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To whom the bull tolls
By Kregg P.J. Jorgenson
posted June 28, 2006


    I love Paris and have ever since I first read Hemingway and decided that I too should be a writer. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hunt big game in the Latin Quarter or along the fog lined quays in the early brisk mornings when the herds come down to drink from the Seine and said as much one night in another watering hole just off of Boulevard St. Michel.

  “But Monsieur ‘Emingway hunted game in Africa!” said a confused Frenchman mid-drink.

  “Sure, but have you seen some of these tourists, they’re as big as wildebeest! Ornery too!”

  “Mais oui! But you cannot hunt them.”

  “Not in season, huh? A pity this.”s.”

  “C’est la vie.”

  “I guess I’ll settle to run with the bulls. What time is the running anyway?”

  “The running of the bulls, like in ‘Emingway’s novels?”


  “Just after day break, after you sing to St. Fermin for protection, a rocket will go off telling you to be ready as a second rocket tells you that the bulls are loose on the street and you should run.”

  “Is it far from here?”

  “Spain? Oui.”

  “Spain? Huh? What do you know?” I said and took a long and thoughtful drink in the tradition of writers everywhere who drink in excess while looking thoughtful and stay too long. In homage to Hemingway I should have been drinking at Harry’s American Bar & Grill. Harry’s was a haunt of Hemingway and it was the place where the first Bloody Mary drink was invented. A Bloody Mary, I was told by one drinker, is the only valid reason for celery to exist. But I digress…ss…

  The fact of the matter is that prior to ever visiting the French capital I had only read one of Hemingway’s books, A Moveable Feast, that is, if you don’t count The Old Man and the Sea which was required reading when I was in High School. Even so I hadn’t read it. Instead I used Clift Notes which had about as many pages as the original short-short novel. I had used the notes because I spent most of my time in class daydreaming about a cheerleader who sat two seats in front of me. As I recall the fantasy had something to do with her being naked, waving her pom-poms, and spelling out something suggestive and inappropriate to me. But I digress again…

   Anyway, I came away from the class knowing that The Old Man and the Sea was about an old man, the sea and quite possibly a boat.

  Now this doesn’t necessarily speak volumes about the inadequacies of an American public school education as it does speak volumes about my own inadequacies acquiring that education.

  My mind wasn’t on education then and I wasn’t bound for college upon graduation. I was bound for the war in Vietnam. I knew it, my high school teachers knew it, and more importantly the Draft Board knew it.

  “A college deferment? Are you kidding us!?” said one of the Draft Board members studying my grade sheet and trying to keep from laughing. I shook my head and they shook theirs.

  ‘Deferment denied,’ they proclaimed and next informed me that the President would soon be sending me greetings in the form of a mass mailing draft notice.  

  Not wanting or waiting to be drafted into the meat-grinding Infantry to serve as cannon fodder in the distant country I couldn’t find on a map if I tried, I enlisted instead…and volunteered for the meat-grinding Infantry where I didn’t exactly become cannon fodder in the distant war but did get shot several times in a Southeast Asian version of TAG-You’re It!

  And it was during that recovery time in the hospital, a draftee who had borrowed some money from me, gave me a naked picture of his wife to hold as collateral until he paid me back, which he eventually did. In thanks he gave me a book.

  “Here, read this.”

  “What is it?”

  “A book,” he said. “You said you want to be a writer so reading one of these might be helpful.”

 “A Moveable Feast? What it is it, a cookbook?”

  “It’s about Ernest Hemingway’s early days in Paris. It’s about the writers he knew and you should know too.”

  “Not about food, huh?”

  “Nope, no food.”

  “Why Paris?”

  “The French didn’t do so well in Vietnam either. We have something in common.”

  “Can I keep the picture of your wife instead.”

  “No, to have and have not.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you have to read the book and I dunno, maybe one or two others on your literary quest.”

“Yeah, but I just want to be a writer,” I argued. “Not an intellectual.”

“Then you’ll blend in well.”

“Thank you…I think.”

  And that was my introduction to Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, where I first met the Generation  Perdu of ex-pat artists and writers trying to find them selves in Paris, the meaning of their existence or quite possibly and more probably, to find someone to pick up the tab for their next round of drinks.

  Thanks to Hemingway, I first came to know something of Paris and something more than what the travel guide books would or could convey, something of the trust-fund ‘arteests’ who lived, worked or partied there in the 20s, and thanks to other authors and travel writers I learned something of the people, the grand boulevards and small streets, contemplative parks and places that set the tone for that initial visit.

  That first trip, hitch-hiking through Europe, after a tour of duty in Vietnam, was less than inspiring, highly scenic, slightly magical, but comfortable none the less. Later visits confirmed that Paris is a great city to sit and think deep or even shallow thoughts, to sip Absinthe and write powerful sentences or jumbled nonsense, to paint masterpieces or dreck, to drink and talk late into the night and think and know you could live here if you just had enough time, money, talent and passable French.

  Thomas Wolfe was wrong. Over the years I‘ve found that visiting Paris on vacation is like going home again. It is still that comfortable and that familiar and like most visits home you can always find someone there who will yell, sneer and swear at you or question your taste. You’re bound to run into someone too who will offer advice you don’t really want to hear or they might even ignore you completely. It’s possible they may criticize what you’re wearing, what you’re not wearing or give you their spirited opinions on religion, politics, and the latest happenings on CSI Las Vegas!as Vegas!

  “C’est probleme! ’Ow can   Monsieur Gree-sum pos-see-blee know these things?”

  I shrugged in English but it held up in translation.nslation.

 Also, when you visit Paris you might even find one or two people who will drive you crazy or ask to borrow some money.

   See. What did I tell you? Just like home. 


Kregg P.J. Jorgenson is a freelance writer and a frequent traveler to Europe


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