Archive for the ‘Literary Places’ Category
One of the many famous books that has been written in New York is Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Since I always associate the author with France (he was born there in 1900 and became a pioneer of French aviation), I never realized that he actually wrote this classic book while living in exile during World War II.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry lived in New York from 1941 to 1943. He stayed in an apartment on the 23rd floor of 240 Central Park South. His apartment in this posh neighbourhood overlooked Central Park and is where he did most of the writing and illustrations for what would become his most famous book. (He and his wife rented a home in Asharoken where he also wrote part of the book.)
Writer Stacy Schiff wrote an incredible piece for the New York Times about Saint-Exupéry’s time in New York that you can read here.
“On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
Eloise’s New York
The Fitzgeralds tie the knot
Charles Dickens stayed at the Omni Parker House Hotel during his 1867-68 American lecture tour. While his adoring fans tried to sneak past the security outside his hotel room (yes, even writers get groupies sometimes), Dickens would rehearse for his public readings in front of a large mirror. That mirror is now in the mezzanine level hall by the Press Room, and the marble fireplace from his room is now in the Dickens Room, which is used for meetings and dining.
And that fireplace is the only Dickensian thing about the Dickens room.
The room is a little depressing at first glance. Between the ugly carpeting, the sad bowls of mints on the conference table and the employee slowly folding linens, I wasn’t sure I was even in the right place. The only way I knew I was in fact in the Dickens Room (aside from the plaque outside) was the huge portrait of Dickens on the wall and the bust of him on the fireplace.
Dickens was part of the Saturday Club, a small group of friends who got together on the last Saturday of every month. Other members included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. They would get together to read, critique, and discuss. And it was there that Dickens gave the first public reading of A Christmas Carol in 1867.
If you decide to snoop around the historic Omni Parker House Hotel like I did, take a peak inside the restaurant because it has a pretty impressive history: Malcolm X was once a busboy, JFK proposed to Jackie at one of the tables, and it’s where the Boston Cream Pie was invented. Even though the piece of pie I ordered was a little overpriced, it was still worth it.
“If you want your memoir published, be sure to write it in Paris.”
- Nathalie Atkinson, National Post
Lately it feels like whenever I walk through a bookstore I come across a display for all things French. Everything from colourful macarons to the eating habits of French children seems to be interesting to us at the moment. And in addition to French cookbooks and style manuals, the books I’m seeing a lot of lately are Paris memoirs.
Because I love Paris I naturally want to read as many of these memoirs as I can.
Over the past little while I’ve read four of them. Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes wasn’t my favourite, but it was still charming and worth the read. Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin, about a writer who moves to Paris to work for an ad agency, was witty, honest and well-written, while Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas was a lighter, somewhat fluffier look at Paris through the eyes of a writer who leaves New York for Paris. But what it lacked in plot it made up for in food description. I was very hungry while reading this book. Consider yourself warned.
And speaking of hungry, The Sweet Life in Paris by pastry chef David Lebovitz is an entertaining collection of stories about Parisian life mixed in with delicious recipes. Probably the best that I’ve read so far.
And yet it seems that I’ve barely scratched the surface. Here are more Paris memoirs I’d like to read:
As much as I’ve enjoyed reading these books, maybe it’s time I stop reading about other people’s experiences in Paris and just go there myself. It’s been five years since I last visited and I’ve been searching for a decent croissant ever since. But in the meantime, I guess other people’s stories, as many of them as possible, will have to do. Because much like choosing from a tray full of French pastries, why stop at just one?
The Michigan Hemingway Society recently inaugurated a tour for people looking to gain some insight into Hemingway’s summer home in northern Michigan and the writing that his time there inspired.
When you think of Hemingway you probably think of Paris or Cuba, but during his childhood Ernest Hemingway spent every summer in northern Michigan, and a good portion of his short stories are actually set there. Hemingway’s Michigan tour has 11 sites, each marked with a bronze marker that explains its significance. Sites include The Perry Hotel where Hemingway stayed in 1916 before heading up to his family’s cottage, and the Carnegie Library Building where Hemingway spoke to the Ladies Aid Society in 1919 about his experiences in the war, which then led to his job at the Toronto Star as its European correspondent.
