Charlie Glass rang from Syria and announced that he was off to Pamplona to run the bulls à la Papa Hemingway. “Goldie [as in Hawn] is coming with Kurt Russell, Nick Scott, and you can be the fifth, just like in The Sun Also Rises,” said Charlie. “I’m not coming as Cohn,” snapped I, “nor as Jake Barnes, so I guess I’ll have to be Mike Campbell,” or words to that effect. Glass is a very close friend and pulled my leg non-stop about being too old to run. “Well, unlike you, Glass, I ran them in 1956, and I’ll run them again, so help me Pheidipiddes.” Goldie and Kurt were the first to drop out, and I may be next, although I’m still going to Pamplona with the boys.
Cricket has done me in, but not for long. There we were, on a brilliant Saturday Devon afternoon, with lotsa young girls cheering us on, so I had to show off a bit, especially as I was bowled out on the second ball. Mind you, cricket sounds like a poofter’s game, but it can be very, very painful. Think of standing 15 feet off home plate without a glove and the ball coming at you at over 100 mph. (A cricket ball is harder than a baseball.) I took a direct shot on my hip and for the moment I cannot run, only limp. The running of the bulls is on July 7. I write this with two weeks to go. If I can run, I’ll run them, but no cripple has ever run the bulls in Pamplona and lived to brag about it. But back to Papa and The Sun Also Rises. I read him early on and swore to myself that the moment I got out of school I’d head for Paris, Pamplona, and the Floridita bar in Havana. And I kept my promise. Like a devout 15th-century Catholic going from cathedral to cathedral, I made my Hemingway pilgrimage my first summer of freedom. La Closerie des Lilas, 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine, Les Deux Magots, the Ritz bar, Pamplona … You name it, I went to it.For someone brought up on Greek myths, nothing encapsulated Papa’s view of life better than The Old Man and The Sea. Like Odysseus, Santiago struggles on and refuses to give up in the face of death. Unlike the Ithacan king, however, Santiago is a rather pathetic figure. I loved Death in the Afternoon for the same reason. You did not have to be a connoisseur of bullfighting to appreciate the virtues Papa celebrates. The bullfighters risk all in their combat with nature, not for any material rewards—which are plenty—but so as to enact man’s lonely struggle against forces far more powerful than he is. Man does not flee mortal peril but embraces it. The matador is not a tragic hero. He could be anyone. Hemingway did not espouse the fashionable idea—yes, even back then —that we are all heroes the moment we venture out of bed. Heroes were those who sought to enact in their own lives the tension between mortality and immortality. The heroes were those who went to war—not those who send others to do the fighting—and those who were ready to fight for honor.
Every time I read Papa, it brought back memories of Greece and her mythological heroes. Greek heroes never complained. Neither did Papa’s. But they did ask why. Recall Jake Barnes about his loss of manhood or Lieutenant Henry about his loss of Catherine. In an age where everyone is a victim, no wonder Hemingway is considered by some as too macho. But feminists, critics, and academics can go to hell. As Norman Mailer said, “Papa is the cavalry of American letters.” He made narrative prose into a physical medium—tough, stoical, suffering, what is known as “grace under pressure.” He was much imitated, and imitated himself towards the end when the going was very slow. But he was a wonderful-looking man of action, a tough guy, as different from today’s writers—except for Mailer—as Ava Gardner (his favorite) is from Monica Lewinsky. When Papa began his apprenticeship at the Kansas City Star, he was handed a style sheet with four basic rules: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.” Here’s Dartmouth English professor Jeffrey Hart on Hemingway: “He used simple sentences that required you to think. … Every word of early Hemingway counted. And counted a hell of a lot.” When Hemingway began writing, he was confronted with what was chic at the time—the rejection of maturity, modernism in the arts, bright young things, and radicalism in politics. He chose instead to write about the beauties and terrors of nature, the masculine virtues, and the nobility of failure.
His style prevailed over the cynicism of the Twenties. He became the first pop idol—perhaps the second, after Lord Byron—and millions were influenced by the macho style. For someone like me, growing up in America, there were only Hemingwayesque heroes to look up to: Dylan Thomas, destroying his art by drinking and whoring until he dropped dead; Charlie Parker playing 52nd Street, his arms scarred with heroin tracks; Rocky Graziano smoking in the locker room before going out to knock out tough-as-leather Tony Zale; Ted Williams, the best hitter ever, volunteering for flying missions over North Korea. Here’s a friend, Stanley Reynolds, writing on Papa: “Making a room for him in my bookshop by removing some of those revolutionary chaps who are always on about the common man, but give you the impression they have never actually met one.” Stanley wrote this long ago, but he could have been writing about Salman Rushdie or Martin Amis or any of the effete writers of today. Moreover—and this particularly appealed to me about Papa—heroism was something that belonged to men. Women had no interest in risking all in the play of mortality. They could not understand why someone would want to face death. The title of his collection, Men Without Women, did not refer to life in San Francisco bathhouses, but to the camaraderie and shared values that united men. Not that Papa was against women. But he warned of the dangers of men accepting women’s view of the world as their own. This is what Harry realizes as he lies dying in The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
For myself, I like to quote from the first story Hemingway ever published, on April 12, 1918, when he was 18 years old. Compare its youthful take on a dance and a prostitute to today’s crap writing about the horrors of ennui and bad cocaine:
Outside, a woman walked along the wet lamp-lit sidewalk through the sleet and snow. Inside, on the sixth floor of the YWCA building, a merry crowd of soldiers from Camp Funston fox-trotted and one-stepped with girls from the Fine Arts School while a sober-faced young man pounded out the latest jazz music as he watched the moving figures. In a corner a private was discussing Whistler with a black-haired girl who had been a member of the art colony at Chicago. … Outside, the woman walked along the wet lamp-lit sidewalk. Not bad for an 18-year-old, n’est pas?I was 19 when I ran the bulls in Pamplona in 1956. I wore a white shirt, white trousers, and a red handkerchief around my neck. I had drunk non-stop through the night and joined the runners in the morning. I flew like wind and made it to the Plaza de Torros. It never entered my mind that I might be gored. Forty-seven years later, I find myself having lost a step or two, perhaps 10 or 20, or even much more. Charlie Glass can’t run to save his life, but he can drink and is brave. Nick Scott is an adventurous Englishman. We will do fine.