Sunday, 2 July 2017

Remembering Ernest Hemingway in Venice and the Veneto

Adriana Ivancich (far right) next to Ernest Hemingway in Havana, Cuba. Photo: JFK Library
(Venice, Italy) The force of nature named "Ernest Hemingway" conjures up all kinds of images: writer, lover, soldier, hunter, fisherman and world-class drinker, to name a few. Wherever he touched down, he left powerful images in his wake, and he touched down hard in Venice and the Veneto.

Ernest Hemingway died 56 years ago, on July 2, 1961, and the more I re-read his work, the more I realize what a startling and innovative a writer he was. He first arrived in the Veneto Region in 1918 during World War I, a boy of eighteen, who had signed on to drive an ambulance in Italy. A couple of months after Hemingway's arrival, while he was stationed in Fossalta di Piave about forty miles north of Venice, he was seriously wounded by mortar fire. He spent six months recuperating in a Red Cross hospital in Milan where he famously fell in love with his nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky.

In 1923 he wintered in Cortina d'Ampezzo with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and returned there in 1948, with his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, a Time magazine correspondent. They lived for a at time in Cortina, where Hemingway met Fernanda Pivano, who translated A Farewell to Arms into Italian, and is credited with introducing American literature to Italy. The Hemingways also spent time in Venice, staying at the Hotel Gritti Palace, where Ernest started work on Across the River and Into the Trees, a novel inspired by his real-life love affair with a young Venetian aristocrat named Adriana Ivancich.

I excerpted most of the above from a post I wrote more than six years ago, back on April 8, 2011, to promote an exhibition at Palazzo Loredan entitled:

The Veneto of Ernest Hemingway

About a year later, in March 2012,the JFK Library unveiled letters written between Gianfranco Ivancich, Adriana's brother, and Hemingway, which The Guardian described as: "Remarkable correspondence between Hemingway and friend Gianfranco Ivancich showcases the author's sentimental side."

Gianfranco Ivancich first met Hemingway in the bar of the Gritti Palace here in Venice, and they became great friends. Ivancich traveled to Cuba and stayed in the author's house. When Gianfranco introduced his sister, Adriana, to the author, Hemingway was smitten and pumped full of creative energy; Adriana is credited as his muse for the Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea.

Gianfranco Ivancich holding a cat at Hemingway home in Cuba - Photo: JFK Library
One of the most poignant excerpts from the letters is when Hemingway writes Ivancich about having to shoot his cat, Willie, after he was hit by a car, and the abominable behavior of "rich Cadillac psycho" tourists who arrived, unannounced, at his house during the scene:

In February 1953, Hemingway wrote to Ivancich of his pain at having to shoot his cat, Willie, after it was hit by a car. "Certainly missed you. Miss Uncle Willie. Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years. Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs," wrote the author, also revealing the heartless behaviour of a group of tourists who arrived at his house the same day. "I still had the rifle and I explained to them they had come at a bad time and to please understand and go away. But the rich Cadillac psycho said, 'We have come at a most interesting time. Just in time to see the great Hemingway cry because he has to kill a cat.'"

Here are some recollections about Hemingway from Giuseppe Cipriani, the general founder of Harry's Bar, and Arrigo's father:

Mary & Ernest Hemingway with Adriana Ivancich
During the long, cold winter of 1949-50, Ernest Hemingway installed himself comfortably in the Concordia room. Hemingway practically dropped in on us that year, and divided his time between the Inn on Torcello, the Gritti, and Harry's Bar, where he had a table of his own in a corner. He was the only client with whom once during an outing to Torcello I had to drink a little myself – much, much more than a little, actually – just to keep up with him.

Hemingway was the only client, I was saying, because I have always believed that the client's place is on one side of the counter, and the barman's is on the other.  Everything in its place....but he had such an overwhelming personality that it was impossible to maintain any barriers. He was generous to a fault, and filled more pages of his check-book than those of a medium length novel. At the time, he was just finishing "Over the River and Into the Trees" in which he mentions Harry's Bar many times. Every time I hear someone say "Hemingway sure gave you a lot of free promotion!" I say: "You're all wet, Bud. It was me and my bar that promoted him. They gave him the Nobel prize afterwards, not before."

In 1954, the Hemingways went on an African safari. Ernest chartered a plane as a Christmas gift for Mary, which crashed in the wilds of Uganda. Then, 48-hours later, they boarded another plane to go to Entebbe to seek medical treatment and that plane exploded at takeoff. Several newspapers reported that the Hemingways were dead. From the New York Times archives:

January 26, 1954

Hemingway Out of the Jungle; Arm Hurt, He Says Luck Holds

Entebbe, Uganda, Jan. 25--Ernest Hemingway arrived in Entebbe today after having survived two plane crashes in the elephant country of Uganda.
His head was swathed in bandages and his arm was injured, but the novelist, who is 55 years old, quipped: "My luck, she is running very good."
He was carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin. With him was his wife, the former Mary Welsh. She had two cracked ribs and was limping as Mr. Hemingway helped her from an automobile that brought them here from Butiaba, 170 miles away.

The Hemingways decided to recuperate from their injuries at the Hotel Gritti Palace in Venice. The local papers announced their arrival with headlines like: Scampi e Valpolicella cura per Hemingway or "Scampi and Valpolicella Cure for Hemingway." From the Gazzettino-Sera: "Ernest Hemingway announced he will stay in Venice to recover from the injuries incurred in the well-known African accidents, with a powerful cure based on scampi and vapolicella."

In the 1958 edition of Writers at Work, interviews from the Paris Review, selected by Kay Dick, George Plimpton interviews Ernest Hemingway:

Fernanda Pivano & Hemingway
Dobbiaco, Oct 12, 1948
Benetton Foundation
Photo: Ettore Sottsass
Interviewer:  How complete in your own mind is the conception of a short story? Does the theme, or the plot, or a character change as you go along?

Hemingway:  Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you make it up as you go along and have no idea how it will come out. Everything changes as it moves. That is what make the movement which makes the story. Sometimes the movement is so slow it does not seem to be moving. But there is always change and always movement.

Interviewer:  Is it the same with the novel, or do you work out the whole plan before you start and adhere to it rigorously?

Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls was a problem which I carried on each day. I knew what was going to happen in principle. But I invented what happened each day I wrote.

Interviewer:  Were the Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not, and Across the River and Into the Trees all started as short stories and developed into novels? If so, are the two forms so similar that the writer can pass from one to the other without completely revamping his approach?

Hemingway:  No, that is not true. The Green Hills of Africa is not a novel but was written in an attempt to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month's action could, if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination. After I had written it I wrote two short stories, 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' and 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'. These were stories which I invented from the knowledge and experience acquired on the same long hunting trip one month of which I had tried to write a truthful account of in The Green Hills. To Have and Have Not and Across the River and Into the Trees were both started as short stories.

Interviewer:  Do you find it easy to shift from one literary project to another or do you continue through to finish what you start?

Hemingway:  The fact that I am interrupting serious work to answer these questions proves that I am so stupid that I should be penalized severely. I will be. Don't worry.

Ciao from Venezia
Cat Bauer

1 comment:

  1. Ernest Hemingway died 56 years ago, on July 2, 1961, and the more I re-read his work, the more I realize what a startling and innovative a writer he was.


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