Moveable Feast (Chapter 5)

Ernest Hemingway

Chapter 5

The End of an Avocation

We went racing together many more times that year and other years after I had worked in the early mornings, and Hadley enjoyed it and sometimes she loved it. But it was not the climbs in the high mountain meadows above the last forest, nor nights coming home to the chalet, nor was it climbing with Chink, our best friend, over a high pass into new country. It was not really racing either. It was gambling on horses. But we called it racing.

Racing never came between us, only people could do that; but for a long time it stayed close to us like a demanding friend. That was a generous way to think of it. I, the one who was so righteous about people and their destructiveness, tolerated this friend that was the falsest, most beautiful, most exciting, vicious, and demanding because she could be profitable. To make it profitable was more than a full-time job and I had no time for that. But I justified it to myself because I wrote it, even though in the end, when everything I had written was lost, there was only one racing story that survived, because it was out in the mails.

I was going to races alone more now and I was involved in them and getting too mixed up with them. I worked two tracks in their season when I could, Auteuil and Enghien. It took full-time work to try to handicap intelligently and you could make no money that way. That was just how it worked out on paper. You could buy a newspaper that gave you that.

You had to watch a jumping race from the top of the stands at Auteuil and it was a fast climb up to see what each horse did and see the horse that might have won and did not, and see why or maybe how he did not do what he could have done. You watched the prices and all the shifts of odds each time a horse you were following would start, and you had to know how he was working and finally get to know when the stable would try with him. He always might be beaten when he tried; but you should know by then what his chances were. It was hard work but at Auteuil it was beautiful to watch each day they raced when you could be there and see the honest races with the great horses, and you got to know the course as well as any place you had ever known. You knew many people finally, jockeys and trainers and owners and too many horses and too many things.

In principle I only bet when I had a horse to bet on but I sometimes found horses that nobody believed in except the men who trained and rode them that won race after race with me betting on them. I stopped finally because it took too much time, I was getting too involved and I knew too much about what went on at Enghien and at the flat racing tracks too.

When I stopped working on the races I was glad but it left an emptiness. By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better. I put the racing capital back into the general funds and I felt relaxed and good.

The day I gave up racing I went over to the other side of the river and met my friend Mike Ward at the travel desk in the Guaranty Trust which was then at the corner of the rue des Italiens on the Boulevard des Italiens. I was depositing the racing capital but I did not tell that to anyone. I didn’t put it in the checkbook though I still kept it in my head.

“Want to go to lunch?” I asked Mike.

“Sure, kid. Yeah I can do it. What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to the track?”

“No.”

We had lunch at the square Louvois at a very good, plain bistro with a wonderful white wine. Across the square was the Bibliothèque Nationale.

“You never went to the track much, Mike,” I said.

“No. Not for quite a long time.”

“Why did you lay off it?”

“I don’t know,” Mike said. “Yes. Sure I do. Anything you have to bet on to get a kick isn’t worth seeing.”

“Don’t you ever go out?”

“Sometimes to see a big race. One with great horses.”

We spread paté on the good bistro bread and drank the white wine.

“Did you follow them a lot, Mike?”

“Oh yes.”

“What do you see that’s better?”

“Bicycle racing.”

“Really?”

“You don’t have to bet on it. You’ll see.”

“That track takes a lot of time.”

“Too much time. Takes all your time. I don’t like the people.”

“I was very interested.”

“Sure. You make out all right?”

“All right.”

“Good thing to stop,” Mike said.

“I’ve stopped.”

“Hard to do. Listen kid, we’ll go to the bike races sometime.”

That was a new and fine thing that I knew little about. But we did not start it right away. That came later. It came to be a big part of our lives later when the first part of Paris was broken up.

But for a long time it was enough just to be back in our part of Paris and away from the track and to bet on our own life and work, and on the painters that you knew and not try to make your living gambling and call it by some other name. I have started many stories about bicycle racing but have never written one that is as good as the races are both on the indoor and outdoor tracks and on the roads. But I will get the Vélodrome d’Hiver with the smoky light of the afternoon and the high-banked wooden track and the whirring sound the tires made on the wood as the riders passed, the effort and the tactics as the riders climbed and plunged, each one a part of his machine; I will get the magic of the demi-fond, the noise of the motors with their rollers set out behind them that the entraîneurs rode, wearing their heavy crash helmets and leaning backward in their ponderous leather suits, to shelter the riders who followed them from the air resistance, the riders in their lighter crash helmets bent low over their handlebars their legs turning the huge gear sprockets and the small front wheels touching the roller behind the machine that gave them shelter to ride in, and the duels that were more exciting than anything, the put-puting of the motorcycles and the riders elbow to elbow and wheel to wheel up and down and around at deadly speed until one man could not hold the pace and broke away and the solid wall of air that he had been sheltered against hit him.

