Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ernest Hemingway´s Peru Connection

I have had an interest…curiosity really, about Ernest Hemingway ever since seeing the movie The Old Man and the Sea in 1958. I liked the film so much that I read the book, and then read The Sun Also Raises. I grew to appreciate his writing style…basic words, short sentences direct and to the point minus the stiff flowery prose so prevalent in that era. In fact one of his peers commented that Hemingway has never used a word that would cause the reader to refer to a dictionary, which pissed off Hemingway when he heard that, but that’s another story. I became curious about the man himself, which prompted a visit to his boyhood home in Oak Park, Illinois where he was born July 21, 1899. It was only an hour drive from my home in Milwaukee. This was in the early 1960s. The internet had not yet arrived so I had to go to the library to look up the address in an old city directory. The house was privately owned so I was limited to looking at it from the sidewalk. Now it’s a museum.

Beyond reading more of his work I didn’t think much about Hemingway until 10 years ago when Maribel and I visited the popular beach town of Mancora in Northern Peru on the Pacific Ocean. While there we learned that part of the movie The Old Man and the Sea had been filmed at the village of Cabo Blanco in 1956, and that Hemingway had fished and stayed at the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club for more than a month during the filming. Cabo Blanco is only a 30 minute ride on commercial transport so we spent an afternoon checking out the town, starting with the Fishing Club.

This is what the club looked like in the mid-50s when Hemingway was there.
This is the club 9 years ago. I sat at what remains of the bar (on the right) where Hemingway no doubt sat and drank until the wee hours.

The club’s buildings are abandoned now but in its heyday the club drew celebrities and wealthy fisherman from all over the world. I must have taken a hundred photos inside and out and I’m glad I did because later I learned that Hemingway stayed in room #5…by chance the only guest room that I took photos in out of 10 guest rooms.

There’s a restaurant in the town, appropriately named Cabo Blanco Restaurant. It was owned at the time by Pablo Còrdova who died last March. Pablo was a young bartender when Hemingway frequented the establishment. The walls of the restaurant are lined with photos taken in the restaurant of Hemingway and friends, with Pablo present in a few of them including the one above the door. Pablo shared a lot of memories with us. His death is what prompted this post.

Local legend says that Hemingway was in Lima where he stayed at the Gran Hotel Bolivar  across from the San Martin Plaza. I can find no evidence to support that claim. Hemingway arrived in Peru at the Talara airport in the north of the country on Monday April 16, 1956 and the following day was settled in at Cabo Blanco. According to one journalist who followed Hemingway during his stay, Hemingway was invited to visit Lima but said his schedule would not allow it. Hemingway departed Peru 36 days later on May 22. The fishing expedition was a failure.  

Not far from the Gran Hotel Bolivar is the Maury Hotel where an older bartender at the hotel bar convincingly claims to have served Hemingway. Again, there is no evidence to support that, but in case it was true we sat at the bar and toasted Hemingway with mojitos and wild daiquiris; two drinks associated with Hemingway. A few years later we toured his house in Key West and drank toasts to him again at Sloppy Joes, his favorite bar where he met his third wife.

In the intervening years I’ve read a fair amount of books and articles both by and about Hemingway, and have formed an impression of the man. Gertrude Stein, who was the unofficial den mother of the expatriate writers and artists of the famed ‘lost generation’ living in Paris in the 1920s, including Hemingway said that Hemingway’s swashbuckling macho image was a phony front to cover up his shy and sensitive nature. I’m not sure about that, but there is no doubt that he carried a lot of emotional baggage during his lifetime.

In my opinion two of the most telling comments come from Jeffrey Meyer’s biography, “Hemingway”, and Bernice Kert’s book, The Hemingway Women”. The last paragraph of chapter 7 in Meyer’s book reads:

“Hemingway’s attack on (Sherwood) Anderson followed the recurrent pattern of his literary quarrels with Ford, McAlmon, Stein, Loeb, Walsh, Stewart, Callaghan, MacLeish, Eastman, Fitzgerald and Don Passos. His reaction to them changed from extreme enthusiasm to vengeful disillusionment. When he became bored with his friends, discovered their faults, found a real or imaginary grievance, or had no further use for them, he would ruthlessly, relentlessly and suddenly break off the friendship.”

Don Stewart, a friend and victim of Hemingway said:

“The minute he began to love you, or the minute he began to have some sort of obligation to you of love or friendship or something, then is when he had to kill you. Then you were too close to something he was protecting. He, one-by-one knocked off the best friendships he ever had”.

Perhaps what Hemingway was protecting was the shy sensitive nature beneath the macho image that Stein alluded to.

Hemingway had four wives – the last three were mistresses-in-waiting during his marriage of the moment. In an introductory note to her book The Hemingway Women, Bernice Kert sums up her conclusions about Hemingway’s relationship with women by saying:

“…no matter what their degree of commitment, Hemingway could never sustain a long-lived, wholly satisfying relationship with any of his four wives. Married domesticity may have seemed to him the desirable culmination of romantic love, but sooner or later he became bored and restless, critical and bullying”.  

Hemingway ended his life in 1961 but to this day remains a popular cult figure, with books and articles still being written about him. For me personally I enjoy and appreciate his written work. It is not up to me to judge him as a man. He is an interesting figure. I am glad to have discovered and trod some of his haunts in Peru and I hope someday to visit his home in Havana and his final residence in Ketchum, Idaho.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this! I grew up in Talara, and Hemingway 'el gringo' was a legend among fishermen.