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Ernest Hemingway at the Ritz in Paris

Published on 03/03/18 in In travel

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Where our imagination can lead us…

Travelling with your imagination is often more intense than travelling in reality. Sitting in the library at home, I was reading the book by Hemingway “A Moveable Feast” (1964), set in Paris, and my mind started to fly away with him to the bar of the Ritz in the 1920s, when he was an aspiring writer and could only afford to go once a week, and then later, after he had become famous and could afford to visit it more often. It was in Paris that he and his friends of the “Lost Generation” fuelled the myth of the American expatriate writer and, with F. Scott Fitzgerald would be staggering drunk in the bars of the Left Bank.

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Long after the Second World War Hemingway wrote in his book “A Moveable Feast” that the bartender at the bar at the Ritz, Georges, had asked him who Scott Fitzgerald was because in the 20s Georges had been a bell-boy and not a bartender. “You didn’t know him?” asked Hemingway. “No. And I remember all the customers of that era, but now everyone is talking about him and I cannot figure out why.” He went on to tell him that he remembered the Baron von Blixen “…with whom you – always addressing Hemingway – was always meeting and whom no one can easily forget.”

At the Ritz Reading the name of the baron, I took off from the bar at the Ritz and landed in Karen Blixen’s villa, outside Nairobi, which I had visited about 30 years earlier. I remembered a specific afternoon, sitting on the porch reading her famous book “Out of Africa” and contemplating the scenery around. “Blixie was very proud of the writings of his first wife,” said Hemingway to Georges, “but we knew each other before they got married.”

Trying to imagine “Blixie” with Hemingway in the bar at the Ritz in the 20s, and all the while sitting in the armchair in my library, I took intercontinental flights. From Place Vendome in Paris, I moved to Ngong Hills in Kenya without any difficulty. I wonder why? Maybe when we immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of an engaging book, this moves our imagination from one picture to another in the most natural way. Travelling with the mind can truly be fabulous.

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  • Diane Nicholls il 10/05/2014 18:36

    This narrative certainly had me reminiscing my days of teaching the works of F.Scott Fitzgerald to high school students in the Middle East, my conversation with the waiter in the iconic Writer's Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, frequented in its heyday by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Somerset Maugham. Then there's the nights spent dancing at the Jazz Club in Abu Dhabi, after taking dinner in Hemingway's bar, his picture on the walls therein, testament to a man larger than life itself. I was back on safari in Africa, reliving so vividly, the sight of elephants at the watering hole, and sitting in awe of three debutant cheetah lazing under a tree in the early morning sunshine not a metre from our jeep. And as if that wasn't enough to cheer up a wet and windy afternoon, I am passing the time of day with Karen Blixen...a story [Out of Africa] I've read a hundred times, never tiring of it. 'Travelling... with the mind," is indeed, fabulous. A concept which comes highly recommended.
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    • Barbara Athanassiadis il 13/05/2014 15:52

      Thank you, Diane, for your wonderful words. It seems that we have parallel travelling experiences. I visited Karen Blixen's house in Nairobi and I spent an afternoon reading her book. I have also spent some days in Singapore, at the Raffles Hotel, reading Somerset Maugham's short stories. I had such a lovely time!
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