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Finding Ernest Hemingway

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With the premiere of Ken Burns’ latest epic documentary series, attention will once again turn to one of America’s most famous writers: Ernest Hemingway. Although in Hemingways’ case, the attention never really left him. Loved, hated, imitated, mocked, reinterpreted, the Hemingway myth only grows and deepens over time. In a country that has produced Nobel Laureates like Faulker, Steinbeck, Bellow, Buck, Singer, ONeill and, of course, Bob Dylan, the fascination with Ernest Hemingway is enduring and unique. What makes it endlessly appealing?

On the one hand, Hemingway was undeniably physically attractive, more a movie star than a tortured artist. He moved easily among beautiful people. He had the gift of being in the right place at the right time, the Midwest as a teenager, Italy during the war, Paris in the 20, Cuba during the revolution. Hemingway moved in tandem with the zeitgeist in an almost chameleon fashion.

Hemingway was an avid traveler. He seemed to fear domestic life and embraced expatriate life. He can be considered as a great travel writer as much as a great novelist, immersing himself in the life of his environment while bringing a part of his own personality to it. More than other great authors, Hemingway inspires fans to make pilgrimages to his places, in a way that enhances the traveller’s journey as well as his understanding of the author. There is something ineffable in reading A mobile party by walking on rue Cardinale Lemoine, Hemingways’ first address in Paris.

I have been fortunate enough to travel to at least six of Hemingways’ haunts. Here are some quick impressions for fellow travelers.

Hemingway first appeared as a short story writer, featuring the outdoor exploits and bildungsroman of Nick Adams, his recurring alter-ego, who lived, fished, and loved in northern Michigan. The Hemingways family spent the summer in a cottage on Walloon Lake near Petoskey, Michigan, and he returned to this setting again and again in his early work, in his first published collection of stories. In our time, as well as a subsequent compilation Nick Adams’ stories.

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Hemingway returned to northern Michigan after being wounded in World War I, living in a rented room in a house in Petoskey and speaking to the local library, all still there. He married his first wife Hadley in nearby 1921 Horton Bay, Michigan, near where he fished as a boy. His family cabin, Windemere, is still intact and privately owned on Lake Wallonia.

After a brief stint in Toronto as a journalist, Hemingway and Hadley moved to Paris. Their beginnings are brilliantly recounted in A mobile party, one of the most beautiful authors’ memoirs. You can take a walking tour of many places today. Hemingways apartments at 74 rue Cardinale Lemoine and 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. His cafes haunt, most notably Les Deux Magots at 6 Place Saint-Germain-Des-Prs, where he recounted writings about a blustery day in northern Michigan. The walk from her apartment through the Luxembourg Gardens at 27 rue De Fleurus where Gertrude Stein lived, and finally, the original location of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore at 12 rue de l’Odon, where Hemingway, James Joyce and other expats lost Generation writers would borrow books from bookseller Silvia Beach.

Hemingway spent time in Spain, famous in Pamplona during the San Fermn festival which features the running of the bulls through the streets and served as the setting for his first bestselling novel, The sun is also rising. He traveled to Madrid where he frequented the restaurant Botin’s nephew, originally opened in 1725 and considered the oldest restaurant in the world. He mentions the specialty roast suckling pig restaurants towards the end of the novel.

Hemingway left Europe in 1928 to settle in Key West, Florida, where his home is still a museum. Here he wrote A farewell to arms and has been visited by the rich and famous. He moved to Cuba in 1940 where he lived until 1960, when storm clouds of the impending revolution brought him back to the United States. He left in such a hurry that his belongings remained on the island. Only the efforts of the Kennedy administration allowed his wife to recover them after her death, which forever indebted the family to the Kennedys. That is why his personal effects were donated to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum by Mary Hemingway.

Hemingways’ last home, in Ketchum, Idaho, continued its pattern of choosing to live in highly desirable areas that were playgrounds for the rich and famous. While Hemingway chose the area for its remarkable hunting and fishing, he had already experienced the nearby seaside resort, having completed his novel For whom the bell rings during his stay at the Sun Valley Resort in 1939. His copious wooden house still stands in a district of Ketchum (and belongs to The community library), and his grave is in a nearby cemetery.

More than any other modern author, Hemingways’ love for adventure as well as literature and art has created a life that is inviting and intriguing. He didn’t just write about life. He lived it.

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