I know very little about Ernest Hemingway. I haven’t read many of his books, and I certainly haven’t read biographies about him. But after reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, I feel like I almost met him. I feel like I lived with him in Paris and I joined him, his wife, and friends on their glorious jaunts around Europe. I feel like I watched him write, watched him live through the pain of losing it all and starting over, watched him push away his closest friends and pull closer to literary genius. But I also feel that maybe, just maybe, the manner in which I met him was a bit disingenuous.
The Paris Wife follows Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first of four wives, as she completes a pan-oceanic romance and life with the famous author. We first meet Hadley as she first meets Ernest, and as we learn about their individual backstories, it becomes tantalizingly clear that this relationship is both perfect and horrible at the same time. As the book progresses through the entirety of their relationship, we live through Hemingway’s torturous process of becoming an established author, and the even more challenging reality of being a budding author’s wife.
The book is a work of fiction colored by truth, or perhaps a work of nonfiction colored by imagination. Either way, McLain’s prose is enticing, if simple, and we easily fall into the life of Hadley, or Tatie, as she is known to her husband. We cherish their tender moments together as Hadley cherishes them, and though we can see it coming chapters before she notices, we weep with Hadley when she realizes her life is falling apart.
It works as a simple book, representing the era, and introducing the readers to the very real characters of 1920’s Paris. (Other ex-pats and authors in the city and the book include Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and F Scott Fitzgerald.) But real life is more complex, and I find it hard to believe that everything happened just so. Did they really grow their hair into the same style, and was it truly intentional? Did Ernest call his first wife mere weeks before he killed himself to shore up a long-dead relationship and simultaneously reignite a still-burning flame?
I find it hard to pick a side on this one. For sheer entertainment, go for it. For factual accuracy in the events, it may as well be an encyclopedia. The problem is that it sometimes reads like an encyclopedia, with a few quotes thrown in to break up the blandness. To be honest, I think that McLain did a great job in accomplishing what she clearly set out to achieve – writing the story of the six year long marriage between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson from her point of view. And because it offers a new and interesting take on the events, I think this 2012 novel will (justifiably) be around for years to come. But on its purely literary merits, on its elegance and style and quality of prose, I can’t recommend it. None of this kept me from enjoying the book, but looking back on it, I wonder what The Paris Wife could have been in the hands of a more experienced author.
Eifelovka je krasná. Všichni jsme viděli fotky, a viděli jsme filmy v každou film v Pařiži. Ale, pro mě, Eifelovka je dobrá protože je opravdu úžasnou techniku. Býla nejvyšší stavba pro 41 roky. Je silná, ale vypáda to křehká. Tady jsou moje fotky o Eifelovka.
The Eiffel Tower is beautiful. We’ve all seen the pictures, we’ve all seen it featured in every single movie set in Paris. Every. single. one. And yet, what really struck me every time I walked by it, but especially as I was walking up it, is that is truly a feat of engineering. It was the tallest structure in the world when it was built, and held that position for an amazing 41 years. It is phenomenally strong and yet appears artistically fragile. Perhaps it was the white clouds on the day I really looked at the structure that made it stand out so well, or maybe the colored elevators going up the otherwise grayish black structure. Regardless, here are some pictures I took over the weekend that showcase what an amazing structure Eiffel gave to us.
I spent four days in Paris, jam-packed with sites I saw and museums I visited, and I feel like I saw nothing. I feel like I dipped my toe in the water, but didn’t even have time to put my whole foot into before I got pulled away. There are so many things that I wanted to see and do and I simply didn’t have time for it.
I didn’t get to see any of the bones I wanted to see. I wanted to visit the Catacombs, but the line was so long that it definitely was not going to happen. I wanted to wander through the cemeteries, where incredibly famous people are buried, but that didn’t happen either. Fortunately for me, the dead people aren’t going anywhere.
Neither is the art, thank goodness! I don’t think I could have spent much more time in museums than I did, but I don’t feel like I saw even close to enough. I spent four hours in the Louvre and barely saw any of it. I spent over two hours each in the l’Orangerie and d’Orsay and I could go back to each for easily twice as long. I didn’t get into any of the museums of modern art, or any of the historical or science museums. I didn’t visit the Rodin statue museum to see the Thinker, and I didn’t find the Rose Line, like I said I would when I first read The Da Vinci Code.
