Monday, January 29, 2018

A Day with Ernest Hemingway

Ketchum, Idaho will always be synonymous with Ernest Hemingway.  There are many parts of the world that are associated with this great American author--Paris, Cuba, Spain, Florida, East Africa-- but it is Idaho he called home later in life.  It is Idaho where he is buried.

One can't walk the streets of this beautiful town without being aware of him, so I decided to spend a day in his footsteps.  To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of his writings . . .

except for The Old Man and the Sea.

The Sun Valley Lodge

Ernest Hemingway's love affair with Idaho began in 1939 with a publicity stunt.  The owners of this newly built ski lodge hatched a plan to invite celebrities to visit in return for some photo shoots.  Hemingway and his new girlfriend, Martha Gellhorn (soon to become Mrs. Hemingway No. 3), accepted the invitation.  They stayed in Room 206 and while there, he wrote several chapters of For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I had every intention of having lunch (or just a drink) here but once inside this glamorous hotel, I felt immediately out of place in my hodgepodge outfit and ugly hiking boots.  The hallway was lined with black and white celebrity photos.  The few women in the bar were sipping wine with Louis Vuitton handbags draped gracefully over the back of their chairs.

And this is part of Hemingway's story that I can't relate to:  His chasing money and fame, his hobnobbing with celebrities  . . . .

but then he wrote The Old Man and the Sea.

The Hemingway Memorial

Not far from the lodge is a memorial, situated in front of a lovely stream and within a clump of trees.  To get there in the deep snow was not easy, and it took me a few attempts before I found the trail.  Although there is a small amphitheater with benches for the viewer to sit and reflect, it was buried in snow so I had to stand.  Part of the plaque was covered in a snow drift, but I knew what it said--words he had written himself for the eulogy of his friend, Gene Van Guilder. 

  Best of all he loved the fall.  The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods.  Leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills.  The high blue windless skies . . . Now he will be a part of them forever.

I found myself tearing up and it surprised me.  The words were so beautiful.  The bronze statue was so humble.  

This pompous, conceited womanizer and boozer of a man had a different, kinder side to him.

  And this is the side that wrote The Old Man and the Sea.

The Hemingway Collection at the Library

After lunch back in Ketchum, my travel buddy and I went to the library to see the Hemingway Collection.  All of his books are displayed here, as well as biographies and other narratives about his writings and his life.  I picked up Michael Palin's travelogue which corresponded to a  tv series he did for BBC in 1999 on the writer's adventures.  Palin went to Spain, Chicago, Paris, Italy, Key West, Cuba and Idaho, following Hemingway's footsteps.

I then found a copy of Mariel Hemingway's cookbook and before I knew it, two hours had slipped by.

I sometimes wonder if people are more fascinated by Hemingway's outrageous adventures and his personal life than with his actual books.

But then maybe not . . . because . . .

he wrote The Old Man and the Sea.

The Hemingway Exhibit at the Museum

While my travel buddy went back to the hotel to rest, I walked over to the Sun Valley Museum of History where there is a good exhibit about Hemingway's life in Idaho.  After that initial stay at Sun Valley Lodge, he returned several times to hunt and fish.  He finally moved here with Mrs. Hemingway No. 4 in 1959.  Two years later he was dead.

I read that he enjoyed his friends here.  They were ordinary people who could care less about his notoriety.  They hunted and fished together, hung out in bars and local restaurants.  They loved nature as much as he did.  He and Mary often invited them over for dinner.

But he stopped writing.  Couldn't, in fact.  He was suffering from injuries, both physical and mental.  He had, after all, lived a hard, hard life.  I felt a sadness that he had finally settled in a place he enjoyed, only to have that death wish of his take hold and win.

The Old Man and the Sea was his last major work to be published.  This small, but powerful novel, was written in 1951 while he was in the Bahamas.  It won both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for literature.  It is a book that has endeared me to this author, and I realized as I was reading about his life in Idaho, that it could only be written by an older man, long after those dreams of fame and fortune and bravado have been tried and tested and finally scorned.  

By the time he moved to Idaho, he must have crossed many paths with men like Santiago, men who do amazing things but who never toot their own horn.  These were the men who he came to admire.

Dinner at the Sawtooth Club

There are many bars and restaurants in Ketchum that the author frequented and the Sawtooth Club was one of them.  The menu posted outside looked good and the prices weren't outrageous, so in we went.  We were seated upstairs by the window with a great view of the snowy mountains.  We ordered red wine and the duck breasts with cherry sauce and had a wonderful evening.

We talked about The Old Man and the Sea.

This is one of my favorite books.  Because it is short, I have read it many times.  It is a classic.  An old fisherman does battle with a marlin so big, he can't haul it aboard his skiff.  He must tie it to the side.  By the time he reaches port, sharks have completely devoured it.  He returns home and goes to bed.  That is that.  Only it isn't.  Someone sees the skeleton and measures it.  It is 18 feet long--possibly a record.

Clinking our wine glasses together, we toasted Ketchum's most famous resident.

 "Thank you, Papa, for writing about an old fisherman, a little boy and a great big fish."  

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