Book Corner,  Literary Paris,  Paris

Book Corner: A Moveable Feast At The Races

Horse racing and Paris are not two things that I naturally put together. But for Hemingway, horse racing became an obsession. Let’s join him at the races!

Auteuil Race Track, circa 1910

Chapters 5 and 6 discuss Ernest’s deep dive into the racing culture—and the associated gambling—of Paris in the 1920s. Horse racing doesn’t match my perception of Jazz Age Paris’s urban glamour. But it definitely matches Hemingway’s personality. It’s not a big leap for a man obsessed with bull fighting!

Admittedly much of these chapters are spent in somewhat esoteric (at least for this racing novice) detail on the racing and gambling itself. Since that info is not quite what we do here, I wanted to focus on the Paris parts and some of Ernest himself. As usual, Hemingway takes us all over the place!

(False) Spring Time in Paris

First, he sets the scene. Still focused on the seasons, we’re moving more fully into spring.

At the end of Chapter 4, Papa left us with a lament on what he would call in the next chapter the “false spring.” When we start to sense spring in the air, the green buds on the trees, and then wham! Heavy cold rains “beat back” the spring and cause melancholy over the loss of this season of hope and renewal. In typical hyperbole, he goes on to claim, “When the cold rains kept on and killed spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason” (p 39). Hemingway was clearly deeply impacted by the seasons.

But, at last, spring had sprung and joy had returned:

“When spring came, even false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.”

A Moveable Feast, p 41

With the arrival of spring, the Hemingways decided to head to the horse races!

At The Races

While we won’t go into the gambling or nitty gritty racing details, let’s do take a look at the tracks themselves!

Ernest mentions two tracks, Enghien and Auteuil. Both are still functioning tracks at the same locations they held in the 1920s. He had very different opinions about them, however!

Enghien

Hemingway describes this track as a “small, pretty, and larcenous track that was the home of the outsider.” Pretty is not a typo on my part. Apparently you could enjoy the view while being ripped off. Something for everyone. 🤨

Opened in 1879, it had come under new management in 1921. I assume it was this management that had a dodgy reputation! The reader is given the sense that this was the more affordable track, perhaps the one where horses started or ended their careers.

The Way to Enghien

Enghien isn’t in Paris proper. It’s to the northwest, confusingly in the town of Soisy-sous-Montmorency and not Enghien itself. Being a transit nerd, I’m always curious about how the Hemingways traveled on their adventures! Ernest is frustratingly silent about his local transit choices so we have to make some educated guesses.

The train station for the race track is conveniently located directly adjacent to it. The station and the line were built and run by the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Nord. I was unable to locate the exact opening date of the station. Originally, I narrowed down the start of the train service to between 1876 and 1914.

But then I went down the rabbit hole. The French Wikipedia for the hippodrome says that the original race track was built next to an existing “train stop” in 1846. And then I found a train schedule book from 1869. The internet is awesome.

Enghien was served at that time by omnibus (horse-drawn buses) and not trains (yet). It seems that the rail companies also ran (or contracted?) omnibus service to fill in gaps. But even by horse, it only took about 30 minutes from Gare du Nord. So definitely an easy day out!

1869 Travel Schedule

Wikipedia gives us this image of the original station. Not exactly the Gare d’Orsay! Judging by the women’s clothing, this is within the Hemingway timeframe, give or take a decade.

Auteuil

At the other end of the racing spectrum was Auteuil, a much more upscale track in the southeast corner of the Bois du Boulogne. Note: this should not be confused with the other race track in the bois, the more famous Longchamp. Which in turn should not be confused with the fashion house Longchamp (though it is named for the track). We need a scorecard!

Famous for its steeplechase races, Hemingway stated, “You had to watch a jumping race from the top of the stands at Auteuil and it was a fast climb up to see what each horse did…” (p 52). Even with the thrill of the race, I’m a little surprised he wasn’t distracted by the ladies in their finery. Or maybe he was but left it out of the memoir? Here’s a cool video of the social scene at the track in 1920:

Dress your best for Auteuil!

Of the two hippodromes (race tracks), he seems to have spent more time at Enghien, either because the odds were longer or the bets were lower. Or perhaps both? However, Auteuil would have been easier to access, either by foot, by the Métro, or even by the then still-functioning (though out-of-the-way for them) Petite Ceinture railway.

