A Letter to the Author
I really do love your unembellished syntax. You distill moments into their most essential components. You capture a neighborhood in two sentences. You are like the meticulous neurosurgeon of the novel, working with utter precision and efficacy.
But sometimes I wonder what the pared down vignettes of A Moveable Feast are leaving out. The life created by your prose is rich in sensory experience: taste, smell, temperature and weather, physicality. But surely not all of your life in Paris in the 1920s was poetic. What was it like to acquire French as a second language, for example? Sometimes I can’t actually tell from your scenes whether they were spoken in French or English. Also, what did you do when you weren’t working, trying to work, walking, or eating?
I don’t mean to say your writing is one-dimensional. Nor would I accuse you of painting an overly perfect picture of Paris, which so many writers and artists seem to do. It’s more that you seem to have left in the writerly discard pile those experiences which did not contribute to the depiction of Paris as a romantic, history-filled, and charming place, and of your life as inspired, poor, and experientially rich.
Personally, when I look over what I’ve written over a few months in Paris, I see fairly significant variations in tone and subject matter. My life here isn’t held together by a few attributes, and even the concrete features of it (for example, the sights around me) seem to vary in effect, depending on my mood. Some days the quietness of the small streets is meditative and lovely; others, it is lifeless and old-fashioned. Sometimes I love the unhurried air of a sidewalk café; sometimes the waiters’ obliviousness gets tiresome, and the wafting cigarette smoke makes it impossible to concentrate.
Life abroad, much like life at home, is full of incongruent moments and fluctuating moods. And I know, I know, you were a Lost Generation writer, and I am a modern blogger… I can’t expect your approach to writing on Paris to match my own. But I wish I could connect more to the world that you describe here. As fun at is envisioning scenes from A Moveable Feast as I walk past some of your spots in Paris, it seems like I only know about that existence from one angle, one mood. Dear Ernest… please tell me the rest!