Writing in a Paris Café

My wife and I are still planning to leave Paradelle and jet to France this summer for a vacation that was pandemic-postponed in 2021 and 2020. Of course, a positive COVID test in the 72 hours before we leave will cancel it again. (I did note this morning that they have lifted the testing requirement for now when I return from France.)

Though I hope not to be an American cliché, I will undoubtedly fall into some Romantic traps set by years of reading literature and watching films. I have never been there but my wife studied there and taught French for many years so I feel less conspicuous – though perhaps her skills will make me more conspicuous.

How can I sit in a Paris cafe and not think about Hemingway and all those American ex-patriates who sat there drinking, talking, and writing?

Never write in a café, especially in Europe. Ever since Hemingway, this has been the literary equivalent of what in mountain climbing is called the “tech weenie” (that is, someone who cannot get a foot off the ground but is weighed down with $10,000’s worth of equipment). Literary skill, much less greatness, cannot be had with a pose, and exhibitionism extorts the price of failure. Also, have pity on the weary Parisians who have wanted only a citron pressé but have been unable to find a café where every single seat is not occupied by an American publicly carrying on a torrid affair with his Moleskine. – Mark Helprin

Helprin’s advice for European touring is not unlike my own thoughts here about thinking that an isolated cabin in the woods might prove the inspiration to write that Great American Novel or at least some poems. I don’t plan any serious writing while in France, but I will have a little travel notebook to record places and things we do to supplement my photos. A picture may sometimes speak a thousand words, but I often look at a travel photo and think “Now where was I when I took this one?”

The Yellow House (The Street) in Arles by Vincent

I don’t plan to create any great art when traveling either but I do sometimes do some sketching in the journal, and when we get to Arles I will fall into a van Gogh romance. The yellow house where Vincent lived while he worked there is gone now but I do plan to do some painting there. No fabulous Impressionist canvases but something.

Though I am not a fan of traveling – the getting there and getting home parts – I will always give in to the Romance of being in a new place.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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