Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ernest Hemingway Heads Home To Cuba, 1945



Early in 1945, after hearing that his son Jack was safe in a German POW camp, Hemingway went “shopping for transport” and found space for himself aboard a Super Fortress that was leaving on the 6th March from Orly. On the morning of his departure, at around 3am, he left a scribbled note for Mary:

My Dearest Pickle:

I will love you always. I am going to get our new life together
started. Every minute that we are apart I shall be truly faithful. In my
heart, in my heat, and in my body.

Your Loving Husband

Mountain

The aircraft stopped over in London for refuelling, and Hemingway made his way to the Dorchester to look in on Martha – she hadn't yet moved into her new home - who was in bed with flu, and as miserable as sin about her relationship with Gavin. Hemingway didn't linger, just told her to get her hair cut, and to quit smoking. Martha yelled at him to get the hell out, and threw a vase of flowers at his departing back. On the landing outside he kissed a very unsuspecting bedroom maid and tipped her £5 to make sure Miss Martha was well looked after.


During the long flight across the Atlantic Hemingway was allowed to fly the aircraft for a few minutes between hands of gin rummy with a one-armed colonel from Georgia, and read most of the 1928 first edition of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, reading out loud the more sexually explicit bits:

“ 'And softly, with that marvellous swoon-like caress of his hand in pure soft desire, softly he stroked the silky slope of her loins, down, down...' ”

“ Hey, fella, give me a break will ya.”

“ Listen and learn, soldier” came Hemingway's shouted reply. “Now where the hell was I? Ah, here we are. 'She yielded with a quiver that was like death, she went all open to him. And oh, if he were not tender to her now, how cruel, for she was all open to him and helpless...' “

“Listen, man, I ain't seen my old lady in two years, and you read that crap. Now shut your goddam mouth.”

“ Sorry, son.”

Hemingway puts the book back into his rucksack and looks out of the aircraft window and listens to the silence in the aircraft, a silence dominated by the four Pratt and Whitney engines pulling the Boeing through the thin atmosphere at fifteen thousand feet. All Hemingway could think about was Mary.

“ Hey, man, what were you reading?”

“ That, soldier, was Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence.”

“ Lawrence? Never heard of the guy.”

“ He was English.”

“ Another goddam limey.”

“ Dead now. One of the finest novelists of all time.”

“ Is that right? “

“ Yep.”

“ Well I'll be damned. Who's the broad, in the book?”

“ Connie, Constance Chatterley.”

“ And the guy?”

“ Mellors, her gamekeeper.”

“ She ain't got no old man, right? “

“ Married to Sir Clifford Chatterley.”

“ So, what's his problem? She sounds one gorgeous broad. Man I could see her, Jesus. Sir Clifford Whatsit lost interest?”

“ Badly injured in the Great War. Confined to a wheelchair. Helpless piece of expensive meat.”

“ So she goes with the gamekeeper?”

“ Yes.”

“ Broads, eh.”

The soldier lights a cigarette, and, easing what's left of his left leg into a more comfortable position, closes his eyes.

Hemingway takes a drink of brandy from a new hip flask as the aircraft slowly turns south-westward for the two hour descent toward New York

Ernest Hemingway falls asleep thinking of Mary, and what she feels like.

When the Super Fortress lands in the early morning mist Hemingway thanks the crew, and says his farewells to the other passengers, especially the GI with the one leg, and then manages to get a lift with General Anderson into New York, where he has breakfast at a favourite coffee stall on 5th Avenue, before heading for Scribners.

Max Perkins had kept in touch with Hemingway throughout the war, and Hemingway could tell from the tone of Max's letters that the famous Scribners editor was losing his vitality. And when Hemingway saw his old friend on that March morning he was shocked to encounter a man who was now too thin for his clothes, who constantly had to stop talking to regain his breath. But nonetheless Perkins was still one of Scribners finest editors, who had, just a month before, signed James Jones, and had started to edit what would eventually become From Here To Eternity.

