“The book came to me in sort of a haze in Harry’s Bar in Venice.”
Ernest Hemingway speaking about writing In Harry’s Bar In Venice
(Not to be confused with the clip below from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris)
When I was in high school I don’t think I really understood that Ernest Hemingway was a literary giant. But I knew Jimmy Buffett was fond of Hemingway and that was the only sign of approval I needed as a 17-year-old.
When I had to pick a book in my 11th grade American Literature class to do a report on, I naturally—in my youthful wisdom— outsmarted my teacher by picking the thinnest book on my teacher’s list—Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’ve been pals with Papa ever since.
When I graduated from film school in California I drove around the country for a couple of months and one of the books I took with me was Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. On that trip I went out of my way to drive through Ketchum, Idaho where Hemingway killed himself in 1961. While I lived in Florida I toured his Key West house that’s open to the public and where he wrote To Have and Have Not. (If I recall correctly, they said his custom in Key West was to swim early in the morning and write standing up from 8AM until noon.)
Once on a flight to London for a shoot I read Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa. And over the years as I found myself in Kansas City, Oak Park, Petoskey, Venice (including Harry’s Bar) and Paris I’ve always thought of Hemingway and his time spent in those places. Oh, and at the University of Miami I was in the film program with Hilary Hemingway (Ernest’s neice) .
Though I’ve never seen a bull-fight in Spain, caught a marlin off the waters of Cuba, or been on a safari in Africa—someday I will. I hope. Hemingway’s adventurous life has influenced me as much as his writings. Moving to Iowa in ’03 has just been another part of the adventure. So even this blog has a loose assoication to the Hemingway spirit. A couple of days ago I went down to the Cedar Falls Library and picked up a copy of Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast that I’d never read. It’s mostly his account of being young, poor, and unpublished while living in Paris in the 1920s.
“Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. “
A Moveable Feast
Looking for a little note of inspiration to stick above your computer? Hard to beat, “All you have to do is write one true sentence.”
P.S. One of the things I delight in when reading Hemingway’s letters is his creative ways of spelling. Hemingway could write, but he couldn’t spell. Nothing a little spell checker wouldn’t fix these days, but we all have our achilles heels don’t we? Hemingway was also no Mark Twain when it came to public speaking. “One of Ernest Hemingway’s deadliest enemies was The Micophone,” said A.E. Hotchner. Just listen to his talk on In Harry’s Bar in Venice or his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech to know what Hotchner meant.
For those that cling to the idea that great writers ideally make the best teachers, I think Hemingway is a pretty good example to the contrary. His writing can take you’re breath away, his speaking—not so much. And I’m sure rather than nurturing an up and coming writer Hemingway would rather have been hunting or drinking. But hanging out with him and his creative gang on the Left Bank in Paris in the 20s would have been quite a learning experience.
Scott W. Smith
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