The European Championships kick off in Paris today under a cloud of fear and uneasy anticipation as Islamic terrorists and hooligan elements from around Europe are threatening to disrupt the games. Here in America football or soccer is known for it’s tendency to cause trouble and it’s ability to incite violence but there is another side to the story. The French started the World Cup in 1930 and when Uruguay won 2 of the first 4 World Cups Europe took notice and football became ‘the worlds game’. Since then the game has started civil wars(Yugoslavia) and ended them(Ivory Coast), it paved the way for reconciliation after WWII and has been the catalyst for the integration of people of color into many European countries. Recently France, one of the elder statesmen of the world’s game has gone through a very difficult period. There was the attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo, a publication that carried on the great french tradition of satire to affect social change. Next there were the coordinated attacks in Paris which included two bombs at the national stadium during a game between France and Germany. More recently flooding has devastated Paris causing the evacuation of the lower floors of The Louvre. In 1998 France hosted it’s first World Cup in 60 years. It was again a difficult time France, the economy was sluggish and as is the norm immigration was blamed. The influx of Carribean and North African immigrants was seen as not only a threat to the economy but also to the French way of life. On the football side of things not much was expected of Les Blues, or the French National Team, a team which for the first time included as many Frenchmen of African or Carribean descent as Frenchmen of European descent. Well this motley crue exceeded all expectation going all the way to final and beating the mighty Brazil 3-0 in Paris. France had finally won the tournament they started 68 years earlier, Zinedine Zidane, the Marseille born son of Algerian immigrants scored 2 goals and his image was projected onto the Arch d’ Triumph, people of France form all walks of life poured into streets to celebrate. Football had unified France and inspired feelings unity, patriotism and joy not seen since the liberation of Paris in 1944.
What does this have to do with Hemingway? Well Hemingway was there at the liberation of Paris. He was with British and American troops as they entered the city, he famously went directly to the Ritz to liberate his old stomping ground and it’s Champagne supply. He had spent much of his twenties in Paris. After returning to America after WWI he rejected the excesses of the roaring 20’s and went back to France to mingle with Fitzgerald and Stein and passing his time on the left bank of Seine, falling in love and floating freely through a Europe that was intoxicated with simply ‘not being at war’. For an example of this from the work, read the fishing section of The Sun Also Rises. Like football, Hemingway is often associated with violence. He was involved in 3 wars, and loved bullfighting, boxing and hunting and these sensational activities generally get all the attention. People forget Hemingway was first an artist and a prolific one at that. He loved the common people, and joined in their celebrations in Africa, France, Cuba, Madrid and Cooke City, he always believed that to get to know a country or a people you didn’t visit the museums and the state buildings you went to the bars. This is what he did in Paris in the 20’s and while doing so fell in love France and her people and with love itself. This part of his life is documented in A Moveable Feast. After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris makeshift memorials sprung up, it was not the military bases or the state buildings that were hit it was a cafe, a theater and football stadium. It was not France that was attacked it was her way of life. At the makeshift memorials people left flowers, bottles of wine, poems and copies of A Moveable Feast. The people of Paris did not want weapons, border security and prayers, they wanted their lifestyle to survive. No one represented this lifestyle as well as Hemingway. Hemingway spent his life fighting fascism. The hooligan elements, the Islamic fundamentalists and far right extremists that seek to disrupt the European Championships all represent a streak of Fascism. A need to force a chosen way of life onto other people, to control them and to impose a way of thinking, religious or political upon them. The way to do this is through fear, hatred and violence. In 1938, after spending 2 years supporting the loyalist cause in Spain, Hemingway returned to America to urge the U.S. to enter the war to counter the threat of Fascism. In a speech to the Writers Congress at Carnegie Hall he said:
“Really good writers are always rewarded under almost any existing system of government that they can tolerate. There is only form of government that cannot produce good writers, and that system is Fascism. For Fascism is a lie told by bullies. A writer who will not lie cannot live and work under Fascism.”
There is a cliche that captures the French spirit and also explains our enduring fascination with Hemingway. We love Hemingway not because we are bullfight aficionados or boxing fanatics but for the same reason the people of France love him still. It is not because of his political affiliations or writing style. We love Hemingway because of his ‘joie de vivre’ or exuberant enjoyment of life. While ‘joie de vivre’ might not get all the headlines or attention we must remember that it is what truly unites us and no matter what happens in France our love of life must prevail. So thank you France for throwing a giant party under difficult circumstances, thank you for the Statue of Liberty, thank you for inventing the World Cup, thank you for putting Hemingway up for those important years, and most of all thank you for your ‘joie de vivre’.