There are so many churches and gardens! I didn’t climb the tower in Notre Dame or go up to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t see the other Statue of Liberty; I looked at but didn’t walk to the Arc d’Triumph. I wandered around so much, but I barely saw any of the city. (To read about what I did see, read this post)
I could spend a month in Paris, as a tourist every day, and still not see it all. In fact, maybe I’ll do just that.
Step 1. Live/work/study in the EU.
Step 2. Be under 26 years old.
Step 3. Have the right attitude.
Steps 1 and 2 are really quite self-explanatory. The French government has a law that museums must allow EU students under the age of 26 into the museums for free. Some museums only allow students, some let any EU resident between 18 and 26 in. Some will only accept a valid passport/ID card/visa from an EU country, some only require your student ID. Some make you get a free ticket from the ticket counter, some let you in with just your documents. As far as I know, the individual policies aren’t posted anywhere in English, though if you speak French you can probably figure it out. We managed just fine by asking at information, or going up to the counter if the line was short, or just trying to get in straight away.
Technically, this isn’t cheating the system. It is just knowing the system. Thanks to Cordelia, who was the first person to tell me this convenient – and cheap – truth!
Step 3 is a bit more difficult. When Holly and I were discussing the whole French-people-always-look-perfect thing, we decided a lot of it is attitude. They put on whatever they put on, and then they rock it. So we decided to adopt the attitude of the French for the weekend. And we let this attitude roll over from our attire to our museum-going.
For example, we are pretty sure that having a student ID at the Louvre does not get you out of the security line. When we walked up to the Louvre in the morning of day 2, the line in front of the I.M. Pei pyramid was crazy. Probably over an hour long. I know there is another entrance to the Louvre, but I don’t know where, and neither of us were particularly excited about the prospect of standing in the sun for that long. Holly wanted to turn back, but then I noticed a second, empty, line. The line for people who already had tickets. Now, I don’t know if the French government would agree with my logic, but I figured since we didn’t have to buy a ticket, that was basically the same as already having it, right?
So we put on our best French attitudes, walked through the non-existent line, into the pyramid, had our bags checked by hand instead of by machine, and walked into the Louvre. Now, I’m not saying this would work for everything in Paris, but it worked at the Louvre. And it worked at the d’Orsay. And it would probably work in a lot of places, if you just tried it. But everyone, as Holly says, is a lemming – we see the line and we assume we have to stand in it.
We also manipulated the system a bit during our trip to Sainte Chapelle. That time, though, it was completely coincidental, and accidental. I wanted to see the Palace of Justice, which is right next door. They’re actually in the same building complex, and in the same courtyard. And their security lines are right next to each other. So when the line for the Palace of Justice was nil and the line for Sainte Chapelle was long, it wasn’t hard to convince Holly to see the Palace of Justice first. So we hopped in line, assuring not one but two people we were in search of Justice. We weren’t sure why we had to convince them until we got past security. Because the people who had waited in line for Sainte Chapelle were walking out of the door right next to us. We went right to the Palace of Justice, and they went left to the chapel. Our paths crossed. So, when Holly and I came out of the Palace of Justice, we skipped the security line and made our way to the chapel. Where the museum law applied and we got in for free.
Is this cheating? Maybe, maybe not. Manipulating? Almost certainly. Worth it? For sure. So if you’re on your way to Paris, or anywhere, really, adopt the attitude. Be observant, notice the other possibilities, and act like you know what you’re doing. And remember, if you get caught for some reason, you’re not going to get in trouble. The worst that will happen is that you get sent to that hour-long line, and maybe have to stand behind an extra five or ten people.
We arrived in Paris from Prague at about 11:00, and actually got to where we were staying at a little after midnight. We stayed up too late looking at maps and talking about things to do, watched the Eiffel Tower glitter at 1am and then finally crashed around 2.
