The Lost Generation is Alive and Well in Paris

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Paris Shadows When I first read The Sun Also Rises, I was captivated by the Lost Generation — the American and British expats who lived on the Left Bank of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, creative types, who spent their days writing in cafes, their nights dancing in bars. Employment was nebulous at best, a necessity in between lengthy train trips across Europe; romantic relationships were fleeting and ambiguous.  Plans for the future?  None that I recalled.  Life was about prioritizing pleasure and creativity above everything else, about enjoying the moment in its perfect transient beauty. To join this circle was hypnotizing.  No outsider could understand. As a seventeen-year-old obsessed with Paris, it immediately became my favorite book.  It still is to this day. Since then, I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of the Lost Generation around the world.  There was Florence in 2004, a uptopia for the twenty-year-old American college student.  We took classes of little to no educational value, booked one-cent flights to Budapest, and got blackout drunk at a different club every night of the week. There was Chiang Mai in 2010, home to a community of travel bloggers and digital nomads.  Their rhythms and habits were dictated by the markets, their working hours were minimal, and their eyes flashed with occasional hauntings from their former corporate lives.  Forget the stress — life here was about simplicity and mango shakes and long lunches with friends. But these days, the Lost Generation is most evident in their original location. I’ve met them. They’re young, they’re beautiful, and their careers are minimal and offbeat — they’re bloggers, perhaps, or au pairs, or they work for Google.  They’ve swapped the dingy flats in Saint-Germain for improbably large apartments in the Marais. They have 1950s-themed birthday parties and drink lots of cider.  They know where to get the best macarons, steak frites, and Cambodian fare in the city.  After a few drinks, they confide that despite living in Paris for months, they have yet to visit the Louvre. Lost Generation 2013 They invited me to a picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.  It was an unusually hot summer day, and the entire city seemed to head for the the Champs de Mars, basking in the sunshine as the tower held court over the city. Eiffel Tower We mused on the beauty of life, lamented the precarious state of digital nomadry, and threw our heads back in laughter. We shared cheese and baguettes, cured meats and hummus.  Halfway through the afternoon, a pastry chef arrived and shared with us her latest creation: a pistachio cream and strawberry confit cake atop a biscuit. Beautiful Cake Before we knew it, six hours had passed. I repeat: we had been there, having a picnic, for six hours.  It was a Friday.  Nobody had the shred of an obligation that day.  Work?  Not with this group. And that wasn’t the end.  There were invitations — a stop for gelato next, a possible party on Saturday night, a definite book signing on Sunday. It’s Paris.  Everything here is about pleasure. I have always been drawn to Paris — but now that I’ve briefly seen the world of the Lost Generation, I’m feeling a deep longing more than ever.  I need to spend more time here.  I need to live here. Is there a place for me in Paris?  Could I drift into that aimless pleasure? I’m still not sure — but it’s so tempting. More on Paris: Thanks to for their support of the European leg of the SOTM Tour.  All opinions, as always, are my own.
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35 thoughts on “The Lost Generation is Alive and Well in Paris”

  1. Sounds like absolute heaven to me. I love Paris but oh my the last time I went there the cost of things left me breathless and my wallet crying out in pain but even so if I had the chance I would return again and again to this magical city.


  2. So glad you could join us for the weekend! I loved how you wrote this too — when I leave Paris I know I’ll reread it and remember the good old days when I had six-hour picnics and not a care in the world…

  3. That sounds like a wonderful afternoon! It’s a wonderful, romantic dream but on the other hand, it’s hard to afford to spend all day, every day like that… maybe when my million dollar inheritance kicks in! (NB I don’t have a million dollar inheritance.) Still, I totally agree it’s tempting, especially with summer on the way.

  4. I loved reading this Kate! Even though I was only part of this careless lifestyle for a few days, I adored every second of it! It was great meeting you at this spectacular picnic in Paris!

  5. Paris has and always will be all of these things for me. I was obsessed with Paris as a kid, and even though Southern Spain is now more my style, I couldn’t let the nay-sayers tell me that Paris was dirty, expensive and full of elitists.

    You might also enjoy Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnick. It’s a collection of vignettes about living as a correspondent in the city, though he rarely mentions work – it’s all parties and picnics and pastries!

  6. Oh this is lovely. Prague always felt like this to me when I studied there; a land of cheap beer and offbeat clubs and long lazy picnics.
    I’ve spent a lot of time in a park in Istanbul, but it’s been more of a 1960’s/OWS vibe, rather than Hemingway hedonism… I guess if it’s still going on in a month, you’ll be able to see for yourself!

