Moveable Feast (Chapter 12)
There Is Never Any End to Paris
When there were the three of us instead of just the two, it was the cold and the weather that finally drove us out of Paris in the winter time. Alone there was no problem when you got used to it. I could always go to a café to write and could work all morning over a café crème while the waiters cleaned and swept out the café and it gradually grew warmer. My wife could go to work at the piano in a cold place and with enough sweaters keep warm playing and come home to nurse Bumby. It was wrong to take a baby to a café in the winter though; even a baby that never cried and watched everything that happened and was never bored. There were no baby-sitters then and Bumby would stay happy in his tall cage bed with his big, loving cat named F. Puss. There were people who said that it was dangerous to leave a cat with a baby. The most ignorant and prejudiced said that a cat would suck a baby’s breath and kill him. Others said that a cat would lie on a baby and the cat’s weight would smother him. F. Puss lay beside Bumby in the tall cage bed and watched the door with his big yellow eyes, and would let no one come near him when we were out and Marie, the femme de ménage, had to be away. There was no need for baby-sitters. F. Puss was the baby-sitter.
But when you are poor, and we were really poor when I had given up all journalism when we came back from Canada, and could sell no stories at all, it was too rough with a baby in Paris in the winter. At three months Mr. Bumby had crossed the North Atlantic on a twelve-day small Cunarder that sailed from New York via Halifax in January. He never cried on the trip and laughed happily when he would be barricaded in a bunk so he could not fall out when we were in heavy weather. But our Paris was too cold for him.
We went to Schruns in the Vorarlberg in Austria. After going through Switzerland you came to the Austrian frontier at Feldkirch. The train went through Liechtenstein and stopped at Bludenz where there was a small branch line that ran along a pebbly trout river through a valley of farms and forest to Schruns, which was a sunny market town with sawmills, stores, inns and a good, year-around hotel called the Taube where we lived.
The rooms at the Taube were large and comfortable with big stoves, big windows and big beds with good blankets and feather coverlets. The meals were simple and excellent and the dining room and the wood-planked public bar were well heated and friendly. The valley was wide and open so there was good sun. The pension was about two dollars a day for the three of us, and as the Austrian schilling went down with inflation, our room and food were less all the time. There was no desperate inflation and poverty as there had been in Germany. The schilling went up and down, but its longer course was down.
There were no ski lifts from Schruns and no funiculars, but there were logging trails and cattle trails that led up different mountain valleys to the high mountain country. You climbed on seal skins that you attached to the bottoms of the skis. At the tops of mountain valleys there were the big Alpine Club huts for summer climbers where you could sleep and leave payment for any wood you used. In some you had to pack up your own wood, or if you were going on a long tour in the high mountains and the glaciers, you hired someone to pack wood and supplies up with you, and established a base. The most famous of these high base huts were the Lindauer-Hütte, the Madlener-Haus and the Wiesbadener-Hütte.
In back of the Taube there was a sort of practice slope where you ran through orchards and fields and there was another good slope behind Tchagguns across the valley where there was a beautiful inn with an excellent collection of chamois horns on the walls of the drinking room. It was from behind the lumber village of Tchagguns, which was on the far edge of the valley, that the good skiing went all the way up until you could eventually cross the mountains and get over the Silvretta into the Klosters area.
Schruns was a healthy place for Bumby who had a dark-haired beautiful girl to take him out in the sun in his sleigh and look after him, and Hadley and I had all the new country to learn and the new villages, and the people of the town were very friendly. Herr Walther Lent who was a pioneer high-mountain skier and at one time had been a partner with Hannes Schneider, the great Arlberg skier, making ski waxes for climbing and all snow conditions, was starting a school for Alpine skiing and we both enrolled. Walther Lent’s system was to get his pupils off the practice slopes as soon as possible and into the high mountains on trips. Skiing was not the way it is now, the spiral fracture had not become common then, and no one could afford a broken leg. There were no ski patrols. Anything you ran down from, you had to climb up. That gave you legs that were fit to run down with.
Walther Lent believed the fun of skiing was to get up into the highest mountain country where there was no one else and where the snow was untracked and then travel from one high Alpine Club hut to another over the top passes and glaciers of the Alps. You must not have a binding that could break your leg if you fell. The ski should come off before it broke your leg. What he really loved was unroped glacier skiing, but for that we had to wait until spring when the crevasses were sufficiently covered.
Hadley and I had loved skiing since we had first tried it together in Switzerland and later at Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites when Bumby was going to be born and the doctor in Milan had given her permission to continue to ski if I would promise that she would not fall down. This took a very careful selection of terrain and of runs and absolutely controlled running, but she had beautiful, wonderfully strong legs and fine control of her skis, and she did not fall. We all knew the different snow conditions and everyone knew how to run in deep powder snow.