I got up early (I can’t help it – when I’m in a new city, all I want to do is explore!) and wandered around for about an hour. I didn’t go far, because I didn’t bring a map or my camera – I just wanted to wander and see what I saw. It was a weekday and I watched shopkeepers open their doors, roll up the window shades, and put out the morning’s first flowers. I really did get to see the city of Paris wake up, and it was wonderful.
When I got back to the apartment a bit after nine, I looked at the map, did a bit of research about what I wanted to do and the best ways to get there, and woke up Holly. We were in agreement – our first day would be a day to wander. So we ran down and around the corner to the bakery to pick up some pastries for breakfast (sorry, no pics! They were gone before the camera came out…) and then sketched out a plan courtesy of our map.
We started with a walk past the Peace Memorial to the Eiffel Tower, with a stop on the way to quite literally smell the roses. Once at our first destination, I made Holly take a cheesy tourist picture of me. But, as Claire reminded me on my birthday, I turned 21 in Paris, and that makes my life pretty awesome.
We walked underneath the Eiffel Tower and into a little park with a little pond at its base. In case you can’t tell, Mother Nature blessed me (and Paris!) with beautiful weather for my birthday. Blue skies, beautiful sun, and we looked French enough that multiple people spoke to us in French! (Not just bonjour, but actually asking us for directions or advice or who knows what? Neither of us speak any French…)
We continued our day by walking past the Louvre (see Day 2 for our visit to the Louvre), and on to Notre Dame. While at the Louvre, we laughed at the people with their fingers on the tip of the pyramid, and then pulled the same tourist stunt when Holly spun like Esmeralda just a few hours later.
On our way back from Notre Dame, we stopped at the Palace of Justice and Sainte Chapelle to look at the beautiful stained glass. (We skipped the line and didn’t have to pay and check out my post about cheating the system in Paris to find out how!)
We also made our way through one of Paris’ many shopping districts, even walking into some of the stores. At some, such as Gucci and Dolce e Gabbana, the store clerks (this sounds like such a crude way to describe them, but I really have to better explanatory word, although I could describe their impeccable hair and makeup and their beautiful clothes that looked like they had just come off the hangars…) were kind enough to say hello; at other, smaller names we were even asked if we would like to try something on. Needless to say, we did not. (What were we to do, if we fell in love with a $1,000 dress? Even though my parents said they’d buy me something from Paris for my birthday, I think that may have been a little much…)
At some point, we stopped for a crepe in the Tullieries for lunch, and then stopped at a random park – still not sure which one – around five to relax. Unfortunately, Holly got sunburnt, but that didn’t ruin the day or the weekend. We finished off the day by meeting Christine and Alessandra at the Opera House for a ballet performance by the students of the Paris Opera. It started out with adorable little kids, and quickly got frighteningly good – I’m pretty sure the 12 year olds were better than I ever was or could have been at ballet. And apparently, they all had the flu. But we also got to see the famous ceilings of the Opera building without having to wait in line or pay for it. (Well, we paid for the ballet tickets, but only 12 euros!)
Once we got back from the show, we had dinner on time by French time, at around 10 o’clock. It was wonderful (and super nice of Christine to make it for us!) and then followed by a birthday dessert of chocolate torte without the pastry or icing – so basically chocolate ganache and whipped cream. Which was great. We went to bed around 2.
Today is the day of the Louvre. The plan: go to the Louvre. Decide from there. Everyone talks about how big the Louvre is, and they’re absolutely right. But if you’re being honest, no matter how big you think it is, it is bigger than that. Take, for example, the Grand Gallery:
We spent four hours inside, which I think is more than enough for one day, and not enough to see anything. We missed the entire Egyptian wing, spent about three seconds considering trying to push through the crowd to see the Mona Lisa (decided not to), and noticed that the ceilings and floors are works of art in their own right. It was the King’s palace, after all.
After the Louvre (and lunch!) we continued our museum-ing and headed to Musee l’Orangerie. It was the only museum we waited in line for, though we got in for free (sense a pattern here?) and spent hours with Monet’s water lilies. They are truly incredible, and much bigger than I imagined.
