“Café au lait” – on the Paris street corners

Written: Cường Nguyễn


15:52 13/09/2022

CFRR-  Those who love French culture aren’t probably unfamiliar with “Café au lait”. And most of all, whoever loves Paris, will surely find a corner of the café in Paris like Hemingway used to find…

Ernest Hemingway was an American, a novelist of the “Lost Generation”, the father of the “Iceberg Theory”, and what else…? He is maybe one of the best Paris writers.

He moved to Paris in 1921 and “lived with youth in Paris”, perhaps so his Paris was vibrant and beautiful. Hemingway encapsulated the whole of that atmosphere and space in his A Moveable Feast, his memoir that can also be considered a novel.

Thinking of Paris, what do people often refer to? Eiffel Tower, Seine River, Notre Dame De Paris, Luxembourg Gardens, Champs-Elysées… Paris is the capital of light, the city of pomp. All these symbolic works give Paris an appearance. But it’s not only that Paris also has other spaces, the space of lifestyles, parties, and festivals. Bars, bookstores, streets, and especially Café …always reign in the stories, the writings about Paris. 

Les deux magots
Les Deus Magots today is a bustling tourist destination because of the cultural value it yields. During the 20th century, this was the meeting place and “office” of many artists and writers. Hemingway sat there to write The Sun Also Rises and Les Deus Magots and many others entered Hemingway’s “Endless Summer”. Photo: Les Deus Magots

Riverside coffee shops along The Seine, at the intersection or on some winding uphill slopes of Montmartre…The Guerbois Café, Café de la Nouvelle Athènes, Femme au Café, Le Café du Rat-Mort, Le Café Momus… are places that the leading Impressionists frequented. 

Of course, at that time, some of them were just poor painters with the intention of artistic innovation. Most of them: Cézane, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso… all came out of the cafés of Paris.

“A Moveable Feast” in English but in French “Paris est une fête” means Paris is a festival.

On November 13th, 2015, when Paris was terrorized, the book “Paris est une fête” by Ernest Hemingway once again came to life in France. A lot of people buy books and put them next to candles and flowers in the place of occurred terror.

This action is symbolized because of the book written about a Paris festival in the 1920s when Parisians were peacefully sitting on the porch, drinking wine, and coffee and chatting…like the tourists in Paris today. And it was really a lost Paris which is the same as the Paris that was stolen after the 2015 terrorist attacks.

Ernest Hemingway in Paris year 1924.
Photo: John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library

Those were the days when Hemingway “wanted to buy books but had no money”; but it was also probably his happiest time. Living among the city of endless carnivals, he had a vibrant life, hanging around bars and cafés, meeting friends to share countless stories and artistic ideas.

It seems that the artist’s space in Paris is always pubs or cafés. In other words, Paris is a mixture of new and old, aristocratic stillness and popular bustle, real and impressive…Paris’s pubs and cafés are all particular of noise and a collection of the flavor of coffee and bread, wine, and food. It’s probably that here is the reason why the artists always find emotions in this space, and it always stimulates vitality and creativity in them.


Brasserie Lipp is the café Hemingway used to come to when being hungry and cold. Nowadays the shop still keeps the corner of Hemingway’s table with the familiar dish of sausages with ”Pommes à l’huile” and beer.

Photo: Brasserie Lipp

The readers always find the innocence of youth in every line that Hemingway spread out. Having lived two world wars, he and many of his peers were able to, or put themselves in “The Lost Generation”. That generation, also the generation of Fitzgerald, Eliot, Remarque…was the isolated sadness and sometimes the meaningless feeling. However, in the lasting steps at his festival “Paris est une fête”, Hemingway lived quite satisfactorily in the time named “ when we were very poor and very happy”…

Later, Hemingway also traveled to many places, lived through many other places, and brought illness and hidden memories until he chose to end his own life at the age of 62. Even so, it seems that the most beautiful things in Hemingway’s life are all wrapped up in Paris, wrapped up in the endless festival in “Paris est une fête” that started with a cup of white coffee in the “warm, light, clean and friendly” café.

les deaux magots

Les Deus Magots or Café de Flore is the corners of many artists’ generations who have been there to write, meet and talk … like Hemingway by “Café au lait”. Photo: Gourmets and Co, Café de Flore

In the memoir “People, Years, Life”, its author Ilya Erenburg recounted quite interesting details about Ernest Hemingway. And like Hemingway’s cafes, Ilya Erenburg’s memoirs for Paris are permeated taste of coffee: “Hemingway was eight years younger than me, and I was stunned to hear him recount how he used to live in Paris in the early 1920s, just as I had lived there eight years ago as I sat at the Selekte café – next to the Rotonda – wishing for an early fragrant piece of bread. I was surprised because in 1922 I had the impression that the heroic years of Monpanas were away and at The Selekte, men who sipped hot cups of coffee were rich American tourists. It turned out that at that time, even the hungry Hemingway was sitting there, still writing poetry and thinking about his first novel.”

 Don’t know why the manuscript of “Paris est une fête” was adrift on his journey, as a foreign correspondent, from Cuba, to Ketchum, Spain, and then back to its origin. That trip took about three years. During that period of three years, whenever remembering his youth, did Ernest Hemingway think of the flavor of a “Café au lait” in Paris?

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