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February 12, 2009
I’m standing at Place de la Contrescarpe (counter-escarpment), which dates to the Middle Ages. The present-day square was once a no-man’s-land situated just outside the city’s fortified wall between the guard towers and an elevated moat that created another rise to an earthen wall. It was a popular place to congregate by day but a dangerous one at night. In the 14th century, there were only three street lamps in all of Paris, none of them here. By the 16th century, police estimated that an average of 15 bodies were found each morning, killings from the night before (that puts Chicago in a better light).
I lunch at the Crêperie de la Mouffe where Breton yokes adorn the walls and crêpes are served on Quimper china. Of the 80 options on the menu, I select the savory wild mushroom crêpe made with buckwheat flour, followed by a sweet Grand Marnier crêpe for dessert. I also order a bolet de cidre, some crisp, lightly fermented Normandy apple cider.
Hemingway lived around the corner at No. 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine with his first wife, Hadley, in a fourth floor flat. There, his new mentor, Gertrude Stein read “Up in Michigan.”
With Hemingway on the brain, I make my way to the eponymous bar at the Ritz. Entering the intimate room at the back of the hotel, I first notice is that the great man is hatless. The bartender, Colin, had purchased a certain long-billed “Hemingway Cap” for the bronze bust of the author that rests by the bar. Colin explains that the hotel’s new managing director didn’t quite care for the look.
This may be the only bar on earth where I’m willing to spend $20 for a cocktail, but the atmosphere and the Cerignola olives are worth it.
What are the limits of your extravagance?