Hemingway – An Inspiration…

I have started rereading Hemingway and my God, what a joy. I first read most of his novels when I was a Poly curling up in bed on dark, freezing cold nights in a flea pit of a terraced house which I shared with three other students down by the docks. Hastings Street comprised long rows of red brick houses many of which were boarded up at the time; the miners strike was in full swing and a mood of militancy was particularly toxic in this part of Wearside. The nearby pub, The Salem, was a terrifying place especially as it had a huge black swastika painted on the outside wall above the front door. Imagine that now…

With hardly any money, lofty ambitions and little to do in the midst of a savage winter, Hemingway’s writing provided both a welcome distraction and fuelled my desire to be a writer off sorts. I would buy dozens of curled-edged paperbacks from the Durham Bookshop in the town for a few pence a throw and soon worked my way through the complete works of Graham Greene, Stan Barstow, John Braine, George Orwell and Alan Sillitoe among many others, but it was Hemingway who left the deepest impression; his delicate pen and subtle insights contrary to a hard drinking public persona and love of bull fighting, big game hunting and the odd brawl…

Inspired by a Autumnal trip to Paris last year, I took a few whiskies in the Brasserie Lipp where Hemingway himself would sit with Louis Vuitton in the roaring twenties with the brightest stars in their respective eyes. The Lipp’ is a place of delight with a timeless decor and tall windows through which guests can watch the comings and goings along the quintessentially Parisian Boulevard Saint-Germaine. Sitting their that afternoon, you can still sense the presence of Hemingway as you can in many European bars that he frequented over the years. On my own travels, his character still prevails in Budapest’s New York Cafe and Madrid’s Museo Chicote, whilst the bar that takes his name in Prague is another highlight.

So, I have started with A Moveable Feast which recounts his time in Paris, but not published until 1964. His observations bring the city to life especially when describing the poorer districts with their brothels, cheap bars and dimly-lit cobbled streets. Hemingway himself was an unknown journalist at the time and struggling with his stories and prose, but he wrote as if by way of celebration and his words are devoid of bitterness.

I almost can’t wait for the winter to devour more and take further inspiration from one of the true literary greats…