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Palin climbs the stairs at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, Hemingway's first Paris apartment described vividly in "A Moveable Feast."

74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine

Our hotel is in the heart of Montparnasse where Hemingway sites are as frequent as the trees on the street. Almost anywhere Ernest blew his nose qualifies for a mention in one or other of the guidebooks.

I decide this first morning to take an early orientation course, a Hemingway trail of my own. Trying to plan it on a map is like one of those children's puzzles where you have to join up the dots to make a donkey so I give that up and simply turn right out of the hotel and head for the nearest breakfast.

This being Paris, the first place of refreshment is about twenty yards away. Disconcertingly though, it's Italian. Even more disconcertingly it's called the Auberge de Venise, and its walls are decorated with gondolas and palazzos and views of the Grand Canal. I half expect to see Barone Franchetti lighting up on one of the balconies.

In fact this espresso-fragrant establishment ties together Hemingway's Venice and Hemingway's Paris rather neatly, for this was once the Dingo Bar, and it was here that Ernest first met Scott Fitzgerald and Princeton baseball star Dunc Chaplin.

I dip my biscuit into the cappuccino and shut my eyes and try to engineer some psychic link-up between myself and two of the most celebrated American authors of the century - and Dunc, of course - but all I get is the bronchial roar of the coffee machine and a request to move up as the place is getting busy and I've been here twenty minutes.

Hemingway holds court with Parisian expatriate friends. Harold Loeb (left) served as the model for Robert Cohn in "A Sun Also Rises." Hadley is on the right.

The Hemingway apartment is once again occupied by an American in his twenties. John, a Bostonian who works for the business consultancy firm Arthur Andersen, is friendly, if a little weary of welcoming devotees. He says that around a dozen people ring the doorbell every week and the Tokyo Broadcasting System has beaten us to it by three days.

He lets us come in and look around the tiny area which, thanks to tongue and groove boarding on the walls and Artex cement work on the ceiling, has absolutely no semblance of period atmosphere. I do get quite excited when he tells me it's up for sale, though I have to remind myself that it is no more than a room, oblong and quite cramped, with a tiny kitchen and a tiny bathroom.

The only real indication of the presence of Hemingway is in the asking price. One million francs. Or £100,000, or 150,000 euros or $180,000.

The look of the surrounding neighborhood which Hemingway brings to life in such scabrous detail in the first chapter of "A Moveable Feast" cannot have changed that much. The buildings have aged a little - they seem to be tipped back at a slant to the street, leaning towards each other at odd angles as if tired of standing upright, but they are the same buildings. Around the corner in rue Descartes there still stands the one-time hotel where a wall-plaque says Verlaine died and in which Hemingway took a garret room to write.

Looking a little closer I can see that there are changes of detail. Where the goats were milked, there are car-parking spaces to let for $150 a month, and the Café des Amateurs, which Hemingway lovingly recalled as "the cesspool of the rue Mouffetard," is now a decorous café full of students and tourists.

The working class neighborhood that Ernest and Hadley called home in the early 1920s is not so different today. Palin takes a stroll down its cobbled streets and meets the current inhabitant of Hemingway's former apartment, a young American expatriate from Boston who working in Paris as a management consultant.

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"A Moveable Feast" chronicles Hemingway's recollections as a young writer living in Paris in the 1920s. It was published posthumously in 1964 from old diaries found in the Paris Ritz.

Photo credits: © Basil Pao, 1999, Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection/John F. Kennedy Library. Book cover: Princeton University Library. Text excerpt: "Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure" by Michael Palin © Michael Palin, 1999 Used with permission of Cassell & Company. Buy the book in the Palin Store.