Visiting Les Deux Magots, one of Hemingway’s favorite historic Parisian cafés led to this reflection.
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It seems only natural, sitting at a small table people-watching in a wicker chair at Les Deux Magots, that I dedicate this Hemingway experience by ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. Really, that’s all I wanted. An espresso and a croissant. Yet, perusing the destination restaurant’s menu, it’s clear that they know their market.
The most expensive thing on the standard breakfast menu is the Petite Dejeuners Hemingway (before launching on Sunday brunch lists only) includes coffee, two organic fried eggs, two strips of bacon, a croissant and an orange juice for 29 €. There’s no doubt in my mind that if Hemingway were alive to see it, he’d find a way to destroy them for sure.
It’s a nice enough cafe, but I passed a dozen others on Boulevard Saint-Germain that would have been just as good for a quarter of the price. I wouldn’t look over my shoulder at an angry waiter, wishing he had a bigger ticket to earn a tip from a stranger who doesn’t know better.
Laptop out, settling in for what I can only hope to fill the rest of a 13 hour layover in the city, I avoid eye contact with the master and he gets busy moving quickly without do nothing.
The most Hemingway thing I could do would not be to stay and finish but to leave in disgust. As I type A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s autobiographical book about his time in Paris rings in my ears. He has just finished describing while patiently sipping a beer because he only had half to follow and a piece of bread with which he swallowed olive oil. It’s more than pretentious but I can’t find a waiter to bring the check.
In those years he ran around the haunts of James Joyce like a boy-crazed teenager, was not the Ernest Hemingway I think of. In my mind it’s the Father years in the Keys and in Cuba where he is old and famous and sure of who he is. This Hemingway is broke, uncertain and hasn’t published a novel yet.
I remember this visit being actually my second to Les Deux, the first 15 years ago when my wife and I were together on our very first international trip, dating back then. A friend of mine was visiting Paris on the exact same day as us and he generously lent his passes so we didn’t have to buy them. We met at the cafe to return them and this act, so many years ago, seems more aligned with what “lost generation” writers like Fitzgerald, Stein, Hemingway and the painter Picasso would have done in the era.
Like everything, over time our historical haunts become fronts, and to truly identify with the artists we admire, we must strip the cult of the relics from these establishments and seek out the spirit of the act. Hemingway often described that he would try to write one true sentence and the rest would follow. In my case, I saved that for last: Les Deux Magots is a good cafe, even a good cafe, but if you’re looking for the experience of the writers who made it famous, find something on the boulevard that doesn’t. don’t have a green velvet cord, and €6 croissants.