I am a reader, but I’ve opened more books than usual in this year of increased pandemic solitude. One book that caught my eye was a collection of Hemingway’s early writings, which awakened in me slumbering memories of walking, unwittingly, in his footsteps not that many years after him.
I began reading this collection of Ernest Hemingway’s 1918 to 1926 writings before Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s superb, but flawed, three part, six-hour PBS documentary aired the first part of this month.
I stayed with the TV set for those three straight nights to see the glaringly-damaged genius whose spare and lean literary style set the standard for so many writers that followed. Then we painfully saw him give way to deteriorating mental health caused by heredity, multiple concussions from war injuries and heavy drinking. He took his own life in 1961 in Idaho at age 62.
The Lost Generation was the name given to the disillusioned and damaged survivors of World War I led by mostly American expatriate artists in Europe in the 1920s; the most famous were probably Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Eliot and Hemingway. In 1926, Hemingway published his novel “The Sun Also Rises,” the chronicle of that time, place and generation whose hedonism and disoriented-ness led to excesses of eating, drinking and pleasure-seeking that we could not take our eyes off of.
Jake Barnes to Brett, Lady Ashley, in his Paris Left Bank flat: “Let’s have a drink, then. The count will be back.”...I took up the brandy bottle and poured Brett a drink and one for myself. There was a ring at the bell-pull. I went to the door and there was the count. Behind him was the chauffeur carrying a basket of champagne…”
The count: “I know we don’t get much of a chance to judge good wine In the states now, but I got this from a friend of mine that’s in the business.”
“Oh, you always have someone in the trade,” Brett said.
“This fellow raises the grapes. He’s got thousands of acres of them.”
“What’s his name?” asked Brett. “Veuve Cliquot?”
“No,” said the count. “Mumms. He’s a baron.”
Brett said the champagne was amazing and they should drink a toast to something, but the count said it was too good for toast-drinking, that mixing emotions with a wine that good makes you lose the taste. Jake said the count should write a book on wines but the count said, “All I want out of wines is to enjoy them.” Jake and Brett had a simpler, more basic reason to drink.
Jake, Brett and the count drank three bottles of the champagne and then went on to dinner at a restaurant, with more wine, of course. Then the count called the sommelier.
“What is the oldest brandy you have?”
“Eighteen eleven, sir.”
“Bring us a bottle.”
When Jake and his friends next gathered in Pamplona, Spain, for the running of the bulls, the week of bullfights that followed and buying their leather Bota bags for wine, I stopped reading and looked away. I could see into the past — my past — where I sketched my Brett Ashley, not in words but in graphite, in a fourth floor garrett in that same Left Bank Parisian quarter after we had been to a friend’s party in Isadora Duncan’s former dance studio where he lived. I had, by that time, done the bullfights and learned to stream wine at arm’s length into my mouth without spilling a drop from my Bota bag.
Ah, if only Papa Hemingway had been able to hold off his demons long enough in Ketchum, Idaho, to come to Oregon for the Pinot noir, his story might have ended differently.
Joseph Swafford firstname.lastname@example.org