This tour is definitely for really die hard Ernest Hemingway fans. While it may not be as glamourous as touring Hemingway’s Paris, discovering Hemingway’s Michigan would be a great way for any fan to really understand the man before he became a legendary author.
Further reading: Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan
Related posts: Discovering Havana: In the Footsteps of Hemingway
“My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita.”
- Ernest Hemingway
About 15 minutes into the documentary Discovering Havana: In the Footsteps of Hemingway, I realized there had only been one brief mention of the author right at the beginning. Thankfully it was right at that moment that El Floridita finally appeared on the screen.
A short walk from the Ambos Mundos, the hotel Hemingway stayed at while in Havana, El Floridita is the bar where Hemingway famously sipped (many) daiquiris. The documentary shows how they make their original daiquiri and also the version Hemingway preferred, which is on their menu today.
It moves on from there to the pretty pink hotel down the road. The Ambos Mundos has Hemingway’s room on the 5th floor exactly as it was when he stayed there in the 30s. You can see for yourself in the clip below.
Next is La Bodeguita, another place Hemingway enjoyed stopping for a drink. Here you learn that the secret to a good mojito is all in the mixing, something I’m sure Papa knew quite well.
While a good portion of this documentary is about the drinks that Hemingway liked best (no surprise there), it also gives you a glimpse at his time spent fishing with friends, which was the inspiration behind the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novel The Old Man and the Sea.
And you also get to see Finca Vigía, the home just outside Havana where Hemingway lived and wrote on and off for about 20 years.
After Hemingway’s death, the Cuban government took ownership of the house and got to work on its restoration and preservation. Today you can visit Finca Vigía and see his famous fishing boat Pilar, which is on display there.
(The Finca Vigía Foundation has an excellent list of resources if you’re interested in reading more about the home.)
Discovering Havana was definitely worth watching, and since the Hemingway section is bookended between other interesting info about Cuba, including a bit on Castro, Guevara, cigars, and rum, I’m pretty sure anyone, not just fans of the author, would enjoy this short and informative documentary.
Now can someone please explain to me why I haven’t visited Havana yet?
The first thing I did after booking my flight to Chicago (after researching the best place to get deep dish pizza) was to find a book about the literary places to visit in the Windy City. Chicago is, after all, a city that has nurtured writers for more than a century.
Some of those writers include:
- Ernest Hemingway
- Saul Bellow
- Carl Sandburg
- L. Frank Baum
- Edgar Rice Burroughs
The book I ended up buying was Greg Holden’s Literary Chicago: A Book Lover’s Tour of the Windy City.
The thing I really like about this book is that Greg Holden seems to understand that for those of us who love literature and writing, literary landmarks such as where a particular author was born or where a specific book was written are unbelievably inspiring. I’ve traveled far out of the way of the more popular tourist attractions to see a site that has inspired a writer whom I admire. If you can relate, and if you’re heading to Chicago, this is the perfect book for you.
My trip only lasted three days so I didn’t have time to see everything I would have liked. For example, I really wanted to see Oz Park, which was named to commemorate the work of L. Frank Baum who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while living in Chicago in 1900. I would’ve loved the statues of the characters, not to mention the yellow brick road.
I did manage to spend an afternoon surrounded by all things Ernest Hemingway, which I’ll write about in a separate post. But between visiting The Art Institute of Chicago, taking a Chicago River Architecture Tour, and going out to listen to some blues, I didn’t get to see all the spots on my list.
But all that means is that I need to go back, and there are worse things than having to pay another visit to Chicago.
”They did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking. Everyone wanted to meet him”.
- Dorothy Parker
When F. Scott Fitzgerald met and fell in love with Zelda, he was not yet rich or successful.
It has been said that Zelda broke off their engagement because she was tired of waiting for him to make his fortune, and that she only agreed to marry him after he’d established himself as a real writer when his book This Side of Paradise was published. A week after it was published, to be exact.
Regardless of what you think of all that, any Fitzgerald fan knows how much of an influence she had on his writing. In fact, he sometimes had his heroines say her exact words in his books.
As one of the most well-known couples in literature, I didn’t miss the opportunity to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral the last time I was in New York. It was there that Fitzgerald and Zelda were married in a small ceremony on April 3, 1920.
This stunning church on Fifth Avenue, the largest Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the US, was where it all started. And it was only four years after that they were living in France as Fitzgerald worked on The Great Gatsby.
