December 8, 2015

POP CULTURE, POLITICS AND PERCEPTION | Paris est une fête

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By SARAH PALMER

The attacks of November 13 seemed to strike at the very heart of Parisian culture. The violence left France trying to capture and secure its cultural values. In the midst of this crisis of the French mind, the city is attempting to re-establish what Paris is, a query that was resolved by American author Ernest Hemingway: “Paris is a moveable feast.” This was a poetic answer produced by a Western mind threatened by World War I.

From the words of a 1920s writer comes the image of Paris as a cultural smorgasbord, a meeting place of every artist. This memoir is an impressive testament to the creativity of the Western mind. Hemingway wrote from a world that had barely escaped the destructive might of modern warfare. The youth of the interwar period had stared into the black abyss of political hypocrisy and horrendous violence, and somehow overcome the carnage to imagine a new Europe. This new Europe was based within the cultural skeleton of the old world order, imperfect and scared, but resolute in its existence. Now with stadiums, concert halls and restaurants under attack, it would appear that every bomb and bullet was pointed at this Parisian identity. Paris was once again vis-à-vis with a force of unprecedented destruction, which was attempting to forever alter the fragile ideologies and values upon which the Western world is founded.

Paris, as the heart of Europe, beats to the rhythm of a waltz and a rap lyric. The right chamber is the old world, the left the new, inextricably bound to one another. Its life’s blood is the youth who come to love and create. These young were the ones killed, not out on Flanders Field, but partaking in the feast of Paris. As a result, bookstores across Paris have been selling out of Paris est une fête, and the book, along with flowers and candles, is being left at memorials for the victims of the attacks. This symbolizes not that Parisian culture itself has been murdered, but that the bullets failed to find the heart of Paris. Heralded as a cultural capital of Europe, the use of literature as a social ballast perfectly reflects the desire to have a physical representation of the Parisian mind. This memoir, A Moveable Feast, has somehow bottled an image of a timeless Paris. From the 20s, an era of cultural and intellectual decadence, comes Hemingway’s homage to the Parisian life. “We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

Hemingway wrote, “Hunger is a good discipline;” the French people are adhering to this discipline more than ever. They are sampling the feast, now as an act of defiance. Paris is remembering the Hemingways, Cole Porters and F. Scott Fitzgeralds who came to Paris and sat in cafes creating homages to the city of lights. The young Hemingway of A Moveable Feast upholds the lover’s city as something eternal. “There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.”

Hemingway created an image of Paris as something intangible, a shifting delight. It was not simply a feast, but a moveable feast, a cultural banquet you could carry with you.  It wasn’t a city, it was something given to every visitor to the city. It was itself a way of life. This puts Paris beyond bullets and bombs.

Sarah Palmer is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her spirit animal is President William Henry Harrison, reminding her that even the biggest success can be dampened by the wrong outfit choice. She spends far too much time watching old movies, listening to jazz and trying not to do anything. Pop Culture, Politics and Perception appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. She can be reached at ssp222@cornell.edu.

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