We loved the Vorarlberg and we loved Schruns. We would go there about Thanksgiving time and stay until nearly Easter. There was always skiing even though Schruns was not high enough for a ski resort except in a winter of heavy snow. But climbing was fun and no one minded it in those days. You set a certain pace well under the speed at which you could climb, and it was easy and your heart felt good and you were proud of the weight of your rucksack. Part of the climb up to the Madlener-Haus was steep and very tough. But the second time you made that climb it was easier, and finally you made it easily with double the weight you had carried at first.
We were always hungry and every meal time was a great event. We drank light or dark beer and new wines and wines that were a year old sometimes. The white wines were the best. For other drinks there was kirsch made in the valley and Enzian Schnapps distilled from mountain gentian. Sometimes for dinner there would be jugged hare with a rich red wine sauce, and sometimes venison with chestnut sauce. We would drink red wine with these even though it was more expensive than white wine, and the very best cost twenty cents a liter. Ordinary red wine was much cheaper and we packed it up in kegs to the Madlener-Haus.
We had a store of books that Sylvia Beach had let us take for the winter and we could bowl with the people of the town in the alley that gave onto the summer garden of the hotel. Once or twice a week there was a poker game in the dining room of the hotel with all the windows shuttered and the door locked. Gambling was forbidden in Austria then and I played with Herr Nels, the hotel keeper, Herr Lent of the Alpine ski school, a banker of the town, the public prosecutor and the captain of Gendarmerie. It was a stiff game and they were all good poker players except that Herr Lent played too wildly because the ski school was not making any money. The captain of Gendarmerie would raise his finger to his ear when he would hear the pair of gendarmes stop outside the door when they made their rounds, and we would be silent until they had gone on.
In the cold of the morning as soon as it was light the maid would come into the room and shut the windows and make a fire in the big porcelain stove. Then the room was warm, there was breakfast of fresh bread or toast with delicious fruit preserves and big bowls of coffee, fresh eggs and good ham if you wanted it. There was a dog named Schnautz that slept on the foot of the bed who loved to go on ski trips and to ride on my back or over my shoulder when I ran down hill. He was Mr. Bumby’s friend too and would go for walks with him and his nurse beside the small sleigh.
Schruns was a good place to work. I know because I did the most difficult job of rewriting I have ever done there in the winter of 1925 and 1926, when I had to take the first draft of The Sun Also Rises which I had written in one sprint of six weeks, and make it into a novel. I cannot remember what stories I wrote there. There were several though that turned out well.
I remember the snow on the road to the village squeaking at night when we walked home in the cold with our skis and ski poles on our shoulders, watching the lights and then finally seeing the buildings, and how everyone on the road said, “Grüss Gott.” There were always country men in the Weinstube with nailed boots and mountain clothes and the air was smoky and the wooden floors were scarred by the nails. Many of the young men had served in Austrian Alpine regiments and one named Hans, who worked in the sawmill, was a famous hunter and we were good friends because we had been in the same part of the mountains in Italy. We drank together and we all sang mountain songs.
I remember the trails up through the orchards and the fields of the hillside farms above the village and the warm farm houses with their great stoves and the huge wood piles in the snow. The women worked in the kitchens carding and spinning wool into grey and black yarn. The spinning wheels worked by a foot treadle and the yarn was not dyed. The black yarn was from the wool of black sheep. The wool was natural and the fat had not been removed, and the caps and sweaters and long scarves that Hadley knitted from it never became wet in the snow.
One Christmas there was a play by Hans Sachs that the school master directed. It was a good play and I wrote a review of it for the provincial paper that the hotel keeper translated. Another year a former German naval officer with a shaven head and scars came to give a lecture on the Battle of Jutland. The lantern slides showed the movements of the two battle fleets and the naval officer used a billiard cue for a pointer when he pointed out the cowardice of Jellicoe and sometimes he became so angry that his voice broke. The school master was afraid that he would stab the billiard cue through the screen. Afterwards the former naval officer could not quiet himself down and everyone was ill at ease in the Weinstube. Only the public prosecutor and the banker drank with him, and they were at a separate table. Herr Lent, who was a Rhinelander, would not attend the lecture. There was a couple from Vienna who had come for the skiing but who did not want to go to the high mountains and so were leaving for Zurs where, I heard, they were killed in an avalanche. The man said the lecturer was the type of swine who had ruined Germany and in twenty years they would do it again. The woman with him told him to shut up in French and said this is a small place and you never know.
