It is time again for A Moveable Feast. This is my fourth time with Hemingway’s famous memoir about being a young and poor writer in Paris during the 1920s, but this time I am reading the new “restored” edition. There are subtle changes to the text and “new” chapters culled from Hemingway’s papers, but the feast is no less enjoyable or romantic. This reading, however, is enhanced by the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris which now adds a visual to my mind’s eye.
Today a more mature writer myself and at a stage in my life where I am reviewing memories like scenes to my own movie, I find myself contemplating the title of this book. Hemingway had never titled this posthumous book himself. His notes suggest titles about learning to be a writer, but the published title is said to have come from a remark Hem made to a friend, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
In the ecclesiastical sense, a moveable feast is a day that is not fixed by the calendar like Easter, Ramadan, or Passover. More or less, it is a commemoration that can be appropriately celebrated in any season. So too Hemingway’s moveable feast, it is a time or state of mind to which you can return in heart and mind to find happiness, love, energy, or creativity…wherever, whenever.
But I understand now that your moveable feast is more than the “good old days,” not a period in time when life was without responsibility, when we laughed and partied, it’s not those frat house days. A moveable feast is where we were our best selves, where we were our most honest selves, where we were able to find, as Hemingway called it, our “one true sentence.”
As I read A Moveable Feast once again, living almost literally in the shadow of Hemingway’s boyhood home, I am attempting to define my own moveable feast and there may be more than one. Hem had Paris, fishing on his boat in Key West, being part of the D-Day invasion. I remember my too few years as a Chicago blues musician, writing and teaching at The Clearing in Door County, the short years when my children were babies at the center of my life.
Being able to define and recognize our moveable feasts can be the healing balm for difficult days, or the well of creativity that we return to again and again. To feel whole and alive within ourselves is survival. Through his writing, Hemingway went back to 1920s Paris in his last days when injury and illness plagued him, he found his best self and left us his moveable feast. Where is yours?