There were so many kinds of racing. The straight sprints raced in heats or in match races where the two riders would balance for long seconds on their machines for the advantage of making the other rider take the lead and then the slow circling and the final plunge into the driving purity of speed. There were the programs of the team races of two hours, with a series of pure sprints in their heats to fill the afternoon, the lonely absolute speed events of one man racing an hour against the clock, the terribly dangerous and beautiful races of one hundred kilometers on the big banked wooden five-hundred-meter bowl of the Stade Buffalo, the outdoor stadium at Montrouge where they raced behind big motorcycles, Linart, the great Belgian champion that they called “the Sioux” for his profile, dropping his head to suck up cherry brandy from a rubber tube that connected with a hot water bottle under his racing shirt when he needed it toward the end as he increased his savage speed, and the championships of France behind big motors of the six-hundred-and-sixty-meter cement track of the Parc du Prince near Auteuil, the wickedest track of all where we saw that great rider Ganay fall and heard his skull crumple under the crash helmet as you crack an hard-boiled egg against a stone to peel it on a picnic. I must write the strange world of the six-day races and the marvels of the road-racing in the mountains. French is the only language it has ever been written in properly and the terms are all French and that is what makes it hard to write. Mike was right about it, there is no need to bet. But that comes at another time in Paris.

Hunger Was Good Discipline

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. When you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to go was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de l’Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cézanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought possibly it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cézanne was probably hungry in a different way.

After you came out of the Luxembourg you could walk down the narrow rue Férou to the Place St.-Sulpice and there were still no restaurants, only the quiet square with its benches and trees. There was a fountain with lions, and pigeons walked on the pavement and perched on the statues of the bishops. There was the church and there were shops selling religious objects and vestments on the north side of the square.

From this square you could not go further toward the river without passing shops selling fruits, vegetables, wines, or bakery and pastry shops. But by choosing your way carefully you could work to your right around the grey and white stone church and reach the rue de l’Odéon and turn up to your right toward Sylvia Beach’s bookshop and on your way you did not pass too many places where things to eat were sold. The rue de l’Odéon was bare of eating places until you reached the square where there were three restaurants.

By the time you reached 12 rue de l’Odéon your hunger was contained but all of your perceptions were heightened again. The photographs looked different and you saw books that you had never seen before.

“You’re too thin, Hemingway,” Sylvia would say. “Are you eating enough?”

“Sure.”

“What did you eat for lunch?”

My stomach would turn over and I would say, “I’m going home for lunch now.”

“At three o’clock?”

“I didn’t know it was that late.”

“Adrienne said the other night she wanted to have you and Hadley for dinner. We’d ask Fargue. You like Fargue, don’t you? Or Larbaud. You like him. I know you like him. Or anyone you really like. Will you speak to Hadley?”

“I know she’d love to come.”

“I’ll send her a pneu. Don’t you work so hard now that you don’t eat properly.”

“I won’t.”

“Get home now before it’s too late for lunch.”

“They’ll save it.”

“Don’t eat cold food either. Eat a good hot lunch.”

“Did I have any mail?”

“I don’t think so. But let me look.”

She looked and found a note and looked up happily and then opened a closed door in her desk.

“This came while I was out,” she said. It was a letter and it felt as though it had money in it. “Wedderkop,” Sylvia said.

“It must be from Der Querschnitt. Did you see Wedderkop?”

“No. But he was here with George. He’ll see you. Don’t worry. Perhaps he wanted to pay you first.”

“It’s six hundred francs. He says there will be more.”

“I’m awfully glad you reminded me to look. Dear Mr. Awfully Nice.”

“It’s damned funny that Germany is the only place I can sell anything. To him and the Frankfurter Zeitung.”

“Isn’t it? But don’t you worry ever. You can sell stories to Ford,” she teased me.

“Thirty francs a page. Say one story every three months in The Transatlantic. Story five pages long makes one hundred and fifty francs a quarter. Six hundred francs a year.”

“But, Hemingway, don’t worry about what they bring now. The point is that you can write them.”

“I know. I can write them. But nobody will buy them. There is no money coming in since I quit journalism.”

“They will sell. Look. You have the money for one right there.”

“I’m sorry, Sylvia. Forgive me for speaking about it.”

“Forgive you for what? Always talk about it or about anything. Don’t you know all writers ever talk about is their troubles? But promise me you won’t worry and that you’ll eat enough.”

“I promise.”

“Then get home now and have lunch.”

Outside on the rue de l’Odéon I was disgusted with myself for having complained about things. I was doing what I did of my own free will and I was doing it stupidly. I should have bought a large piece of bread and eaten it instead of skipping a meal. I could taste the brown lovely crust. But it is dry in your mouth without something to drink. You God damn complainer. You dirty phony saint and martyr, I said to myself. You quit journalism of your own accord. You have credit and Sylvia would have loaned you money. She has plenty of times. Sure. And then the next thing you would be compromising on something else. Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?

Lipp’s is where you are going to eat and drink too.