That was the year that so many people were killed in avalanches. The first big loss was over the mountains from our valley in Lech in the Arlberg. A party of Germans wanted to come and ski with Herr Lent on their Christmas vacations. Snow was late that year and the hills and mountain slopes were still warm from the sun when a great snowfall came. The snow was deep and powdery and it was not bound to the earth at all. Conditions for skiing could not be more dangerous and Herr Lent had wired the Berliners not to come. But it was their vacation time and they were ignorant and had no fear of avalanches. They arrived at Lech and Herr Lent refused to take them out. One man called him a coward and they said they would ski by themselves. Finally he took them to the safest slope he could find. He crossed it himself and then they followed and the whole hillside came down in a rush, rising over them as a tidal wave rises. Thirteen were dug out and nine of them were dead. The Alpine ski school had not prospered before this, and afterwards we were almost the only members. We became great students of avalanches, the different types of avalanches, how to avoid them and how to behave if you were caught in one. Most of the writing that I did that year was in avalanche time.
The worst thing I remember of that avalanche winter was one man who was dug out. He had squatted down and made a box with his arms in front of his head, as we had been taught to do, so that there would be air to breathe as the snow rose up over you. It was a huge avalanche and it took a long time to dig everyone out, and this man was the last to be found. He had not been dead long and his neck was worn through so that the tendons and the bone were visible. He had been turning his head from side to side against the pressure of the snow. In this avalanche there must have been some old, packed snow mixed in with the new light snow that had slipped. We could not decide whether he had done it on purpose or if he had been out of his head. He was refused burial in consecrated ground by the local priest anyway, since there was no proof he was a Catholic.
When we lived in Schruns we used to make a long trip up the valley to the inn where we slept before setting out on the climb to the Madlener-Haus. It was a very beautiful old inn and the wood of the walls of the room where we ate and drank were silky with the years of polishing. So were the table and chairs. We slept close together in the big bed under the feather quilt with the window open and the stars close and very bright. In the morning after breakfast we all loaded to go up the road and started the climb in the dark with the stars close and very bright, carrying our skis on our shoulders. The porters’ skis were short and they carried heavy loads. We competed among ourselves as to who could climb with the heaviest loads, but no one could compete with the porters, squat sullen peasants who spoke only Montafon dialect, climbed steadily like pack horses and at the top, where the Alpine Club hut was built on a shelf beside the snow-covered glacier, shed their loads against the stone wall of the hut, asked for more money than the agreed price, and, when they had obtained a compromise, shot down and away on their short skis like gnomes.
One of our friends was a German girl who skied with us. She was a great mountain skier, small and beautifully built, who could carry as heavy a rucksack as I could and carry it longer.
“Those porters always look at us as though they looked forward to bringing us down as bodies,” she said. “They set the price for the climb and I’ve never known them not to ask for more.”
In the winter in Schruns I wore a beard against the sun that burned my face so badly on the high snow, and did not bother having a haircut. Late one evening running on skis down the logging trails Herr Lent told me that peasants I passed on those roads above Schruns called me “the Black Christ.” He said some, when they came to the Weinstube, called me “the Black Kirsch-drinking Christ.” But to the peasants at the far upper end of the Montafon where we hired porters to go up to the Madlener-Haus, we were all foreign devils who went into the high mountains when people should stay out of them. That we started before daylight in order not to pass avalanche places when the sun could make them dangerous was not to our credit. It only proved we were tricky as all foreign devils are.
I remember the smell of the pines and the sleeping on the mattresses of beech leaves in the woodcutters’ huts and the skiing through the forest following the tracks of hares and of foxes. In the high mountains above the tree line I remember following the track of a fox until I came in sight of him and watching him stand with his right forefoot raised and then go carefully to stop and then pounce, and the whiteness and the clutter of a ptarmigan bursting out of the snow and flying away and over the ridge.
I remember all the kinds of snow that the wind could make and their different treacheries when you were on skis. Then there were the blizzards when you were in the high Alpine hut and the strange world that they would make where we had to make our route as carefully as though we had never seen the country. We had not, either, as it all was new. Finally towards spring there was the great glacier run, smooth and straight, forever straight if our legs could hold it, our ankles locked, we running so low, leaning into the speed, dropping forever and forever in the silent hiss of the crisp powder. It was better than any flying or anything else, and we built the ability to do it and to have it with the long climbs carrying the heavy rucksacks. We could not buy the trip up nor take a ticket to the top. It was the end we worked for all winter, and all the winter built to make it possible.
During our last year in the mountains new people came deep into our lives and nothing was ever the same again. The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to the next winter, a nightmare winter disguised as the greatest fun of all, and the murderous summer that was to follow. It was that year that the rich showed up.
