Memories of a long lost hotel

While in Paris, Set installs himself in the Hôtel Galilée, the scene of much action. The hotel stood almost directly opposite the apartment in which James Joyce and his family were living in 1933.

Much of the description of the hotel interior was inspired by recollections of it set down by Victor Brombert who stayed in the hotel with his family when he was a young boy:

“We … settled for a while in the Hôtel Galilée, a small hotel in the affluent quarter near the avenue Klebér. It is strange how I remember the names and peculiarities of the hotels we stayed at when I was a child. At the Hôtel Galilée I recall being fascinated by the type of elevator I had never seen. Small and extraordinarily slow, it was pushed upward by a thick, shiny stem that smelled of engine grease. When the button was pressed to call it down, it gave out a hissing sound, almost an asthmatic sigh of resignation, before agreeing to make its journey back to the ground floor. I also recall another puffing sound coming from my disagreeable Uncle Herman after dinner as he voluptuously smoked one of his enormous cigars in the narrow hotel lounge. He would watch the near-perfect circles of smoke that issued from his pursed mouth, while the grayish ash at the end of the cigar got longer and longer. My uncle explained – when he deigned speak to me – that the length of the uncrumbled ash proved the quality of the cigar. I kept hoping that the ash would crumble and fall, but it never happened. He always made it fall himself by a wilful flick of his forefinger, just in time. All the while, he kept sniffing the side of the cigar and watched the increasing length of the incandescent ashes with a mixture of scepticism and self-satisfaction that I found odious.

“[It was thanks to the] tree shaded square Galilée, where I played with other children …  that I distinctly recall feeling for the first time completely at ease in French. I had found my language, a language I could think of as my own.”

Trains of Thought: Memories of a Stateless Youth by Victor Brombert


In 1957, almost a quarter of a century after Set leaves the Hôtel Galilée, Patricia Hutchins visited the area and recorded her observations:

“The road [rue Galilée] runs up from the Avenue d’Iéna to the Avenue Kléber and is divided into three distinct portions by others which run across it. Approaching from the Champs Elysees, at the corner of the centre position, is a confection’s with windows of ornately colored glass, deep blue and almost black now, with a fleur-de-lys design in gold on each little pane; further up the road a dairy is surrounded by painted panels with rural scenes of cattle going to drink or a cottage among fields. Apart from these late nineteenth century touches, the road is severe enough. Almost opposite the house where the Joyces lived is the Hôtel Galilée with a curious terraced entry running parallel with the pavement, as if the architect had been determined to create an impression, however limited the space available.”

James Joyce’s World by Patricia Hutchins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.