Sunday, April 20, 2014

Guest Blogger: M.L. Longworth–"After the darkness of war, the light of books."

Every other Sunday is our day for Guest Author Postings by mystery writers who base their stories in non-US settings.  We think it a great way of introducing our readership to new experiences and places.  We’re honored to have with us today France-based novelist Mary Lou Longworth who writes as M.L. Longworth.  Mary Lou has lived full-time in Provence since 1997 and has written about the region for The Washington Post, The Times (UK), The Independent, and Bon Appétit magazine. She writes a mystery series, set in Aix-en-Provence, for Penguin USA: Death at the Château Bremont, Murder in the Rue Dumas, and Death in the Vines. Her fourth book, Murder on the Ile Sordou, will be released in September 2014. She divides her time between Provence, where she writes, and Paris, where she teaches writing at New York University.

Welcome, M.L.  And thank you.

Each August, before the fall semester begins at New York University's Paris campus, I hesitate whether or not to keep Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast on my reading list. Younger colleagues, I know, (although they don't tell me) find the book 'cliché' and old-fashioned. But come December, before we break for the holidays, the majority of the students tell me how much they loved reading it. Papa Hemingway's memoir is so many things, and each student gets something different from it: it's a trip back to 1920's Paris; a treaty on discipline and how to write; a culinary travel through Montparnasse; and above all, a love letter, and apology, to Hadley.

I think of Hemingway when I'm in certain neighbourhoods of Paris: near the Place Contrescarpe (then, a "cesspool"), or the Jardin du Luxembourg, where the young writer would bump into Gertrude Stein walking her dog. But I think of him most often when I'm in a Parisian haven for Anglo Saxon expats: The American Library of Paris:

The American Library Association founded the library (pictured above, on the right) in 1920. Hemingway was one of its first trustees, as was Stein, and Edith Wharton. What began as a shipment of books for WWI soldiers, it is now the European continent’s biggest English-language lending library. Hemingway wrote articles for the library's newsletter (I've never been able to find copies of them), called Ex-Libris, derived from the library's moto: Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux. After the darkness of war, the light of books.

It may feel strange--as if one is being lazy--to live in a city where French is the spoken language and yet to yearn for a place where one is surrounded by English-language books. But the American Library of Paris feels like home--insert your town's public library name here--although you can often hear French being whispered by patrons and staff. It's a great place to do research, or amble through the stacks and pick out books higgledy-piggledy, or sit comfortably in one of the sofas or armchairs and read a magazine (my first choice: The Wine Spectator. I sometimes miss California, Oregon, and Washington State wines, and love reading up on young maverick winemakers).

During the German occupation library director Dorothy Reeder and her staff bravely opened an underground book-lending service, providing books to Jews barred from the city's public libraries. Also during this time, the Gestapo shot a staff member when, very sadly, he failed to raise his hands quickly enough during a surprise inspection. I always thought that the library stayed open during the occupation thanks to its very brave staff. Brave as they were, it was family connections that kept the library open: an early chairman of the board was Clara Longworth de Chambrun, sister of the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nicholas Longworth (no relation). One of Clara's sons married the Vichy Prime Minister's daughter.

The library has always been a bridge between the USA and France, as is the Foundation Mona Bismarck, just across the river at 34 Avenue de New York (you can walk across the lovely foot bridge, the Passerelle Debilly). The exhibitions are diverse, from quilts to Yosef Karsh and Andrew Wyeth retrospectives, to American ceramics. Check their calendar for lectures or musical events, too; the setting, Mona Bismarck's Paris home, is stunningly glamorous, as she was:

And to end on a Hemingwayesque note: where to eat in the neighbourhood. Around the corner from the Bismarck Foundation is one of my favourite bistros in Paris: Aux Marches du Palais, 5 rue de la Manutention, 01-47-23-52-80. Lunch is a great time to eat in this very busy, and authentic, restaurant. They offer a set lunch menu (last time I was there, it consisted of two dishes, with a 1/4 liter of quite good wine, for 21 euros). The food is fresh, seasonal, and prepared daily. It's not for vegetarians, of fussy eaters. Hemingway would have loved it.

Guest Blogger M.L. Longworth—Sunday


  1. Don't you dare take "A Moveable Feast" off your reading list, M.L. There are way more than enough Big Macs and Whoppers out there for the philistines. It's comforting to know coq au vin is alive and well in some writing kitchens!

  2. The library will be on my must visit list next time we are in Paris. Question: have you consulted any Hemingway scholars about the missing writing, or should I assume the library has already done that. And finally, we will take your advice about the authentic French bistro.