Friday, March 18, 2011

'Try for Something that's never been Done'

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated. ~ describing Santiago, the Cuban fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952

Who has not read this allegorical novel and wondered about the protagonist's ordeal and vision? After visiting Hemingway's home in Key West recently, the writer's life is brought back into focus for me.

Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. After leaving high school, he worked briefly as a reporter before leaving for the Italian front in World War 1 to become an ambulance driver. There he was seriously wounded and returned home where he wrote A Farewell to Arms.

In 1922 he married the first of his four wives, and lived in Paris as a foreign correspondent where he was influenced by the 1920's group of modernist writers and artists known as the 'Lost Generation.' In the mid 30's Hemingway covered the Spanish Civil War as well which produced the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Upon completion of The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, he went on a safari to Africa where he was almost killed in a plane crash that left him in pain or ill health for the rest of his life.

Hemingway had homes in Key West, Florida, and Cuba and enjoyed fishing. The photo is of Hemingway, Pauline, and their two sons in 1935 in the Bahamas. (Today, this photo almost looks obscene amidst the concern for preservation.)

Hemingway's banquet speech for the Nobel Prize in 1954 is enlightening about the writer's task:

'...Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed...'

Key West is an absolutely thrilling and charming destination. The drive there was filled with bright blue vistas and green mangrove forests with an impressive infrastructure of bridges. It was a delight to see many egrets and herons enjoying this sanctuary. The city itself has several days worth of delightful destinations and the setting is tropical since it's only 90 miles north of Cuba.