Hemingway on Gambling

Hemingway was always a mix of self-awareness and blindness to his own faults. But with gambling, at least within these chapters, he is very upfront. The language he used really stood out. He openly admits that he developed a gambling problem. And that he eventually realized this and gave up gambling. On horses, at least!

How he ended up a gambler: “I, the one who was so righteous about people and their destructiveness, tolerated this one that was the falsest, most beautiful, most exciting, vicious, and demanding because she could be profitable.” (p 51)

On gambling and wife Hadley: “Racing never came between us, only people could do that.” (p 51)

Giving up gambling on horses: “When I stopped working at the races I was glad but it left an emptiness. By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good, you could only fill it by finding something better. I put the racing capital back into the general funds and I felt good and relaxed.” (p 52)

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Do you agree with Hemingway’s take on gambling, both falling into it and leaving it behind?

He then gave up the thrill of the horses racing for the thrill of bicycle racing. Through his friend, Mike, he discovers bike racing and what sounds like early motocross racing. His narrative incorporates both the bikes and motorcycles and ends with a definitive, “But Mike was right about it, there is no need to bet and it comes at another time in Paris” (p 55).

A few decades before Hemingway, American “cowboy” SF Cody (not related to Buffalo Bill) took on a cycliste in Paris. Would Papa love or disdain the spectacle?

The Geography of Post-Race Strolls

After the races that Ernest and Hadley attended together, the happy couple would stroll around central Paris, starting either from the Bois de Boulogne or Gare du Nord. Hemingway describes a few of these strolls, giving us a chance to follow along!

Prunier Restaurant

After one outing, the couple has oysters and crabe mexicaine at Prunier (p 45). Still going strong today, it was and is a popular seafood restaurant. The current flagship location is a stunning Art Deco mosaic masterpiece. However, that would not have been the restaurant the Hemingways visited to splurge on with their winnings. It would have been this much more humble looking restaurant at 9 rue Duphot:

The Two Arcs

At one point, they are at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (the one at the Louvre). As they gaze down the Tuileries and Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, they discuss the “Sermione Arch in Milano.” Ernest asks if that arch really lines up with the Parisian arches. They have no definitive answer, so I looked it up! 😄

I couldn’t locate a “Sermione Arch” but found a “Porta Sempione” with an Arco della Pace (arch of peace) that seems to be the arch in question. It’s a former gate whose road faces the Sempione (Simplon) Pass, which is a northwest route from Milan to Paris. Interestingly, all three of them were built or started by Napoleon.

While I couldn’t prove that they were in perfect alignment, they definitely could be on roughly the same line and you can drive uninterrupted between all of them. So, at least a mostly true supposition!

Goats and Other Miscellany

As is usual, there were some other random tidbits that needs to be explored. A Moveable Feast really is a smorgasbord of delight!

The Goatherd

Continuing in the tradition of The Cesspit Cleaning research from Chapter 1, I had to learn more about the goatherd mentioned in Chapter 5!

Hemingway, setting the scene again, mentions that he would get up early while his family slept to do some morning writing. From his window, he was able to see a goatherd come down the street, selling fresh milk straight from the goats.

In his building, only one resident would take advantage of the opportunity. She came down with a big pot, the goatherd milked a goat right into the vessel, and she went back up the stairs. The most charming part of his description is of the goats themselves: “The goats looked around, turning their necks like sight-seers” (p 42). Even goats enjoy Paris!

But was this tale true? After discovering that horse-drawn “pompes de merde” were real, I suspected it was. Yet it is also hard to believe goats were strolling around Paris in the 1920s! I was able to find some images from pre-WWI, which confirms that the practice was in place less than 10 years before Hemingway’s stay. I couldn’t find when the practice ended, but this story is a tad too unusual to be randomly made up.

For your goaty satisfaction:

Goats cruising the streets of Paris 1900-1910

Public Baths & Poverty

One of the other themes of Chapter 5 is the couple’s relative poverty. They have full philosophical discussions about it, with Hadley being stoic and supportive and Hemingway guilty and proudly defensive. He even mentions (again) that their place doesn’t have any indoor plumbing and that they have to use the “public bath house at the foot of the street by the river” (p 43).

I knew that public bath houses were a thing (and still are) in Paris but didn’t know much more than that. The corner that he mentions, assuming “the street” is rue du Cardinal Lemoine, is now fully occupied by Tour d’Argent’s expanding epicurean empire. None of the buildings bear any legacy bathhouse markings that I could tell. If anyone knows more, let me know in the comments!

