Monday, September 22, 2014

Finding The Moveable Feast

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.” 
The Clearing Folk School in June, my 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, 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?


  1. Al, welcome to the blogosphere, and good luck in your new manifestation! - One correction though: Passover is indeed fixed by the calendar - just not the Roman (solar) calendar. (It starts on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan.) Anyway, I am enlightened, having previously thought a "moveable feast" was just another name for a picnic.

  2. It’s interesting that you raise the image of a moveable feast. I think of such a feast as a time that moves with you as you move through life. While I feel older in my body, I don’t feel older in spirit, and I don’t mean merely feeling “young at heart.” A friend recently told me that his wife has what she calls her “happy place” to which she retires when having a bad day. For her, it is partly a geographical location (perhaps we all have those that we associate with a vacation spot or a sacred space where we feel ourselves in tune with the world around us), but the “moveable feast” that you speak about seems more than that, not necessarily tied to a place or a time.

    As a writer, I’m grateful when I can get in touch not with “good times” necessarily (although I like good ones better than bad times!) but rather a rich and deep place. That’s what makes the noun in the phrase most apt: it’s a feast, which biblically is a celebration marked with an amazing banquet. Isaiah’s oracle declares “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (25:6). It’s the abundance that makes it a feast, an abundance that simply is, a grace. Given, not earned. Even in terrible experiences (I recently lost both my parents within a month of each other), along with the deadening grief, there is an abundance of good and difficult memories. Life just keeps pouring out these experiences. Maybe that’s what Flannery O’Connor meant when she said “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

    The feast is moveable. It follows you everywhere!

  3. When my brother went to Paris last summer, I told him Moveable Feast was required reading. He said, "Moveable Feast...that would make a pretty good name for a food truck." Regardless of whether you take the literal or literary interpretation, I think a Moveable Feast is something you savor. I am holding one one my twin daughters in a front pack on my chest as I write this, taking turns between typing, rocking, and bouncing. A moveable feast indeed!