This is a postscript to last week’s Hemingway walk in Paris. It also doubles up, incidentally, as our St Valentine’s Day post. After all, it does involve a story of two people who disappeared in the toilet for some private business. Even though they were both men. And even though only one of them actually let his trousers down.
Intrigued? I thought so. Okay then, here goes.
Two Men in Le Water
Towards the end of his book A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway tells the story of how he was, one day, having lunch at the restaurant Michaud with Scott Fitzgerald. This was a time when both men were already established writers, so this was probably around 1927 or 1928. Fitzgerald had invited Hemingway because he wanted to ask him something important – but then preferred to make small talk for most of their meeting, coming to the point only after dessert had already been served.
He had never slept with anyone but Zelda, Fitzgerald confessed, and Zelda frequently complained to him that he was insufficiently equipped to make any woman happy. Now he needed somebody more worldly than himself to make a neutral assessment – and had decided that, being Hemingway, he was the man. (If he counted on Hemingway never to tell anybody, and this must have been at least a tacit agreement, Fitzgerald displayed the same sort of psychological insight in choosing a “best friend” as he had demonstrated in picking his wife.)
Hemingway agrees immediately, suggests “le water” as the place for the inspection – and tells Fitzgerald on coming back to their table that he is “perfectly fine”. (Fitzgerald, unsurprisingly perhaps, remains unconvinced.)
The place where this episode takes place, the restaurant Michaud, which according to Hemingway is located “on the corner of Rue des Saint Pères and Rue Jacob”, no longer exists. (In another part of his book, Hemingway describes it as an “exciting and expensive” place to eat and speaks about an occasion when he observed James Joyce and his family having their dinner there, “all of them speaking Italian”.)
In its place, there is now a modern and not particularly charming bar-bistro called “Le Comptoir des Saint Pères”. Even if the place as a whole fails to suggest the atmosphere of a 1920s literary café, it is nevertheless true that the ceiling and the bar itself, the comptoir, have been preserved from the period, perhaps giving you a rough idea of what the place once may have looked and felt like.
But we don’t care about the comptoir, of course. What we want to know is: what about “le water”? Is this really “le place”?
I am sorry but I have to tell you that that my research on this was inconclusive. I am only certain about one thing: Hemingway and Fitzgerald should have conducted their business in the men’s room of the Closerie des Lilas, Hemingway’s favourite Parisian restaurant – that surely was an environment splendid enough for a truly special moment.
You can walk to the Comptoir des Saint Pères from Boulevard Montparnasse – if you were looking for an alternative way of ending the Hemingway walk, for example.But it is a bit of a schlep and will take you roughly 30 minutes.
Easier to go there if you happen to be in the area of St Germain church. From there, it’s only a couple of blocks: take Rue Bonaparte towards the river and turn left on Rue Jacob.