Hemingway describes the “bad weather” that always comes to Paris after the fall, with cold rain and wind pulling the leaves from the trees. He describes the Café des Amateurs, which is a “sad, evilly run café” filled with people who are drunk all day. Hemingway compares the Café to a cesspool, which—unlike the cesspools into which residential sewage is poured—is never emptied. Hemingway works in a room on the top floor of a hotel; he is cold and considers buying a bundle of twigs to burn in the fire, but he worries that the fire might not take and that he will therefore waste his money. He keeps walking until he finds a “good café on the Place St.-Michel,” a place that is “warm and clean and friendly.” Hemingway orders a café au lait and gets out his notebook to work.
The opening of the book is decidedly gloomy. Hemingway evokes a harsh, depressed, and despairing city, drained of joy and morality (as indicated by his description of the “sad, evilly run café”). In this passage, he introduces some of the more negative themes of the book, including sadness, poverty, and drunkenness. However, after passing through the bleak streets and the crowd of drunks, Hemingway arrives at a warmer, more comforting café, which suggests that, despite a general atmosphere of despair, there is still hope and joy in Paris.
At the café, Hemingway is writing about Michigan, and he reflects that it is useful that the weather outdoors matches the subject matter of his story. The fact that the characters in the story are drinking makes Hemingway thirsty; he orders a “rum St. James,” which warms him instantly. A girl enters the café with black hair “cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.” Hemingway is entranced by her and he gazes at her every time he looks up from the page, thinking that she “belongs” to him. Although earlier his story had been “writing itself,” Hemingway now increases the effort and attention he pays to writing it. He finishes the story and notices that the girl has left; this leaves Hemingway feeling “tired” and “sad,” as if he has just had sex. However, he orders oysters and white wine and the taste of them restores his happiness.
Hemingway diligently records the minor, often inexplicable changes in mood that accompany ordinary existence. This passage illustrates the way in which our moods are connected to our surroundings, and it shows that places, objects, and people can influence our emotions in surprising ways. For Hemingway, the distinct acts of writing, drinking, and watching the girl all become connected, creating a sense of momentum that pushes him forward until the story is complete. The comparison between finishing writing the story and having sex highlights the sensual, erotic nature of the scene in the café.
Hemingway starts “making plans” to leave Paris while the weather is bad (he uses the pronoun “we” though he doesn’t specify who else he is referring to). He considers going to a chalet where they could “have our books and at night be warm in bed together.” He is due payment for the journalism he has been writing “for Toronto,” which will help him finance travel. He wonders if he will be able to write about Paris when he leaves the city, but he adds that “it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough.” Hemingway finishes the oysters and leaves the café; back home, his wife Hadley says that his plans sound “wonderful.” She says she would like to leave immediately, and she repeats that it was good of Hemingway to plan the trip.
This scene suggests that Hemingway and Hadley are still in the “honeymoon stage” of their relationship (emphasized by the fact that their trip to the chalet sounds rather like an actual honeymoon). Hemingway conveys his own youthful naïveté through the comment that at this point, he doesn’t know Paris well enough to write about it. Overall, his and Hadley’s marriage seems to be defined by youthful innocence, excitement, and joy over small pleasures such as reading and spending time together in bed.