This post is in the theme “Constructing an identity through media”. Read the first.
September 21, New York: When I was 19, I went to Europe. It had been a bad year, maybe a bad couple, and the summer rolled around and my high school friends and I had scraped together and borrowed enough money to take a six week trip to Europe. We had plane tickets, Eurail passes, big backpacks, and wild ambitions. Our great inspiration was The Sun Also Rises, so we had to go to Spain and we had to bring some Hemingway. This was the book we chose.
Our itinerary, loosely recalled: Joey and I flew into Madrid; took a bus to Pamplona where we walked the medieval walls and drank far too much red wine; took a bus to San Sebastian and the TGV to Paris then a train to Cherbourg and a ferry to Portsmouth and a bus/ferry combo to Dublin; in Dublin we picked up Jonathan and kissed a girl or two and then we flew to Amsterdam; we did the thing 19 year old Americans did in Amsterdam at that time and we left; in Paris I moved in with a French girl for a week (this is not a lie) and Chris joined us and then things didn’t really work out with the French girl and I fled; by train we went to Prague, which was amazing, and two spots in the Czech countryside; then a whirlwind through Vienna, Florence, and Rome, where we were ripped off by a hotel but took baths, glorious hot baths, and drank ice cold red wine on a hot summer night; then back to Madrid after a brief French Riveria stop and Joey and I had one final night together in the Spanish capital and we got shitty drunk and relieved ourselves on some government property while guards yelled and gave chase and we ran away as quickly as we could to America.
It was a hell of a trip.
One of the most important packing decisions we made was what media to consume, what books to bring with. A Moveable Feast was on the top of our list. It was one of maybe a dozen books we shared between us and all read by the end of the trip. And it was exactly the magic of what we wanted from a trip to Europe. Seeing Paris and reading about Hemingway’s Paris, together, is magical. (It is also, to my adult eyes, the very definition of cliché, but we forgive our younger selves some things.)
I half blame this book for nearly not coming home from that trip. The French girl I met, fell in love with, and moved in with— she was going to support me while I wrote books in Paris. In her top floor apartment in Montmartre. I mean, come on. Ripped from these pages. I wrote my mother a beautiful letter explaining that I wasn’t coming home and my wise friends forbade me sending it until it had been at least, I don’t know, a week. And it turned out to be unsurprisingly tempestuous and that was all a part of it until it ended. (On her side, she was on the rebound from a multi-year relationship; we were both playing out narratives on one another.)
Reading A Moveable Feast today still has the same power, the same impact, to make me want to move to Paris or to move to any place in exile and live there in the truest possible way. I’ve never known exactly what that means— “truest”— other than I hope I’d know it when I felt it, sort of like Hemingway did. The great lesson I took from the book and from the trip on which I first read it was how powerful a change of scenery can be. To be in a new place, in a foreign place, is inspiring in so many ways. And reading this book again, today, I want it again. I want that right now. For real.
Buy, own, cherish this book.