Saturday, May 9, 2009

a moveable feast

last night, after dishes were cleared, friends had departed and husband was sound asleep, i sat by book light in bed, finishing A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

As i read through the book over the last week or two, i've been taking notes on passages that spoke to me as a writer, an observer and a lover of foreign soil...
and here is what has stuck with me even past the last page...

"All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the herb-sellers, the stationary and newspaper shops..."

"I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, "Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." So finally i would write one true sentence and then go from there."

"I was learning something from the paintings of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have dimensions that i was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him, but i was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides, i was a secret."

"When i was writing, it was necessary for me to read after i had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing that you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. It was necessary to get excercise, to be tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved. That was better than anything. But afterwards, when you were empty, it was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I learned already never to empty the well of my writing but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it."

"I thought of [...] egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and i thought who is calling who a lost generation [...] I thought that all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be [...]"

"Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason. In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed."

"When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. [...] People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

"But them we did not think ever of ourselves as poor [...] we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other."

"[...] There are so many sorts of hunger. In the spring there are more. But that's gone now. Memory is hunger."

"When i woke with the windows open and the moonlight on the roofs of the tall houses, it was there. I put my face away from the moonlight into the shadow but i could not sleep and lay awake thinking about it. We had both awakened twice in the night and my wife slept sweetly not with the moonlight on her face [...] life had seemed so simple that morning when i had wakened and found the false spring [...] But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong, nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight."

"By then i knew everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itslef. If it was good, you could only fill it by finding something better."

"There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. i learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when i was hungry. i used to wonder if he were too when he painted; but i thought possibly it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsaid but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later, i thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way [...] hunger is good discipline when you learn from it."

"I said that i did not believe that anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent."

"[...] but it was very difficult, and i did not know how i would ever write anything as long as a novel. it often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph."

"I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life i was leading, and already i missed not working and i felt the death lonliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life."


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