The Walks

MENU 1 : THE FOUR LEADING WALKS

These popular jaunts are given on a regular schedule on Sunday mornings, but they may also be scheduled on weekdays and Saturdays upon request.


 A Band of Outsiders: 
Place de la Contrescarpe/Rue Mouffetard

This colorful fringe of the Latin Quarter has long been a magnet for outsiders, three of the 20th century’s greatest writers among them: Irish exile James Joyce struggling to finish his masterpiece Ulysses, young Ernest Hemingway during the “very poor and very happy” period he writes about in A Moveable Feast, and young George Orwell launching his literary career with Down and Out in Paris and London, all in the 1920s. We go to the houses – all still there -- where they lived at these crucial points in their lives. But it's not just expatriates here.  We also meet some of Honoré de Balzac's most vivid characters at the house where they live and Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert at one of the most dramatic moments in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.


                                                                                                    
"Lost Generation" 
Montparnasse and Beyond

This promenade features the great days of Anglophone literary expatriation in the 1920s, with resident and inveterate café-goer Ernest Hemingway, the central figure.  We explore his literary and personal links with Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald in particular, but also with James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Ford Madox Ford, visit places he writes about in The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast, and talk about his marriage with Hadley.  We also look into the strange affair between Ford and Jean Rhys which led her to write Quartet, her roman à clef based on it. The expatriate story continues in the 1930s with the erotico-literary passion of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, and, at age thirty-one, the turning point in the life of Samuel Beckett.  On the French literary side, Simone de Beauvoir was born and raised in the heart of Montparnasse and lived here for her last thirty years, with Jean-Paul Sartre just down the street for his final two decades.  The cafes that practically all these writers frequented -- the Dôme, the Rotonde, the Sélect, La Coupole, and the Closerie des Lilas -- are still jumping.  We dip into them and stop for coffee at one.  



Literary Ground Zero: 
Saint Germain-des Prés

From the founding of the Comédie Française and the opening of Paris’s first café in the 17th century to the post-WWII “existentialist” explosion and beyond this storied district has been a Mecca for writers.  The walk starts at the heart of the district, the Place Saint Germain-des-Prés, home to Paris’s most famous literary cafés, the Deux-Magots, the Flore, and the Brasserie Lipp, and features the dynamic duo of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvior during the Occupation and after, along with their dear friend/later bitter enemy Albert Camus, “Saint” (as Sartre called him) Jean Genet, and Beauvoir’s “crocodile husband,” the American novelist Nelson Algren.

Same post-war years, same cafés:  Richard Wright and James Baldwin, the leading African American writers in self-exile in Paris and their rocky relationship.  Other writers we meet as we prowl the art-laden streets between the Place Saint Germain-des-Prés and the Seine are Honoré de Balzac at the turning point in his life as a writer, George Sand during her roller coaster affair with Alfred de Musset, saucy young Colette when she first came to Paris, and Oscar Wilde “dying beyond my means” in his shabby hotel.



Deathless Writers 
in the Père-Lachaise Cemetery


This vast, moody park with its myriad fanciful mausoleums and sculptures and cobblestone walks shaded by thousands of old trees would be well worth a visit even without its remarkable contingent of literary permanent Parisians.  But here they are at their final resting places, an extraordinary bunch of writers.  We talk about their lives and their often dramatic deaths: the medieval lovers Abélard and Heloïse in their cloister-like tomb, 17th century friends Molière and La Fontaine, Honoré  de Balzac, along with one of the most dramatic scenes in all his novels, his contemporary Gérard de Nerval, and 20th century giants Guillaume Apollinaire, Marcel Proust, and Colette.  

The English-speaking writers are Oscar Wilde at his unforgettable lipstick-besmirched tomb by sculptor Jacob Epstein, longtime Parisian Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, Richard Wright, the dean of African American writers in Paris in the years after WWII, and poet and rock idol Jim Morrison.  The “Lizard King's” grave has been the most visited of all since his bizarre death in Paris in 1973.

MENU 2 : THE SPECIAL WALKS


These are offered on weekdays and Saturdays upon request.                                                                                                                     Notre-Dame and the Ile Saint-Louis 


At the splendid 850 year-old cathedral our key writers are Victor Hugo, of course, with Quasimodo, Esmerelda, and the evil Frollo in Hugo's grand melodramatic romp The Hunchback of Notre Dame, François Rabelais, whose young giant Gargantua pulls a devastating prank on the bell towers in Gargantua, and Henry James, whose hero Lambert Strether has a surprising encounter in the church in The Ambassadors. Crossing over to the Ile Saint- Louis and circling the delightful little island we meet the “Perverted Peasant,” as the 18th century peeping-tom writer Restif de la Bretonne called himself, along with Marcel Proust’s hero Swann at his home in Swann’s Way, and Charles Baudelaire in his early 20s, at the start his life as a poet and his tortured love affair with “the Venus Noire.”  

