“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
I was in high school when I fell in love with his books and to this day, they are a source of awe and respect, for his use and respect for ‘words.’
In those days every month American Traveling Library vans used to visit schools and colleges once a month. It was through those libraries that I was introduced to American Literature. “A Farewell To Arms” was the first book that I was issued by the driver of the van who was also a librarian + the attendant to help around the books. His name was Ken and he could speak in Urdu too. Maybe in their archives, they still have a picture of a young girl checking out a hoard of books from the shelves. On one visit there was a photographer on board who took photos of the students coming in to borrow books. On next visit, we were presented the library magazine with pictures of the students in the narrow space between bookshelves. It was here, in this traveling library that I was introduced to Hemingway.
Even when I had exhausted everything by him, available in that van, my hunger for his prose was not satiated.
Over the years, his style of writing has influenced many writers and it still retains that power. When not writing, he was pursuing some adventure. Sometimes game hunting in Africa or bullfighting in Spain. He also loved deep-sea fishing in Florida. Worked as a war journalist too – He was a reporter on the Spanish Civil War. He lived a life to its fullest – as large as his creative talent was. Here is something I am copying from an old journal that I kept on him adding things that I read and liked about him :
…. “When asked by George Plimpton about the function of his art, Hemingway proved once again to be a master of the “one true sentence”: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”
This was the most meaningful entry in my journal and all through my creative writing time, I have followed these lines as my ‘ mantra’
Now that we were living in Florida, not going to Key West and and visiting the place called Hemingway House was – in my eyes – unforgivable. So one warm morning we started from Orlando and drove straight six hours to the destination. Our hotel was on Duval Street, not far from his house. The house is now turned into a museum and is a tourist destination.
We Visited the house the next day. Earnest Hemingway house in Key West where he lived and wrote his novels. Wow!! Reading his books, in my high school time, I never in my wildest dreams, dreamed that one day I will breathe in the same space, he once owned and lived – his home! It was an experience to remember for all times. I went to his study which was on the second floor, his writing desk and chair – a wooden chair. A serious writer never goes for comfortable, cushy chairs – I know that. There was a book display showing the books that were owned by him. Our guide explained that there was a second story walkway connecting the study to the Master bedroom. It was not there anymore. She did explain why it was not there any more but I am not sure about the details.
We saw the six and seven toed cats. These are the descendants of of the cats owned by Hemingway. They are a big tourist attraction. They live on the premises, roam around the grounds where tropical trees and plants are growing and they are protected by Animal Protection Agency.
The most interesting feature of the house is the swimming pool with a shiny penny embedded in concrete near the pool. The story goes like this that Hemingway wanted to have a swimming pool in the house, but it was just an idea when he talking to a reporter who was interviewing him. It was during the time he went away, as Spanish Civil War reporter, that his third wife Pauline had it built. It cost a huge amount of money for those times. When Hemingway came back, he was not happy to learn how much money Pauline had spent on it. He gave her a penny saying “well, you might as well have my last cent.” That penny is now smiling there, embedded in the cement and bringing smile to every face listening to this story.
After the tour, I sat in the porch for some time. That was an intense existential moment. But a cat peacefully, was sleeping under the shadow of a low tree. Another, a little further down the drive way was licking her six or seven toed paw and tropical plants still were growing on the far edge of a lush yard, swaying in the Tropical breeze. There was also a book lined shelf in the house behind me, only a master story teller’s vacant chair, pulled near a writing desk, was reminding, that the story teller had long gone.
But then there was also a penny holding that moment it exchanged hands and went down the immortality rout. People coming from far away lands, when see the shining penny, they smile and they think about this larger than life man. That is the moment he comes to life. And when they go back a living memory goes back with them.
Am I trying to appease my angst? No, I do not think so. Because there are words I am talking about. Yes. Words.
And words cannot die.