As I stood inside I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if she had never agreed to marry him…
John Steinbeck, who grew up in Salinas in the 1900s, wrote a novel about a street lined with sardine canneries in Monterey, California. He called that street and the book Cannery Row, but it was based on the actual street called Ocean View Avenue. Later (about 13 years after the book was published), that street was renamed Cannery Row in honour of the book. And today when you walk the quiet street, there is evidence of how proud residents are of Steinbeck and of the famous novel he chose to set there.
There are quotes from the novel everywhere, along with artistic interpretations of the book. Edward Ricketts was a marine biologist that Steinbeck used as the inspiration for his marine researcher character Doc Ricketts, and at 800 Cannery Row you can see Ed Ricketts’ actual lab, which was the basis for Doc’s marine lab in the novel.
Steinbeck called Cannery Row “a poem…a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”
If you’re a fan of the book or of Steinbeck in general, it’s worth the trip to beautiful Monterey to see Cannery Row. And if you’re in the area, you can also check out the National Steinbeck Center and The Steinbeck House , both in Salinas.
This region of the California Coast isn’t just Steinbeck country. Many other authors have roots there:
- Robert Louis Stevenson visited Monterey in 1879 and legend has it that the setting for his classic novel Treasure Island was inspired by Point Lobos in nearby Carmel.
- Henry Miller lived in Big Sur, and his home is now the Henry Miller Memorial Library, which is right off of Highway 1.
- Jack Kerouac also spent some time in Big Sur in 1960. He wrote the autobiographical novel Big Sur based on his experiences there.
One of the things I vow to do on my return to Paris is to spend more time at cafés. During my last visit, I may have been too committed to seeing stuff and doing things to truly appreciate that the café life in Paris is just as important as any of the tourist attractions I was lining up for.
It’s such a simple joy to sit, contemplate, and observe while sipping an espresso and maybe nibbling on something sweet.
Since I’m trying to go back to Paris this year, I decided to arm myself with the book Literary Cafés of Paris by Noel Riley Fitch. It’s the perfect little travel guide to bring along on your trip or to read at home before you go. The literary cafés are broken down by area, so you can visit them all if you’re in Paris for a while, or just spend the day hopping from one place to another in a more concentrated area such as the Right Bank.
A café that I did make time to visit was Café de Flore on Boulevard St-Germain. I couldn’t resist the Art Deco decor and its artistic and literary history. Picasso frequented Café de Flore in the 30s and 40s, along with Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who wrote there every day.
On my visit, I chose to sit outside at a small table so I could watch the people walking by. I had been instructed by a friend to order their Chocolat Chaud because it is “the best hot chocolate in the world”. I did and I wasn’t disappointed. It was like drinking melted chocolate only better because you add some heavy cream to it. And despite its history, it didn’t feel too touristy to me. I could have stayed there for the entire afternoon. Next time I’ll order a second Chocolat Chaud and do just that.
If you’re interested, here’s a great article on Café life in Paris.
Café de Flore
172 Boulevard Saint-Germain
The Writers of Père Lachaise
“I am Eloise. I am six. I am a city child. I live at the Plaza.”
As a kid reading Kay Thompson’s book Eloise, I would have never imagined that one day I’d have the opportunity to stay at The Plaza. But, unbelievably, I did stay at this literary landmark a few years ago. And while I didn’t exactly have my run of the place like Miss Eloise, I did manage to have a pretty good time.
I’ll never forget my first ride in the elevator. I felt so out of place in the grand hotel because, unlike Eloise, my mother does not have a charge account at Bergdorfs and she has never known Coco Chanel. I opted for a late night drink at the Oak Bar, but for a real Eloise experience you should have tea at The Palm Court. Also, don’t forget to order something from room service, saying “Charge it, please.”
If you’d like a detailed Eloise itinerary for you and your kids, pick up Storybook Travels or have a look at The Plaza’s own Eloise Guides. And if the Eloise Shop in the hotel isn’t enough for you, there’s always this package that lets you live like Eloise for the night.
If you’ve never read this classic children’s book, what are you waiting for? And if you’d like to learn more about how author Kay Thompson came up with and published the story of Eloise in 1955, here is the complete Eloise Timeline.