  7. I think we all of have snippets of life like that. And it’s so, so wonderful. Can the feeling last forever? I’m not sure. But even so, a few months, or even years, can be enough to keep you smiling at the memories for all your days.

    And now I’m pricing up flights to Paris…

  8. I’ve been to Paris several times and, quite honestly, have never been overly impressed. It’s just not my kind of place I guess! Give me London any day!


  9. Paris has never really captivated me, but I could certainly get on board with a bit of that lifestyle. Now, I feel compelled to go re-read The Sun Also Rises…

  10. This sounds heavenly! I am so glad you are getting to experience it, even if just for a little while. I read the recent novel The Paris Wife (about Hemingway’s first marriage and time in Paris) and it made me feel the urge for that lifestyle once again. Look forward to hearing more and living vicariously through you!

  11. Ahhhh I miss Paris! I just wrote a short post today actually 🙂 daydreaming about a romantic afternoon with my then-fiancé wandering Rue Moufftard followed my a late afternoon picnic near the Eiffel Tower check out my new website/ blogs. I’m just getting started in this blog- world it’s so fun to read stories on other blogs of places I’ve been.. And live vicariously through people who travel full time! 🙂

    1. A lot of us are writers who freelance, some are students with part-time jobs, some are au pairs who don’t work until early evening so they have mornings and afternoons free. In my case I do work, I just happened to have the week off.

  12. Hmm, call me picky but wasn’t the aimlessness of the Lost Generation underwritten by their experiences of World War 1? The impossibility of going back to their old lives after the horrors that they’d seen?

  13. I love Paris, the Monmatre, the food and the revolutionary spirit of the French people. It is such a shame that a lot of Parisians are so unfriendly though. I lived in London for 8 years and thought they were grumpy, but Parisians bring it to another level, even when you attempt to speak French. I am sure there are plenty of lovely Parisians, but they definitely don’t work in the service industry. 🙂

    1. It’s true, Tammy, Parisians are on a different level — you just have to have appropriate expectations when you go in. They prioritize different things (like saying hello the moment you walk into a store).

  14. I agree with others that it sounds dreamy, but it also sounds a touch unrealistic to want this life forever. why oh why was i not born a trust fund baby? 🙂

  15. Thoughtful post, Kate, thank you.

    I think perhaps I might be becoming cynical; the era of Paris you and I were captivated by may still exist (it sure seems to in your post), as I have yet to reach that city to experience it for myself–but once upon a time a comparison between Paris then and Chiang Mai today slipped across my radar. So I bought my one-way ticket to Thailand.

    Digital Nomads were creating a new expat renaissance in Chiang Mai, they said, as noted in magazines and blogs all over the world. But after a year in Thailand, sadly, I disagree (for now).

    I disagree because the authors that made those old days in Paris wonderful created works that stood the test of time, they moved hearts and shaped perspectives. *They were activists*. They changed things, and they documented more than their own flash-packing ways.

    They didn’t share their coffee-sipped notebooks, so plagiarism wasn’t everywhere as it is today with blogs, and a million wanna-be’s recycling 9 dollar Tim Ferris books and selling courses based on them as subscriptions. It almost feels like personal branding is paramount, and no one is really inviting any new Nomads to the party. Too many, and we lose our premadonna status.

    Today’s Lost Generation left their cozy Western homes to come out here an recreate the madness. Chiang Mai is rife with How to Be a Nomad courses, drop shipping courses, and internet marketing nonsense. Per capita, we create little true, long-lasting value. We are purely copy and paste, a different flavour of hipster.

    I am glad you’ve found your mecca, and even more thrilled it isn’t in Thailand. Because if it was, I’d be ashamed at how our generation could even feel as so entitled to think we’ve come close to our predecessors.

    This new class isn’t changing the world, it’s repeating everything we all hated about where we left behind. Online stores, SEO services, self promotion, all that. We lack real soul. It’s disheartening.

    But on the other hand; I know zero “trust fund babies” here, so anyone commenting who thinks we are that, get a life. I came here with $2k 14 months ago, and I made it work.

    Keep on keeping on Kate, I love your words, and I hope it lasts. We are a lost generation, just not that Lost Generation.

    “We mused on the beauty of life, lamented the precarious state of digital nomadry, and threw our heads back in laughter.”

    As do I.

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