And you claim to be a writer, too. You’re only a newspaper man. An expatriated newspaper man. You ought to be ironical the minute you get out of bed. You ought to wake up with your mouth full of pity.
— Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
It was spring that night in Paris. I walked down the street and went into the bar on the corner.
“A beer,” I said, sitting down on a barstool. The bar was pretty empty. The only other people there were an old man and a middle-aged couple. The couple was staggering around and laughing. I stared at my beer.
“The beer’s good,” said the old man next to me.
“Was better thirty years ago.”
“Yes.” He paused. He drank his beer.
“What did you do?” I asked. “Thirty years ago.”
“Wrote,” he said. “Still do. I wrote some damn good books, too.” He turned his head. “What do you do?”
“I work at a newspaper,” I said.
“It’s a nice job,” he said. “I worked at a newspaper once … It is very important to discover graceful exits in the newspaper business, where it is such an important part of the ethics that you should never seem to be working.”
I laughed. “It’s true, you know.”
“Yes,” he said. He waved his hand at the bartender. “Another beer.”
“You still live here?” I asked.
“No, America. Nice to meet another American in this town. Nice to talk to someone in English.”
“It’s a fine town,” I said. “But it is nice to talk English.” The old man nodded, and drank his beer. We sat awhile in silence.
“Why did you move back to America?” I asked.
“Memories. Too many memories. If I could forget everything then maybe I could live here again.”
He sounded very tired. I wondered what it was that was making him sound so sad. I was sure he had loved Paris once: the bright lights, the sidewalk cafes, the artists starving in the hope of immortality.
“Hell,” I said, “Move back anyway. It’s a fine town, maybe it’s changed. Maybe it’s different.”
I couldn’t decide whether he meant that Paris couldn’t change or that he couldn’t move back. Maybe both.