It was a quick walk to Lipp’s and every place I passed that my stomach noticed as quickly as my eyes or my nose made the walk an added pleasure. There were few people in the brasserie and when I sat down on the bench against the wall with the mirror in back and a table in front and the waiter asked if I wanted beer I asked for a distingué, the big glass mug that held a liter, and for potato salad.

The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes à l’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes à l’huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce.

I mopped up all the oil and all of the sauce with bread and drank the beer slowly until it began to lose its coldness and then I finished it and ordered a demi and watched it drawn. It seemed colder than the distingué and I drank half of it.

I had not been worrying, I thought. I knew the stories were good and someone would publish them finally at home. When I stopped doing newspaper work I was sure the stories were going to be published. But every one I sent out came back. What had made me so confident was Edward O’Brien’s taking the “My Old Man” story for the Best Short Stories book and then dedicating the book for that year to me. Then I laughed and drank some more beer. The story had never been published in a magazine and he had broken all his rules to take it for the book. I laughed again and the waiter glanced at me. It was funny because, after all that, he had spelled the name wrong. It was one of two stories I had left when everything I had written was stolen in Hadley’s suitcase that time at the Gare de Lyon when she was bringing the manuscripts down to me to Lausanne as a surprise, so I could work on them on our holidays in the mountains. She had put in the originals, the typescripts and the carbons, all in manila folders. The only reason I had the one story was that Lincoln Steffens had sent it out to some editor who sent it back. It was in the mail while everything else was stolen. The other story that I had was the one called “Up in Michigan” written before Miss Stein had come to our flat. I had never had it copied because she said it was inaccrochable. It had been in a drawer somewhere.

So after we had left Lausanne and gone down to Italy I showed the racing story to O’Brien, a gentle, shy man, pale, with pale blue eyes, and straight lanky hair he cut himself, who lived then as a boarder in a monastery up above Rapallo. It was a bad time and I did not think I could write any more then, and I showed the story to him as a curiosity, as you might show, stupidly, the binnacle of a ship you had lost in some incredible way, or as you might pick up your booted foot and make some joke about it if it had been amputated after a crash. Then, when he read the story, I saw he was hurt far more than I was. I had never seen anyone hurt by a thing other than death or unbearable suffering except Hadley when she told me about the things being gone. She had cried and cried and could not tell me. I told her that no matter what the dreadful thing was that had happened nothing could be that bad, and whatever it was, it was all right and not to worry. We would work it out. Then, finally, she told me. I was sure she could not have brought the carbons too and I hired someone to cover for me on my newspaper job. I was making good money then at journalism, and took the train for Paris. It was true all right and I remember what I did in the night after I let myself into the flat and found it was true. That was over now and Chink had taught me never to discuss casualties; so I told O’Brien not to feel so bad. It was probably good for me to lose early work and I told him all that stuff you feed the troops. I was going to start writing stories again I said and, as I said it, only trying to lie so that he would not feel so bad, I knew that it was true.

Then I started to think in Lipp’s about when I had first been able to write a story after losing everything. It was up in Cortina d’Ampezzo when I had come back to join Hadley there after the spring skiing which I had to interrupt to go on assignment to the Rhineland and the Ruhr. It was a very simple story called “Out of Season” and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.

Well, I thought, now I have them so they do not understand them. There cannot be much doubt about that. There is most certainly no demand for them. But they will understand the same way that they always do in painting. It only takes time and it only needs confidence.

It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking. Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it. And as long as they do not understand it you are ahead of them. Oh sure, I thought, I’m so far ahead of them now that I can’t afford to eat regularly. It would not be bad if they caught up a little.

I knew I must write a novel. But it seemed an impossible thing to do when I had been trying with great difficulty to write paragraphs that would be the distillation of what made a novel. It was necessary to write longer stories now as you would train for a longer race. When I had written a novel before, the one that had been lost in the bag stolen at the Gare de Lyon, I still had the lyric facility of boyhood that was as perishable and as deceptive as youth was. I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write it, then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. Let the pressure build. In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.

By this time I had paid the check and gone out and turned to the right and crossed the rue de Rennes so that I would not go to the Deux-Magots for coffee and was walking up the rue Bonaparte on the shortest way home.

What did I know best that I had not written about and lost? What did I know about truly and care for the most? There was no choice at all. There was only the choice of streets to take you back fastest to where you worked. I went up Bonaparte to Guynemer, then to the rue d’Assas, up the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs to the Closerie des Lilas.

I sat in a corner with the afternoon light coming in over my shoulder and wrote in the notebook. The waiter brought me a café crème and I drank half of it when it cooled and left it on the table while I wrote. When I stopped writing I did not want to leave the river where I could see the trout in the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log-driven piles of the bridge. The story was about coming back from the war but there was no mention of the war in it.

But in the morning the river would be there and I must make it and the country and all that would happen. There were days ahead to be doing that each day. No other thing mattered. In my pocket was the money from Germany so there was no problem. When that was gone some other money would come in.

All I must do now was stay sound and good in my head until morning when I would start to work again.

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