The Tour d’Argent Corner today. Definitely no bath houses! ©2022 Google

Random Tangent: This article states that only 1 in 5 apartments in Paris had private bathing facilities in 1964. My first thought went to Jim Morrison in a bathtub in 1971. The Marais was very run down at the time—would the apartment have had indoor plumbing? Was it a communal tub? Research for another time…

Hemingway the Poet

One of the reasons Hemingway remains so popular is that his prose is so personal. You can “hear” him telling his stories as you go along. Sometimes, it’s a narrative—we walk with him on his adventures. And sometimes he writes petite bits of poetry. Chapter five ends with this and so shall we:

“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.”

A Moveable Feast, pg 49

Seeing the Sites

You can still visit most of the places mentioned in these chapters:

Enghien: If you are looking for a family friendly, sporty escape from the city, you can grab the Transilien H Line to the Champ de Courses d’Enghien station. The trains still leave from Gare du Nord. Currently the website for the track warns of disruptions of the trains due to work on the line. Other transit options are available, check the track website.

Auteuil: Perhaps not as swanky as it was in the 1920s, it remains easily accessible, with low entry costs for most events. The Bois du Bologne is an added bonus (though be careful after dark!).

Prunier: If you are in the mood for seafood and art deco greatness, head on over to this restaurant. It’s conveniently located near the Arc de Triomphe. They also have their own caviar line, should you choose to indulge!

Tour d’Argent: The legendary restaurant near Notre Dame! The main restaurant is closed for renovations until early 2023. But their offshoot restaurants and shops remain open at the time of this writing.

Champs-Élysées: You can stroll between the place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe on the most famous boulevard in Paris (and the world?). But watch out for construction. The long-anticipated facelift is set to begin soon!

Arc de Triomphe: One of the most famous arches in the world is open to tourists. Check the website for times, cost, and current restrictions.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel: While not open for interior exploration, it is available for public visitation. This is usually 24/7, but always subject to change.

Before We Leave

Before you go spend your winnings or simply stroll around Paris, please let me know your thoughts on this installation of A Moveable Feast! Will you take in a day at the races? Or just gaze down the Champs-Élysées and take in a meal at Prunier? I do love horses, but I would rather ride one than watch one race!

Next time, we’ll stay closer to home. Join us as we visit Ms. Stein again and hang around Montparnasse!

À bientôt!

M


Want to follow along but need a copy of A Moveable Feast? Never fear! The Restored Edition, which we are using for this series, is available from Amazon, in paperback form and in handy-dandy Kindle formPlease note, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases of these books.


Image Credits

Header Image: Man O War at Belmont. 1920. From The Vault Horse Racing Past and Present, “BELMONT PARK : TALES & SNIPPETS“.
Auteuil Race Track. Postcard, circa 1910. From “LES HIPPODROMES (A)” on http://jeanlouis.maldant.free.fr/hippodromes/hipA.htm.
Enghien Train Schedule. “Livret-Chaix continental: guide officiel des voyageurs sur tous les chemins de fer de L’Europe. N.p.: n.p., 1869.”
Enghien Train Station. “Halte du Champ de courses d Enghien” from “around the beginning of the 20th century”. Wikimedia Commons, public domain. {{PD-US-expired}} – published anywhere (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before 1927 and public domain in the U.S. Uploaded by Clicsouris.
Cody vs Cycliste. Original held in the Library of Congress. “Hippodrome du Trotting Club Levallois – grand match en 12 heures: S. F. Cody Jr., le gd. tireur, célèbre cowboy du wild west, contre Meyer, le entraîneur terront, St. Petersbourg à Paris.” 1893. LOC Control Number 2008681203.
Paris Arc de Carrousel 1900. Paris arc du carrousel – 1900” Postcard circa 1900. Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Ladislav Luppa.
Paris Arc de Carrousel now. From Quora post “What inspired the Arc de Triomphe, and is that still remembered?“, posted by Michel Renbarre, 2018.
Old Prunier. “Paris Élysée, Maison Prunier, 9 Rue Duphot, Restaurant, Bar, Poissonnerie.” Postcard listed on OldThing.de.
Goatherd of Paris. Pinterest PIN 49181806386270894.
Tour d’Argent Corner. Google Earth, ©2022 Google.


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