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Ernest Hemingway and Mary visit Italy - 1948

Mary, Hemingway, and Adriana
Hemingway couldn't wait to get what was his now rather battered old Buik off-loaded from the steamer  Jagiello  and start exploring what he was already describing as “this wonderful country.”

From Genoa they drove (the Hemingways had quickly hired a chauffeur) north to Milan where they were treated like visiting royalty, with Alberto Mondadori, one of Hemingway's publishers, assuring the author that his books had out-sold any other author since the end of World War II.

“ Everyone is reading you, Ernesto, everyone from the common sailor to the nobility.”

Hemingway just smiled, hugged, and kissed his jubilant publisher on the head.

Such was Hemingway's popularity in Italy that he left all of his Italian earnings in a Milan bank, using the money to finance all his future trips to that country – it made good economic sense in a post-war world where there were stringent restrictions on transferring money between countries.

To quote from Carlos Baker's biography, Hemingway's pleasure...

“... mounted as they drove from Stresa through Como, Bergamo, and up the winding road to Cortina d'Ampezzo. Although the village itself had grown, the contours of the pink and red peaks had not changed since Ernest and Hadley and Renata Borgatti had wintered there in 1923. Most wonderful of all, said Ernest, forgetting his intermediate trips, was the chance to rediscover the North Italian countryside, which he had seen before only from crowded military camions or through the dust goggles he had worn driving the Fiat ambulance...”

The Hemingways soon settled into their Cortina hotel, where the hotel's secretary, Mizzi Springer, told Mary and Ernest how she had lived in Australia in the 1930s, but had felt so lonely she'd returned just before the outbreak of war, a war which claimed both her son, who was killed in North Africa, and her husband, killed in Sicily. In 1944, with the retreat of the Germans, Mizzi was arrested by local guerrillas (who were crawling out of the woodwork) and thrown into prison (she had worked in an Italian Army officer's mess so was no doubt thought of as a collaborator); but with the arrival of American forces, who wanted to interview Mizzi as she had once been an interpretor, the guerrillas moved her to another prison where, late one night they shot dead thirteen Italian women prisoners, including a sixteen year old girl. Bravely, and no doubt loudly, Mizzi  told the guerillas what she thought of them, and then, unconcerned with her own safety, tried desperately to stem the bleeding from several bullet holes in the sixteen year old's chest, but without success. The 'brave' guerillas, hearing the Americans were near, now fled; only later did Mizzi realise she had been shot in the leg, and was lucky to have  been left alive. According to Mary Welsh Hemingway, when Mizzi sought medical treatment in Rome in the 1950s she told the doctors how she once met Ernest and Mary Hemingway in Cortina, and that they had become friends (the Hemingways helped her out financially too), but the doctors wouldn't believe her story until Ernest himself confirmed it in writing, insisting she be given the best treatment possible, which they did.

In October 1948 Ernest and Mary decided to rent a house in Cortina for the winter, finally settling on the 'Villa Aprile' on the outskirts with views across gently sloping hills that would give good skiing.

Then, having made all the arrangements the Hemingways headed for Venice, which, soon after arriving, Mary describes,  in her book  How It Was,  as a...

“ of exquisite bridges, the moon just after full, coming up grandly over the Grand Canal, a wonder challenge in its 'mystère' but Papa falling asleep soon after dinner, 9:30. Night is the best time to approach an unknown city, so your first explorations are in semi-darkness and mysterious. But we dined in the room and went to bed.”

They were staying in the exclusive Gritti Palace Hotel, overlooking the Grand Canal, which had, in the late 15th century been the home of the Doge of Venice, Andrea Gritti. In 1948, as now, the Gritti Palace Hotel was one of the finest hotels in the world, and described by Hemingway as “...the best hotel in a city of great hotels.” In many ways Ernest's and Mary's trip to Italy, and especially their stay in Venice, was the honeymoon they never really had at the end of the war.

And they acted like good tourists too (albeit rich and well connected), drinking in the Café Florian, where Casanova used to spent a good deal of time, visiting St Mark's, the Piazza San Marco, with Mary taking a photo of Ernest standing beside Sansovino's statue of Neptune. They even took a tourist boat trip across the lagoon, “...past Murano, the glass-blowing island, Burano, the lace island, to lunch at the inn on Torcello, owned by the Cipriani family who also owned Harry's Bar in Venice.