We end at one of the most important places for the Anglophone expatriate literary explosion of the 1920s: the house where young Ernest Hemingway and Jean Rhys worked for Ford Madox Ford on his Transatlantic Review and where Hemingway’s first two books of stories were published. And there’s a lovely scene he set on the island in The Sun Also Rises.  
                                                                                       

The Great Days of the Marais


In this elegant district with 17th century mansions galore, we zero in on Mme. de Sévigné, the emblematic literary figure of the grand siècle Marais. An aristocratic insider who led a fascinating life, all in the Marais, she knew personally all the leading figures of the era from Louis XIV down and wrote exquisitely about them.  We visit her apartment, the walls lined with portraits of her familiars Molière, Racine, Corneille and others.  Victor Hugo, the dominant novelist/poet/playwright of his era, lived on the Place des Vosges and began writing Les Misérables here. His home is now an intriguing museum which we visit.  The flamboyant young Georges Simenon lived on this square in the 1920s and began his world-famous Inspector Maigret novels.  In the Carnavalet Museum we view the extensive exhibit on 20th century writers, with Marcel Proust’s reconstituted bedroom the highlight.  He wrote practically all of In Search of Lost Time, generally considered the greatest novel of the 20th century, in his little bed.  NOTE:  Six people maximum on this walk; not done on Tuesdays, when the museums are closed.





 The Racy Writers of Monceau    

The heart of this ultra-bourgeois late-19th century quartier is the Parc Monceau, a large jardin à l’anglaise dotted with a pyramid, a pagoda, false medieval ruins, and other surprises.  Here we feature the busy love lives of area neighbors Guy de Maupassant and Colette and their fictional characters and, only steps away from the park, the devastating courtesan Nana in Emile Zola’s novel Nana.  Overlooking the park was the apartment of Gustave Flaubert, the hugely admired father of realism in French literature, whose Sundays regularly attracted his best friend Ivan Turgenev, young writers Zola and Maupassant, and when he was in town, young Henry James.  In a nearby square is Gustave Doré’s marvelous sculpture of Alexander Dumas, père, who blew one fortune after another on women and high living. He ended up broke at the home of his son, the successful novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas, fils, who also has a statue on the square. He called his father "a big child who I had when I was very young."
                                                                                                                             
  
 Montmartre: 
Writers in Search of the New

This famous hill, the highest in Paris, topped by the bulbous white basilica of the Sacré-Coeur, may be better known for its artists than its writers,  but the writers up here were every bit as original in their creations and even more eccentric in their personal lives.  We start at the Bateau Lavoir, where we find Gertrude Stein being painted by Picasso while at the same time writing one of her first stories.  In her eyes, the portrait he made and the story she wrote marked the starting point both of Modern Art and 20th century literature.   Among others featured at the Bateau Lavoir are Picasso’s poet friends Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire  and as we roam this bohemian hill Marcel Aymé’s amazing “Walker through Walls,” the troublesome figure of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and his alter-ego Bardamu in Journey to the End of the Night,  Tristan Tzara, the father of Dada, Gérard de Nerval writing his visionary journal of madness at Dr. Blanche’s mental clinic, and two of France’s greatest poets, Paul Verlaine and the “devilishly seductive” young Arthur Rimbaud, starting of their scandalous affair and quest for a new visionary poetic language, with absinthe as their holy sacrament.      
           



MENU 3 : CUSTOM WALKS         



Tell me about your dream literary walk in Paris and I’ll try to make it come true.  Custom walks focused on a particular writer or group of writers can be arranged.  They would be variable in length and take us to number of parts of the city.  For example, a custom-made walk could be about the relationship of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin, of Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marcel Proust and his friends and models for his characters in In Seach of Lost Time,  Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, or, let’s say, Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and their fellow “Beats.”   These would be full-day Parisian adventures with coffee breaks and lunch included. Fees would be negotiated case by case.  

1 comment:

  1. David. This blog is magnificient. Worthy of "Writers in Paris."

    ReplyDelete