It is worth spending more than a couple days there. To properly experience Paris you can’t rush it you need the time to take it all in, wander around the city streets and experience all things Parisian.

2: Apartments Are the Way to Go.
If you want a real authentic experience I’d highly recommend renting apartments. Not only does it allow you a home base to unwind and relax after a long day it allows you the luxury and freedom to do your own cooking which helps cut down on costs. We also found that the apartments were much cheaper than hotels and in some cases the same price or cheaper than hostels. We stayed 30 nights in Florence for 600 euros. That was $25/night for a 2 bedroom, with a large living area, full kitchen and a balcony. By staying a 20 minute walk outside the centre it allowed us to live as if we were Italians. We used http://www.airbnb.com, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a unique experience.

3: Blogging is Hard!!
Blogging is MUCH harder than it appears. It is very time consuming but the final product is absolutely worth it. I started this travel blog as a way to keep people informed about what we were up to, journal our experiences, and to force myself to write. I’ve learned so much and the blog has been a great success. I plan on maintaining this blog going forward focusing on a variety of things so be sure to check back often.

4: Travel with Someone You Love.
Traveling is tough. It’s delays, transfers, waiting, and the unexpected, but it’s because of the unexpected that you want to travel with someone you love. When Rebecca and I boarded that plane I honestly didn’t know what to expect. That thought made it very scary and very attractive all at the same time. The things we did, saw, and experienced are things I will never forget. There is no one else in the world I would have wanted to share them with. When I look back on this trip in 20 years I won’t remember just the things we saw I will remember the person I was with when I was there.

That’s it for now. I hope everyone has a great thanksgiving and is able to spend time with their loved ones. Remember, life is short, we only live once and some people don’t even do that.

PS — Click on the mosaic to check out 500 of my favourite photos from the trip up close.

From Paris (to Florence) with Luggage

From Paris (to Florence) with Luggage

We left our Paris apartment for the last time Sunday, bright and early, to begin our long trek to Florence. It didn’t take us long to realize that our luggage was slightly heavier than when we had arrived, something we discovered on our 1 km walked to the metro. Our journey was to take us from Paris – Gare de Lyon to Lyon on to Turin and then to our final destination of Florence. My least favorite part of travelling is the act of travelling itself, the actually physically moving from one place to another. Our first train went off without a hitch, arriving on time, if only a little wet from the predictable French weather. Once we arrived in Lyon Rebecca noticed our next train was in fact not a train but a bus, meaning to catch it we needed to leave the protective bubble that was the station and head out into the elements. We jetted from the station across the parking lot to the bus shelter getting utterly soaked as we pulled what some would say was incredibly obese luggage. The bus was late and I was less than impressed. The bus did eventually arrive, and it must be said it was beautiful. I have never seen a bus so nice. We spent the next 4 hours driving through the Graian Alps. It was a pretty sight, seeing the little villages in the mountains and of course driving through the Mont Blanc Tunnel was super cool. Along the way we met a nice lady, an elementary school nurse from Washington DC who had immigrated from central France way back when and was back visiting her family for the summer.

Sunday July 1st was also the final for the UEFA Euro Cup featuring Italy v Spain. Our last train was scheduled to arrive in Florence 15 minutes after kick off and our initial plans were to high tail it to the apartment find a bar and catch the second half. However, that plan didn’t exactly work. After a long long stressful day involving, two metro trains, navigating three trains stations, two trains, and a bus we opted to try and grab a cab from the train station to our apartment. Now, for those of you who have never been to the Florence train station, there is traditionally a fleet of white cabs waiting out front for fares. However, on this occasion there were none. All the cabbies were, as I suspect, at home watching the soccer game. In the end, we found a bus that would take us to our new apartment.

