Most of what I’ve been writing about has focused on “official” conference happenings. Events and talks that were on the "official" schedule. But that does not sum up an entire Hemingway Society conference experience. The things that happen away from the program, not at the sanctioned venues, that’s a big part of it too. This is especially true in Paris.
As I briefly mentioned in my post on the plenary sessions, that day was capped by a visit to La Closerie Des Lilas, one of the bars closely associated with Hemingway in Paris. It was where he wrote “Big Two-Hearted River.” I eschewed a more Hemingway-themed choice (for example, the famous Hemingway Daiquiri was on the drink menu) and instead went with something a bit simpler (an Aperol spritz, which I mentioned in my post on plenary day). After our wander through Montparnasse, stopping to see landmarks from the life of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, and other great writers, sitting and having a drink and relaxing were necessities.
In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway wrote “Then as I was getting up to the Closerie des Lilas with the light on my old friend, the statue of Marshal Ney with his sword out and the shadows of the trees on the bronze, and he alone there and nobody behind him and what a fiasco he'd made of Waterloo, I thought that all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be and I stopped at the Lilas to keep the statue company and drank a cold beer before going home to the flat over the sawmill.” While Hemingway came there to keep the statue company, perhaps we came there to keep Hemingway company, the specter of the author present as he gazed down at us in the form of a picture above the bar.
But my adventures into the bars and cafes of Hemingway did not stop there. The next night, I went out with quite a group of fellow Hemingway Society-ers to Harry’s New York Bar, another location with a connection to Hemingway (in that he drank there).
There were a plethora of drinks ordered, including many (appropriately enough) French 75s, Bellinis and Sidecars, along with other concoctions unique to that location. I elected to go with my cocktail of choice-- the Old Fashioned-- to stay on message with my love for (or some might say obsession with) the show Mad Men and its protagonist, Don Draper.
As there were quite a few of us, we were able to essentially claim our own section. After what has been a very hot and exhausting conference week, going to this place that felt like it was right out of early 20th century Lost Generation Paris was a lot of fun. It felt good to luxuriate in that posh atmosphere.
The Hemingway Society conferences always allow for these kinds of things, for exploring and seeing locations that aren’t a part of the official itinerary. Place and space are so important to Hemingway. He lived in so many different and interesting places and they were all so important to him. By having conferences in these cities that were important places in his life (as opposed to at a location selected solely for convenience), you are able to learn and experience more than just what you hear at a panel or keynote talk.
It also speaks to howthe conference always has a strong social program, though I don’t even limit that to the things on the conference program that aren’t “academic.” Whether it’s small groups getting together for drinks or events like the Hemingway Society Grants Fundraiser that was built around an evening of songs and poems and everything in between. The conference either builds them into the official program or allows people the space and time to create those things for themselves.
Those of us who participate in the Hemingway Society know that we are studying an author for whom living life and experiencing things was of the utmost importance. Our conferences live up to those things that Hemingway valued and endorsed as part of the conference experience are these things that happen after the papers and panels are finished.