“ Max, I owe you more than any man on this Earth.”

“ Don't get emotional on me, Ernest.”

“ True, nonetheless, old man.”

“ Thanks.”

“ This is starting to sound like a bad Hemingway novel.”

“ A very bad Hemingway novel.”

Hemingway hugs Max, turns, and quickly leaves the editor's office and heads for Grand Central Station, where he catches the 7.15pm sleeper for Miami.

Like a Cary Grant movie Hemingway finds himself having dinner with a strange, darkly attractive woman, who begins to tell Hemingway a long story about her family, and their disinheritance at the end of the Civil War. It was obvious to Hemingway the woman, although hugely attractive,
was clearly off her head, and wouldn't you just believe it, was writing a novel about her family, and did Mr Hemingway have any tips about writing that he might like to impart in the privacy of her compartment in Car C?

Hemingway had to admit he was tempted, very tempted. But he'd made a promise to Mary, and he was going to keep it.

Hemingway calls the steward over.

“ Yes, sir?”

“ A bottle of Champagne.”

“ Yes, sir.”

“ A little Champagne first, er...?”

“ Marianne.”

“ Marianne.”

“ What do you mean, first?”

“ Before you tell me about your novel.”

“ Ah, yes, Champagne. Thank you. I'm a great admirer of your work, Mr Hemingway.”

“ Thank you. But please call me, Ernest.”

“ Ernest.”

The steward returns to Hemingway's table with the Champagne.

Hemingway smiles, “Good man.”

The steward pours the Champagne and, after leaving the bottle in a silver ice bucket, leaves the table.

“ What shall we drink to?” asks the woman.

“ To your novel.”

They touch glasses and drink.

“ Where's the novel set?”

“ Georgia.”

As the evening progresses, with more Champagne ordered by Hemingway, Marianne becomes increasingly intoxicated and eventually collapses across the table. Hemingway beckons the steward over, gives him a fifty and asks that he makes sure Marianne is safely put to bed, and then asks for his breakfast to be served in his compartment.

“ Yes, sir.”

There was something about the woman – Marianne - that disturbed Hemingway, disturbed him greatly, and he knew that had he spent the night with her one of them would have ended up dead.

When the train pulled into Miami the following evening there was an ambulance waiting, and Hemingway watched from his compartment as two medics carried someone from the train, someone with their face covered.

“ Hi, Dad!”

The shouting came from outside Hemingway's carriage. It was Patrick and Gregory. Hemingway forgot all about Marianne, and made his way out onto the station platform where he gave his two youngest sons a huge bear hug.

“ Come on, boys, lets get the hell outta here and get down home to Cuba.”

The two boys spent the rest of the Easter vacation with their father at the Finca Vigia, helping him clean the place up, and do some repairs and decorating. It was a great couple of weeks, and for the first time in a long time Hemingway felt like a father again. And then the boys were gone, and a black depression engulfed Hemingway like dark fog. He became irritable, with his large domestic staff getting the sharp end of his tongue.

Hemingway employed four gardeners, a cook, a chauffeur, a butler, a maid, and two young boys who ran errands into the village.

It was only when the telephone rang on the morning of the 13th April, and Hemingway heard Mary's voice on the other end, that a depressed and unbearable Ernest Hemingway became a good natured, kindly man again, and all the staff smiled for the first time since his return, and Hemingway remembered he hadn't paid them in months, and ordered Champagne for
everyone, including the two kids who were soon fast asleep under a tree on the lawn with half a dozen cats, and two black dogs.

Mary's journey had been by sea, and very rough, and she wanted nothing more than to get to Cuba, and see her new home.

Hemingway gathered all of the staff around him and explained, first in Spanish, then in English, that:

“ Miss Mary is coming. Miss Mary is coming.”

And all the staff smiled and replied, in unison:

“ Miss Mary.”

Note: Although based on fact some scenes and dialogue are imagined.