Check in went smoothly even though we missed our stop and had to walk a bit. We met Davide’s father later than originally planned and by the time we got settled the soccer game was all but over. Italy was behind by a number of goals. Starving, we decided to skip out on the end of the blow out and find a restaurant to grab something to eat, a tall order at 11:30pm on a Sunday in a small neighbourhood. However, after almost giving up and settling for a bag of popcorn, we found a little place called La Tortuga Di Oreste Gaetano just a stones throw from the apartment. We made fast friends with the owner, Gino, his wait staff and the kitchen staff. We were one of only a few tables left, the kitchen staff were all out eating, there was wine on the table, an old Italian lady was sitting, still in her Sunday best, sipping espresso. One of the most meaningful friends I met that night was a man named Franko with Down Syndrome. Franko is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life and that night he was wearing a New York Yankees shirt. Conversation was tough but we were both able to convey our love of baseball. We said our goodbyes after leaving a strong impression and headed back, proceeding to crash hard after a long long day.

Last Tango In Paris

Last Tango In Paris

Saturday we met with the owner of the apartment in the morning and after headed to Porte de Vanves to visit the flea market full of old Parisian antiques and nick ‘n’ nacks. We walked through the temporary vendor stands which had been set up for the weekly market. I’ve always like old things and other peoples “junk”.

Rebecca and I made our way to Pont de Neuf, as I had wanted badly to sit at the point of the island since we had arrived in Paris. We sat for about an hour watching the boats and enjoying our lunch of fresh bread from the Poliane bakery, fresh olives, brie cheese, tomatoes, and salami. After a period of time we migrated to the grass on the island, lay down, and napped for a while in the sun. The afternoon was spent in St. Germain, walking around one last time stopping in at bakeries and pastry shops to admire their specialities. Having spent that time also hunting for a cold bottle of Champagne to take to the park but the best we could find was lukewarm and determined it would be a sin to drink a warm bottle of champagne.

We opted to instead head over to Les Deux Magots, one of the more posh cafe’s in Paris, famous for many of its former cliental; Pablo Picasso, Simone de Beauvoir, and writers, such as Ernest Hemingway among many others. We started off with espresso then migrated to white wine as we sat and watched the traffic jam resulting from St. Germain having been closed all day for the Gay Pride Parade.

When we eventually felt hungry we walked down the street to Chez Gladines. I had their “Complete Salad” made up of greens, fried potatoes, fried egg, ham, and cheese while Rebecca choose a restaurant specialty of cheese potatoes with a side of escargot. For what seemed like hours we sat debating global warming while enjoying a rather sweet bottle of wine as our time in Paris came to a end.

We’ll Always Have Paris

We’ll Always Have Paris

On Fridays after 6 the Louvre is free for students. As Rebecca and I are still considered “students” we decided to take full advantage. Well, to be honest, Rebecca felt entitled to take full advantage, it didn’t make much difference to me as I’m under 26 and hold an EU passport I get in free whenever I want. We had attempted twice in the past month to make it to the museum but something else always seemed to trump our plans. On this occasion we were finally successful. We walked right in without standing in a single line and began to explore the museum. A few of my favorite things were the mummies in the Egyptian exhibit, the foundation of the old castle you were able to walk around, and of course finally seeing the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci and a number of the finer bits of art such as the Queens Jewels. We would spend a few hours walking around before our feet gave out and we headed back to the Tulleries Garden just outside the Louvre.

During the last half of the month there has been a Ferris wheel in the park, which caused me to learn that Rebecca had never been up one before. I made it known to her that we were going up as we had previously passed over the opportunity twice on this trip, once in Marseille and once at Le Mans. It was a steep price to go up but in the end it was perhaps one of the best buys of our entire stay in Paris. The Ferris wheel is sitting right in the middle of the city so you’re able to see everything, including the Eiffel Tower, and you get up high enough to take some great pictures and really just admire the city as a whole.

On our walk home we stopped by Pont des Arts and added our own addition to the bridge, our own love padlock – something frowned on by the local officials.

That night we went back to Chatillon and sat and enjoyed an ice cold bottle of champagne and savoured our second last night in Paris.