Being well connected also meant they went duck shooting with Nanyuki Franchetti at “his big place” on the lagoon north-east of Venice, and then back to Harry's Bar...

In chapter three of his 1950 novel, Across the River and into the Trees, Hemingway writes:

“ That was the day before yesterday. Yesterday he had driven down from Trieste to Venice along the old road that ran from Montfalcone to Latisana and across the flat country. He had a good driver and he relaxed completely in the front seat of the car and looked out at all this country he had known when he was a boy.

“ It looks quite different now, he thought. I suppose it is because the distances are all changed. Everything is much smaller when you are older. Then, too, the roads are better now and there is no dust. The only times I used to ride through it was in a camion. The rest of the times we walked. I suppose what I looked for then, was patches of shade when we fell out, and wells in farmyards. And ditches, too, he thought. I certainly looked for plenty of ditches.”

Although somewhat derided by the critics at the time, Across the River and into the Trees is not a bad book and contains some of Hemingway's best writing. Had the the novel been written as intended - as an integral part of his huge World War Two trilogy, and set elsewhere - it would have formed an invaluable part of that work - along with Islands in the Stream – but is weakened by its isolation from Islands, and Hemingway's unwritten account of his time in France in 1944, which was to form the very backbone of the trilogy. Across the River and into the Trees is also weakened by Hemingway's infatuation with a young Italian woman by the name of Adriana Ivancich.

By the winter of 1948 the Ernest and Mary were having a grand old time in Italy, and, as the opening sequence from chapter three of Across the River suggests, they had driven across the Italy that Hemingway remembered and loved from his experiences in World War One, and in many ways the aforementioned novel is so much more  a memoir of the novelist's time in that country during that first great conflict than it is that of the Colonel's experiences in World War Two, who, as a character, is based on Hemingway's friend Col Buck Lanham, who only saw service in France, Belgium and Germany, which is where the novel should have been, and was intended, to be set.

Adriana was barely nineteen when Hemingway met her, and came from an illustrious and wealthy  Italian family who established themselves in Venice shortly before the start of the 19th century, settling into their splendid palazzo in the Calle de Rimedio, which is just off the Piazza San Marco. As Carlos Baker describes her:

“ Adriana had been educated at a Catholic girls' day school in Venice and was still leading a sheltered life under the watchful eye of her widowed mother, Dora. She was of medium height, with a slender girlish build and a narrow pale face that went shadowy under her cheekbones. Her eyes were hazel, her ancestral nose was slightly hooked, and she had capable hands with which she was always drawing small cartoons and sketches. Ernest liked her soft voice, her rather ardent feminine manner, the evidences of her devout Catholicism, the fact that she was superstitious, and (not least) her dark beauty.”

Hemingway and Adriana had first met on a partridge shoot arranged one rainy Saturday afternoon on the estate of Barone Nanyuki Franchetti. Adriana had never shot before which gave Hemingway the chance to show her the rudiments of firing a shotgun. After the shoot Hemingway came across her again drying her hair in front of an open fire in the kitchen of the grand hunting lodge. Hemingway poured them both a whisky and chatted to her, apologising that she was the only woman in the party. When Adriana told Hemingway she hadn't a comb he broke his own in two handing her half of it, considering it thereafter as some form of love token.

After the shoot, with the boot of the car full of dead partridge, Hemingway drove back to Cortina and the Villa Aprile which He and Mary had rented for the winter.

Mary and Ernest spent a very quiet Christmas reading and playing cards in front of a log fire, and drinking large Bloody Marys.

The only Christmas present they had that year was a telegram from Twentieth Century Fox confirming a $45,000 sale for his short story “My Old Man”.

Although happy with Mary Hemingway couldn't get Adriana out of his head that Christmas.
Early in 1949 Ernest Hemingway managed to get Adriana out of his head long enough to do some serious writing and wrote to Charles Scribner telling him he was now hard at work again on his trilogy based around World War Two and had started on the part that covered his experiences at sea  when he used his boat Pilar as a sub hunter. He explained to Scribner that he was working slowly because his health wasn't too good, especially the constant ringing in his ears for which he had been taking medication for the last fifteen months. But he also explained that he wanted to write slowly because he wanted to write better than he had ever written before. The end result was to be Islands in the Stream, which never saw the light of day until 1970.