If I’m being honest, I don’t like art. I never liked the art history classes I had to take, and I seem to recall a comment on a report card along the lines of, “Kathy would do well to apply herself to her art history classes as she does to her math.” (They were taught by the same teacher.) I think, however, if someone told me I must take an Art History class today, and that I could take a class on the Impressionists, I would be okay with that. I don’t like art, but I really like Impressionism. I guess you could say it makes an impression on me. (I’m sorry, I had to.)
Holly and I met Christine in the Luxembourg Gardens, which are beautiful, and then stopped for a glass of “spring beer,” which has a strangely fruity flavour. In the evening, we went to a very nice restaurant for my birthday dinner. Thanks, Daddy! Once again, the food was fantastic, and it came and went before pictures could happen. And it was after midnight by the time we got home, and we stayed up and talked for a while. You can probably guess what time we got to bed.
As I mentioned earlier, I love exploring new cities. I walk everywhere, and I tend to not stop. Somehow, new energy reserves spring up when I happen to be out of town. Unfortunately, I tired Holly out after two days, so I let her sleep in this morning and headed over to Musee d’Orsay for more Impressionism. And the Bareas! These guys were in Paris for Spring Break, and I was supposed to meet them at 9:30. But I was already on Paris time, and the chances of meeting up looked bleak. I skipped the line, got in for free, and headed upstairs to see my new favorite artists. Also, my old favorite artist: Degas.
Unsurprisingly, as a little girl who did ballet, I loved Degas. I loved his paintings, I loved his sculptures, and now I’ve seen them in real life. I think that might have been the best thing of my weekend. I mean, seeing Monet’s three paintings in blue, orange, and green and Renoir’s famous paintings of the dancing couples were pretty amazing too. (I actually remember these from my Art History class – maybe I’ve always secretly loved the Impressionists?)
As I came downstairs, I continued to look not only at the art, but also for the Bareas. For those of you who have never been to the d’Orsay, it has a huge atrium, essentially, open from the first floor to the fifth, and balconies of sorts on the second floor looking onto the atrium. I can’t really describe it, but the description is only important because I found the Bareas from across the museum. How do you get someone’s attention from across a museum? You can’t yell their name. You can’t even whisper it. So you just stare intently, and wave when they look your general direction. And it works!
So we found each other, continued exploring the museum until the kids got bored (they lasted a full 2 hours which, at ages 6 and 10, is pretty impressive) and then we went off to explore the city. We stopped for lunch, and I had salad. (A true rarity in the Czech Republic, so I’ll take all the greens I can get, thank you!) The grand plan was to visit the Catacombs, but the line was so long that we got straight back on the metro and went all the way across the city to the Basilica of Paris upon Montemarte, with a beautiful view of the city. We climbed up 396 stairs (Lucy counted for us), took some time to enjoy a drink in the beautiful weather, looked for a Kate Spade and discovered there is none in Paris, and generally had a good time. It was really nice to see more faces from San Mateo, although it made me want to head home.
I met up with Holly again in the evening, and we had a evening of snacking. First, at a café, I had real, French, crème brulee, which tasted about the same as other crème brulee. Then, we went to the Seine (with Christine and Alessandra again, of course!) to a tasting on a boat. We basically had a dinner of cheese and pate tastings, along with an essentially infinite number of tiny glasses of different wines.
Then, once night had fallen, we walked back to the Eiffel Tower to take a trip up and see the city at night. For once, we actually paid for admission (but the student price, and we walked, so not really…) Needless to say, the Eiffel Tower is gorgeous, but what really amazed me was the engineering of the thing. So much, that I’m giving it its own post.
I tired Holly out, and the Bareas tired me out, so we slept in on our last morning in Paris. Once we got up, we headed to a nearby market, where we bought pastries for breakfast and pineapple and cantaloupe for lunch before heading back to the apartment, grabbing our bags, and heading to the airport.
All in all, I’d say my 21st birthday weekend was truly amazing. I didn’t celebrate my 21st with a big night out on the town, which doesn’t surprise me, nor does it bother me. I’m not really that type of person anyways. Instead, I had an amazing weekend with good friends and I got to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world!