Well, I am back from my whirlwind French adventures, and while I meant to get this posted last week, life interfered. As it sometimes does.
Between a nasty bout of the stomach flu, a car overheating, crisis at work (did you forget I have a day job, too?) and finding a new place to live, the dive back into the real world was a rough one.
But I know several of you are dying to hear about my trip! When I started this particular blog, I quickly realized it was going to be the longest post ever. So instead of chronicling each sight, taste or experience, I am focusing on the ones most relevant to the subject of this site: storytelling!
As you may or may not know both Paris and Provence are steeped in literary history. And don’t even get me started on art! There were so many spots to visit that I couldn’t get to them all, but here’s a few favorites:
Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Company (Ile de la Cite)
If you ever took a literature class in high school or college, I can guarantee you’ve heard of Victor Hugo – famed author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. There’s also a Disney movie. The cathedral itself is gorgeous with stained glass windows every few feet and small offset rooms for different saints. But the truly fantastic part about this sight is climbing to the top. It’s a workout… But what a view! You can also pose for a picture with the famed bells of Notre Dame. Unfortunately the gargoyles don’t come to life and sing. I know, I was disappointed too.
The famous bookstore Shakespeare’s is located right across the river from Notre Dame. It’s a book lover’s haven with battered secondhand books crammed in with new releases and signed first editions. For writers, they offer multiple nooks and crannies to write and even to sleep if you’re on a roll.
Moulin Rouge (Montmartre)
The bohemian revolution found its home in this neighborhood, and both artists and writers flocked to the freedom, love and creativity it preached. The list is long: Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Dalí, Modigliani, Recognize any of those?
And let’s not forget Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who contributed to the early success of the dance hall and theater, Moulin Rouge, by creating its first poster. It’s also my favorite movie, and I almost wet my pants with excitement when El Tango de Roxanne started playing.
Fitzgerald’s Apartment and Les Deux Magots (St Germain)
This neighborhood is the hot spot of literary activity in the 1920s with cafés and bookstores on every corner. But the literary gems of St. Germain are two neighboring cafés where author after author ate, drank and wrote. Les Deux Magots was a favorite of Hemingway’s, and Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce were also regulars.
Across the street sits Café de Flore where penniless writers would gather around the huge stove to keep warm. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “This could seem strange to you, but at this Café, we were at home.”
And if you’re a creeper like I am, you can walk by Fitzgerald’s and Hemingway’s apartments near the Luxembourg Garden.
The Catacombs (Montparnasse)
A setting for some of the most famous literary scenes, my favorite and the creepiest thing I did in Paris was a tour of the catacombs.
In the late 1700s, the Cimetière des Innocents was overflowing with bodies, literally into
the basements of surrounding homes and businesses. So authorities shut it down and began excavating the bodies, cleaning their bones and laying them to rest underground. But the bones only occupy a small section of the catacombs. There’s over 200 miles! You can almost see Quasimodo, Jean Valjean or the Phantom of the Opera wandering through the tunnels.
Like other creepy things? Visit Cimetière du Père-Lachaise where Marcel Proust, Molière, Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde are buried.
It may not be a literary sight per se, but countless books and movies have used it as backdrop for historical fiction. Even Outlander! Plus Marie Antoinette’s life coupled with the French Revolution is – in my opinion – one of the greatest stories in history.
Bar Hemingway (Place Vendôme)
For another fan-girl experience, make sure to stop for a drink at Bar Hemingway in the Ritz, where the walls are lined with letters and you can see Hemingway’s actual typewriter!
According to legend, Hemingway “liberated” the Ritz bar during Nazi occupation and then promptly ordered a round of champagne. Between the framed articles on every wall, mini hamburgers, the unique dirty martinis and the fine service from everyone (including famous head bartender Roman Devaux) I could’ve stayed there for hours.
Our time in the South was more focused on wine and scenery, but don’t let that fool you. Several writers vacationed, lived and even set their novels among the vineyards of Provence and by the Mediterranean Sea (see Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night and the famed Chateau d’If in The Count of Monte Cristo).
It was a fantastic trip filled with literature, art, wine and daddy-daughter bonding time. I already can’t wait to go back.