Many people visit Hemingway sites in Paris. Not many get to meet him.
Enter Elizabeth Kemble, founder of Travellati Tours in Tarrytown, whose “Papa’s Paris Tour” enables participants not only to visit the sites where elegantly economical author Ernest Hemingway lived, laughed and loved, but to encounter his “ghost” at Le Select, the literary café that figures in “The Sun Also Rises” and that is still a hangout, albeit for a more well-heeled crowd, on the Left Bank.
You’ll also meet him at La Closerie des Lilas, a café where he did a lot of writing that’s now a brasserie/restaurant. Oh, look, there’s Gertrude Stein as well and the fighting Fitzgeralds, Scott and Zelda.
It’s no séance. Rather, Kemble, as passionate about literature as she is about travel and adventure, has created a theatrical presentation — written by Angelo Parra, who has taught playwriting at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center in Sleepy Hollow, and performed by professional actors — that the six to 12 tour members encounter with her as they take in the City of Lights.
“The focus is on fun, not education per se,” Kemble says, though she adds “It’s fun for educated people.”
Kemble has been having fun with French, travel and literature for as long as she can remember. She was born in Paris, where her father studied art on the GI Bill. “It was like ‘An American in Paris’ without the dancing,” she says. Her mother was a German au pair whom her father met while teaching English at the Berlitz school there.
When Kemble was 6, the family moved to her father’s hometown of Cincinnati. There she remembers reading “The Old Man and the Sea” at age 10 under the porch overhang of her babysitter’s house on a warm afternoon, courtesy of the babysitter’s son, who was reading Hemingway as well as John Steinbeck in high school.
“It was my first real experience of tragedy in literature,” she says.
Kemble, who moved with her family to Edgewater, New Jersey, when she was 12, would go on to French area studies at Barnard College and an array of careers. She was in product management in Manhattan’s Garment District and a project manager in information technology with Chanel, La Redoute, Michael Kors, Avon and Kate Spade, which kept the bilingual Kemble on the move. Consultant work with a Dutch company took her to Amsterdam, a city she fell in love with. She also got involved in theater in Margaretville, New York, with The Open Eye Theater, founded by Jean Erdman, a Sarah Lawrence College graduate who had married one of her professors, mythologist Joseph Campbell.
Kemble could say, then, with Tennyson’s far-flung Ulysses, “I am a part of all that I have met.”
“Project management has a lot in common with a tour presentation in that you have a start, an end, a budget and deadlines,” she says.
Still, it didn’t all click for Kemble until she watched “Midnight in Paris.” The 2011 Woody Allen movie finds a nostalgic, contemporary writer encountering Hemingway and the rest of the Lost Generation in the Paris of the madcap Jazz Age.
“I said, ‘Oh, gosh, I so want to do that.’”
And so she did, founding the company almost two years ago. On the latest tour, June 17 to 25, she and the group will meet up in Paris, where they’ll have an immersive experience via boutique accommodations, mom-and-pop eateries, public transportation and even the steeplechase races, a favorite Papa pastime.
Can’t get in on the June trip? There will be another in September. Kemble is also developing a tour called “Bowie’s Berlin,” about the late singer David Bowie’s time there.
But one tour in development is particularly close to her heart. “Picasso’s Pyrenees” will take tour members to the southern French town of Céret, a mecca for Pablo Picasso and other Cubists. It was there that her father met Frank Burty Haviland, an art patron and Cubist champion whose home, a former monastery called Le Couvent des Capucins, attracted many artists of the day.
“I have a special connection to Céret,” Kemble says.
For her, the past is always just a step away.
For more, visit travellati.com.