The rich have a sort of pilot fish who goes ahead of them, sometimes a little deaf, sometimes a little blind, but always smelling affable and hesitant ahead of them. The pilot fish talks like this: “Well I dont know. No of course not really. But I like them. I like them both. Yes, by God, Hem; I do like them. I see what you mean but I do like them truly and there’s something damned fine about her.” (He gives her name and pronounces it lovingly.) “No, Hem, dont be silly and dont be difficult. I like them truly. Both of them I swear it. You’ll like him (using his baby-talk nickname) when you know him. I like them both, truly.”
Then you have the rich and nothing is ever as it was again. The pilot fish leaves of course. He is always going somewhere, or coming from somewhere, and he is never around for very long. He enters and leaves politics or the theater in the same way he enters and leaves countries and people’s lives in his early days. He is never caught and he is not caught by the rich. Nothing ever catches him and it is only those who trust him who are caught and killed. He has the irreplaceable early training of the bastard and a latent and long denied love of money. He ends up rich himself, having moved one dollar’s width to the right with every dollar that he made.
These rich loved and trusted him because he was shy, comic, elusive, already in production, and because he was an unerring pilot fish.
When you have two people who love each other, are happy and gay and really good work is being done by one or both of them, people are drawn to them as surely as migrating birds are drawn at night to a powerful beacon. If the two people were as solidly constructed as the beacon there would be little damage except to the birds. Those who attract people by their happiness and their performance are usually inexperienced. They do not know how not to be overrun and how to go away. They do not always learn about the good, the attractive, the charming, the soon-beloved, the generous, the understanding rich who have no bad qualities and who give each day the quality of a festival and who, when they have passed and taken the nourishment they needed, leave everything deader than the roots of any grass Attila’s horses’ hooves have ever scoured.
The rich came led by the pilot fish. A year before they would never have come. There was no certainty then. The work was as good and the happiness was greater but no novel had been written, so they could not be sure. They never wasted their time nor their charm on something that was not sure. Why should they? Picasso was sure and of course had been before they had ever heard of painting. They were very sure of another painter. Many others. But this year they were sure and they had the word from the pilot fish who turned up too so we would not feel that they were outlanders and that I would not be difficult. The pilot fish was our friend of course.
In those days I trusted the pilot fish as I would trust the Corrected Hydrographic Office Sailing Directions for the Mediterranean, say, or the tables in Brown’s Nautical Almanac. Under the charm of these rich I was as trusting and as stupid as a bird dog who wants to go out with any man with a gun, or a trained pig in a circus who has finally found someone who loves and appreciates him for himself alone. That every day should be a fiesta seemed to me a marvelous discovery. I even read aloud the part of the novel that I had rewritten, which is about as low as a writer can get and much more dangerous for him as a writer than glacier skiing unroped before the full winter snowfall has set over the crevices.
When they said, “It’s great, Ernest. Truly it’s great. You cannot know the thing it has,” I wagged my tail in pleasure and plunged into the fiesta concept of life to see if I could not bring some fine attractive stick back, instead of thinking, “If these bastards like it what is wrong with it?” That was what I would think if I had been functioning as a professional although, if I had been functioning as a professional, I would never have read it to them.
Before these rich had come we had already been infiltrated by another rich using the oldest trick there is. It is that an unmarried young woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and unrelentingly sets out to marry the husband. When the husband is a writer and doing difficult work so that he is occupied much of the time and is not a good companion or partner to his wife for a big part of the day, the arrangement has advantages until you know how it works out. The husband has two attractive girls around when he has finished work. One is new and strange and if he has bad luck he gets to love them both.
Then, instead of the two of them and their child, there are three of them. First it is stimulating and fun and it goes on that way for a while. All things truly wicked start from an innocence. So you live day by day and enjoy what you have and do not worry. You lie and hate it and it destroys you and every day is more dangerous, but you live day to day as in a war.
It was necessary that I leave Schruns and go to New York to rearrange publishers. I did my business in New York and when I got back to Paris I should have caught the first train from the Gare de l’Est that would take me down to Austria. But the girl I was in love with was in Paris then, and I did not take the first train, or the second or the third.
When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her. She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun, beautifully built, her hair red gold in the sun, grown out all winter awkwardly and beautifully, and Mr. Bumby standing with her, blond and chunky and with winter cheeks looking like a good Vorarlberg boy.
“Oh Tatie,” she said, when I was holding her in my arms, “you’re back and you made such a fine successful trip. I love you and we’ve missed you so.”
I loved her and I loved no one else and we had a lovely magic time while we were alone. I worked well and we made great trips, and I thought we were invulnerable again, and it wasn’t until we were out of the mountains in late spring, and back in Paris that the other thing started again.
That was the end of the first part of Paris. Paris was never to be the same again although it was always Paris and you changed as it changed. We never went back to the Vorarlberg and neither did the rich.
There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.