Passy – Brocante: Bistrot du Chineur

Passy – Brocante: Bistrot du Chineur

A week ago we came across this small quaint restaurant just beyond the Passy subway stop called Passy-Brocante: Bistrot du Chineur. It was attached to an antique store and when we met the owner he explained he was also the cook and that he made everything fresh as he did not have a freeze box. Each morning he would go out and buy what he needed for the day. His restaurant only had room for 10 people in its current setup, so you had to call in the morning to make a reservation. The whole idea intrigued both Rebecca and myself, so we made sure we made time to go eat there before leaving Paris.
Thursday at 12:30 we headed back towards this little restaurant not fully knowing what to expect. When we arrived we were greeted warmly and he sat us out at the foot of the store, allowing us to soak us some of the beautiful rays of sunshine. He took our drink order, 2 Euros for a glass of wine. For some of you not aware, that is a amazing price to find in Europe, especially Paris. We sat down basking in the sunshine and he brought the single menu over, written on his chalk board. The offerings sounded quite interesting. I ordered the mozzarella and tomato to start with the steak, potatoes, and green beans for my main dish, while Rebecca ordered avocado stuffed with crab meat as her entree and salmon with the same potatoes and green beans I enjoyed. We sat and just savoured everything about this quaint restaurant. The food, ambiance, service and overall time was perfect – perhaps one of the best meals I have ever had.

After lunch we headed up to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise as we both found it fitting and appropriate to visit Jim Morrison’s grave. It was rather interesting to see the fan made monument dedicated to the former singer song writer. Also housed in this cemetery are a number of famous French artists, such as Frederic Chopin, Eugene Delacroix, Moliere, and many others.

We headed back to Chatillon as it was a scorcher, one of the hottest days we had experienced since being in Paris. We ate a quick dinner and headed back out to meet up with Davide and a few of his friends to watch the Italy v Germany game at a bar inside the city – a place full of mostly Italian fans with a few Germans. The game was over before it had begun. The combination of Buffon and the young Mario Balotelli made the Italians unstoppable and the German blitzkrieg never got off the ground. This was the last night we would see Davide and his girlfriend before we left, but he informed us we will see him in Florence as he will be travelling to visit his parents. Rebecca and I rounded out the night sitting in a park eating a delicious falafel. So good.

The Tower that Eiffel Built

The big brown pylon in the middle of Paris has become our “White Whale” this entire trip. Every time we wanted to go up there’s either a huge line for tickets (partially due to the breakdown of one of the lifts) or it’s too late in the evening and it was closing. As a result, we determined the only solution to ensure we wouldn’t stand in line for hours would be to book tickets in advance. 11:30am on Wednesday was our date with destiny. Some people may say the best view of the city is from Sacre Coeur, but they are truly wrong. Sacre Coeur is too far away from everything important. You see the city as a whole but you don’t see the various sites in any detail. The view of the city and the arrondissements surrounding the tower is beautiful. We were fortunate enough to go up on a day that was clear with blue skies. Spending ample time on each of the three main levels, our total time at the Eiffel Tower was about 3 hours. We got our money’s worth for sure.

After leaving the tower we made our way along the right bank towards the Flame of Liberty. This famous full-sized, gold-leaf-covered replica of the new flame at the upper end of the torch carried in the hand of the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to the harbor of New York City since 1886 is also famous for being the tunnel in which Princess Diana died. I found seeing that and the make shift memorial around it to be strangely moving.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in St. Germain. We came across a full jazz band playing on the street, just past St. Germain des Pres, a church after which the arrondissement is named. We sat and listened until we felt hungry, prompting a grocery stop to pick up a bottle of wine, some cheese and bread. We headed up to the Luxembourg Gardens to sit and enjoy the park for one last evening. After sitting around the fountain which adorns the centre of the gardens, we headed to watch a bocce game while looking for the small scale model of Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, which we never did find