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Rarely has there been a time that has captured our imaginations as much as Paris in the 1920’s. The city, with its artistic and literary reputation securely established was suddenly home to all that was audaciously modern. It has come to be known as the time of Paris and the Lost Generation.
For those who had come of age during World War I it was almost impossible for them to fit into, nor were they willing to settle back into the routines of a prewar Edwardian life. They had seen too much and suffered too much. Disillusioned, cynical and scarred they were adrift, they were lost.
But it was not just the survivors of the Great War who were labeled as such. The “Lost Generation” also became the catchword for a group of young Americans with literary and artistic inclinations. They discovered that living in Paris was cheap, the jazz and the gin were plentiful and it was a good place to get published. The city was a haven for expats like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Janet Flanner and John Dos Passos to name a few.
Though there are several stories about how the Lost Generation got its name its Gertrude Stein who is usually credited with popularizing the expression.
“All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” Gertrude Stein.
But Stein opened her door to them, hosting gatherings and mentoring the young struggling writers and artists. 27 rue de Fleurus soon became the place to be.
Known as “Les Années Folles” (the Crazy Years) it was one of the wildest, most decadent eras in French history. It was the age of Jazz, flappers, new attitudes and personal freedoms. It was a cultural phenomenon that ended with the economic crisis of 1929, a carefree time which has never been repeated.
To see Paris and the Lost Generation of the 1920’s:
The corner of rue Bonaparte and Boulevard St. Germain could be described as the intellectual center of gravity for the entire left bank! The cafe Les Deux Magots, Cafe de Flore and Brasserie Lipp across the road are all literary and artistic shrines associated with countless writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway.
Shakespeare and Company is the iconic bookshop squished in-between 16th century houses at 37 rue de la Bûcherie. Although it isn’t the original shop run by Sylvia Beach throughout the 1920s and 30s, this one, begun by George Whitman, is a well-loved little shop that continues the tradition of personal and sometimes eccentric service Sylvia Beach was known for. And struggling writers are still given free accommodations upstairs.
Located close to the Paris Opera, Harry’s New York Bar was a popular watering hole for Hemingway, Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife Zelda and a host of others. For years it’s advertising slogan was the bar’s address, 5 Rue Daunou: “Just tell the taxi driver: Sank Roo Doe Noo.”
From La Closerie des Lilas on Boulevard Montparnasse to the restaurant Le Petit Trianon in Montmartre and everything in between became the center for art, cafes and bars.
To see Paris and explore the same streets as the Lost Generation you can download our app and explore all our Paris Hermitguides walking tours. We’re happy to have you join us!
Often called the cathedral of the Rive Gauche, work began on this enormous twin-towered church in 1646. At three hundred and seventy one feet long, one hundred and ninety feet wide and one hundred and twelve feet tall St. Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris, second in size only to the Notre Dame. On the exterior the most unusual feature of the façade is the two large mismatched towers. The south tower which was never completed has a different design than the north tower and it’s about sixteen feet shorter.
Inside, St. Sulpice has one of the largest and finest organs in the entire world with 6,700 pipes.
The sound is absolutely incredible! If you’re ever lucky enough to hear music coming from inside this church stop whatever you’re doing and just listen! You’ll also want to look at the magnificent frescoes in the Chapelle des Anges (1855-61) painted by Delacroix. They’re located to the right side of the main door.
Da Vinci Code fans will recognize this church from the movie. This is where Silas the Albino monk searches for the keystone beneath the Rose Line – that’s the brass line in the floor according to the book by Dan Brown. Brown used a bit of literary license in his book but it’s still interesting to check out the obelisk which is part of the gnomon.
The gnomon’s original purpose was to determine the times of the equinox. The meridian line of brass running across the floor ascends the column or “obelisk” of white marble which is nearly 36 feet high. At the top is a sphere topped by a cross. Designed by the English clock-maker and astronomer Henry Sully it was also used for various scientific measurements and experiments. This may have been what protected Saint Sulpice from being destroyed during the French Revolution.
Large arched windows fill the interior with light and you’ll be surprised by how bright and airy it feels inside. For lovers of magnificent churches and inspiring organ music, St Sulpice is not to be missed.
In the place or square facing the church is an 1844 fountain by Visconti known as the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice or Fontaine des Quatre Points Cardinaux depicting four church leaders at the cardinal points of the compass. It’s lovely in the evening when it’s all lit up. For morning coffee or afternoon tea with a pastry the Café de la Mairie just on the corner has an old-world feel or maybe it’s more like a time-capsule. With a large outdoor terrace it’s a popular spot for students, writers and people-watching too.
Trafalgar Square is a vibrant, spirited space and host to generations of Londoners who, over the years, have gathered together here for speeches, protests, meetings and celebrations. Ever since the 9th century when Trafalgar Square marked the edge of the trading town of Lundenwic and later became the Royal Mews it’s had historical significance. The current square was developed throughout the 1800’s and commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar.
The centerpiece of Trafalgar Square is Lord Nelson’s Column, Britain’s greatest military hero and at the base like four great guardians sit the Landseer Lions.
Bordering the square are the National Gallery with it’s neoclassical columns and portico, the National Portrait Gallery housing one of the largest collections of portraits in the UK and St. Martin’s in the Field with it’s atmospheric Cafe in the Crypt and amazing concert series. Every year at Christmastime it’s also where you’ll find the biggest decorated tree in London, a Norway spruce, an annual gift from the city of Oslo.
This year Trafalgar square hosts St. George’s Day on April 23rd. Decorated in red and white for England’s national day there is plenty to see and do. From food stalls where you can sample traditional English fare to cookery demonstrations, children’s activities, music and games, there is something for everyone.
It’s a double celebration as this year St. George’s day shares the date with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare death which also falls on April 23 so expect several activities celebrating his life and work.
On April 23-24 London also hosts The Complete Walk. The banks of the Thames features an interactive journey through Shakespeare’s plays.
You can visit the National Gallery every day. With free access to over 2,300 paintings from altarpieces to the Impressionists, there’s something for everyone.
St. Martin’s in the Fields offers some of London’s best live classical music events with evening and lunchtime concerts.