Summary and Analysis Chapter 1

Ernest Hemingway begins his memoirs of his years in Paris by describing the most negative parts of the city. At the beginning of his story, the winter rains are beginning. All of a sudden autumn was over, and Paris would sink into a depressing sodden mass. Representative of this bleary side of the City of Lights is the Café des Amateurs off the Place Contrescarpe; Hemingway has rented a room in a nearby hotel where he can write. The Café is inhabited by the lowest of the citizens of Paris: drunkards and alcoholics, miserable people who stay drunk out of the depths of their despair. Hemingway describes it as the “cesspool of the rue Moufretard,” a street that leads into the Place Contrescarpe.

The dwelling places in this district are mostly slum-like apartment houses with primitive sanitary conditions, mere holes in the floor that lead down to a tank which is emptied each day by a lorry that reminds Hemingway of the “earthy” browns and yellows of a Braque painting. But while the tanks can be emptied, the “cesspool” of the Café cannot.

Hemingway describes the walk to his hotel workplace, examining the skyline on this cold day for signs of smoke that will indicate that it is worth the trouble to light a fire in his room. It is not, so he proceeds to another, better patronized café on the Place St.-Michel. As Hemingway moves from the Place Contrescarpe to the Place St.-Michel, his vision of Paris also changes. In this section of the city, there is more sheer comfort and pleasantness. He settles down for a day of writing, accompanied by a drink of rum high quality St. James rum.

Hemingway’s attention is not entirely settled on his writing. He notices a beautiful girl in that café, alone and obviously waiting for someone. He notices the freshness of her face and the style of her black hair. Sensually excited, he is also desirous of finding some way to put her into the story he is writing.

The story Hemingway is writing is one he describes as “writing itself,” and he confesses a difficulty in keeping up with it. He pauses, considering the pretty girl one more time, then manages to regain control of his story and sinks into the writing experience. When he finishes, he looks up and notices the girl is gone. He feels a vague sense of sadness, yet also satisfaction, at the completion of his story, and puts off rereading it to make a final judgment until the following day. He orders some oysters and sits back to revel in the sensual experience of eating and drinking.


(The entire section is 1046 words.)