|Photo Credit: Lindsey Kent, Pictours Paris|
I was wearing my flapper dress that day as I settled down at a Parisian café that will remain unnamed to have a drink and watch the world go by. But I wasn’t alone for long. I recognized him immediately, and apparently he recognized me too…
“Haven’t I seen you before?” asks Hemingway as he sits beside me in the late summer breeze.
“Walking by your apartment on rue Cardinal Lemoine? Yes… many times… and wishing I lived around here in your day…”
With a wry smile, Hemingway says, “But as a writer, you can…”
“That’s exactly why I love to write… When I visit the places mentioned in ‘A Moveable Feast’ and turn my imagination on full blast, I’m almost there. And by the way, ‘A Moveable Feast’ is still the best Paris book ever.”
“Haven’t heard of that one…”
“I’ll loan you a copy…” Now it was my turn to smile.
Hemingway takes a sip of brandy and looks me in the eye. But my eyes slip away to the reporter’s notebook dampened by the beads of sweat running off my champagne glass. It’s tattered and torn, filled to the brim with scribbled words that only I can understand.
“It’s time to retire that,” he says.
“Not completely… not after so long… When I was in college, I was a reporter for the daily newspaper. I loved interviewing all sorts of people, learning about their lives… I said to myself: `If I can get paid for a job that’s this much fun, I should do this until I can sell a book!’ Then I worked for AP, a business journal in Boston, Bloomberg News in Paris.”
“I don’t need the laundry list of your professional experiences,” Hemingway says with a smirk. “If you want to create characters that will be immortal, what’s important is your knowledge of people…”
“People inspire me, ordinary people who I observe here and there at a café or on the street,” I say. “It’s usually a brief encounter. I saw a guy sketching people’s faces in his notebook on the subway one day and said to myself ‘that’s going to be in my book.’ I’m always inspired by people I don’t know or hardly know. I can give a character a trait or two that belong to someone I’m close to, but nothing more. Once I know you too well, I can’t write about you.”
“Observation is essential,” he says as he gazes through the cloud of cigarette smoke that envelopes us. Slowly, the after-work crowd has descended upon the place, but they don’t seem to notice us. Then Hemingway turns back to me and takes a swig of his drink. “You always knew you wanted to be a writer, didn’t you?”
“It was there, that desire, that interest from a very early age. There was a lot of creativity in my family. My grandfather and mom were great storytellers and made up loads of stories pretty much on demand for my eager ears. My grandma was a wonderful writer and a real bookworm. Reading and writing have always been a natural part of my life. What I love about writing is that creating characters and crafting a story allow me to slip into someone else’s skin and embark on a new adventure on a regular basis. And that’s pretty much why I like to read as well.”
“What have you read lately?”
“I re-read one of my favorites… ‘The Great Gatsby.'”
Hemingway smiles and nods at his friend sitting at the bar drinking champagne. “I like that one too.”
“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is another great work that I love to re-read… and who can forget the diaries of Anais Nin…”
But Hemingway places his hand over mine to interrupt. He seems tired of this conversation about writing.
“It’s time for me to go,” he says.
“Will I ever see you again?” I ask, suddenly saddened as we leave our terrace table for the dimness of twilight.
“If you reach far enough into your soul to find me,” he says. He kisses me on both cheeks like any polite young Frenchman by adoption and disappears into the lively streets of Montparnasse.
Already missing Hemingway, I hurry to the subway and cross the Seine. But moments later, I am happy to be home. I live near the Canal Saint-Martin in a relaxed not-very-touristy neighborhood with my husband Didier, our daughter Phedre, and the memory of our lovely South Carolinian cat Lelee.