Hemingway was also reading a good deal, including Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions, which, as Carlos Baker describes Hemingway considered:

“...a disgraceful and ignoble book, and called its author an opportunistic coward who had never fired a shot in anger. He believed that Shaw had portrayed Mary Welsh [who had once been Shaw's lover] as a fictional girl named Louise, Leicester Hemingway [Hemingway's younger brother] as a ne'er-do-well named Keane, and himself as a character called Ahearne...”

He also read – in galley proof – the Italian anti-fascist novelist, Elio Vittorini's new book, In Sicily, for which Hemingway wrote the introduction, and a novel he admired greatly for its grittiness and utter truthfulness.

Another novelist that Hemingway had admired in the past, Upton Sinclair, met up with  Mary Hemingway at the Gritti when he visited Venice early in 1949, giving her a 'three hour diatribe', as Hemingway described it later, on how much he loved Hemingway, but who, in Lewis's opinion, had not written enough, was a snob, and had never thanked Lewis for his praise of For Whom the Bell Tolls, and that it must be dreadful for Mary being married to a genius; he then left leaving Mary to pay the bill.

When Hemingway returned from a visit to Padua, and heard of Lewis's visit he told the head waiter of the Gritti that Lewis, in Baker's words, was:

“...nothing but a Baedeker-bearing bastard with a complexion that resembled the mountains of the moon.”

which, if nothing else, proved that Hemingway was indeed a snob, finding it very hard to give praise, although it could also be said that as a man he tried desperately to hide his real feelings and as a consequence said things he didn't really mean, but was then caught in the trap of being unable to graciously withdraw a comment and apologise.

Sinclair Lewis had, at the time of his visit to Italy, in 1949, just published his novel, One-Clear-Call, the last novel of his nine novel series, The World's End, which is really a thriller – and a damned good one – about the adventures of Lanny Budd (FDR's special agent) in the period after D-Day.

Thinking about it, Hemingway's own vitriolic comments about Lewis could have something to do with Lewis's book, and that he may have felt that Lewis was somehow encroaching on Hemingway territory?

Gianfranco Ivancich was Adriana's older brother and a man Ernest Hemingway liked as much as he thought he loved Adriana, and on his return from Padua, where he'd sought some medical relief from erysipelas (an extreme skin infection that had attacked Ernest's face), he invited Adriana and Gianfranco to lunch at the Gritti Palace, which was little more than a ruse to get to see Adriana, and as Jeffrey Meyers has written in his biography of Hemingway:

“  Hemingway...saw a male version of  and vicarious substitute for Adriana. Hemingway told Adriana that he was not lonely when he was with Gianfranco, who treated him well and cheered him up when he longed for her. He revealed the incestuous overtones of his emotions when he said that both he and Gianfranco loved Adriana, but could not marry her.”

Hemingway could, at this distance, be seen as a sad and ageing man besotted by a young and extremely attractive Italian woman who – on the whole – was embarrassed by Hemingway's attentions and declarations of love, yet always acting correctly (as did Hemingway of course) and courteously to the esteemed novelist, who, she must have realised, was going through some sort of identity crises brought on by his increasing poor health and mental condition, which appears now to be akin to some form of battle fatigue brought about by his experiences in World War II – and probably the memories of World War I -  which often manifested itself in extremely angry outbursts aimed at Mary, a woman he loved dearly and respected hugely.

But Hemingway's generosity of spirit – and of the wallet  -  was always there to help Gianfranco if he could, defending him when he lost his job with a shipping company, lent him money to buy a farm, giving him money whenever he could; he even gave him the MSS of  The Old Man and the Sea (worth a small fortune today), and tried, without success, to get him a job with the production company that was filming Hemingway's novella. For Hemingway Gianfranco was the kind of person he'd always written about: the matadors and the soldiers.

Gianfranco was twenty-eight when he met Hemingway, and a man with an experience of war that  very few had encountered.

He had served as an officer with an Italian armoured regiment commanded by General Rommel that fought at El Alamein in 1942. He was wounded in that battle and, luckily, managed to get aboard the last Red Cross that sailed from North Africa before it fell to the American's and British. With the fall of Italy Gianfranco changed sides and joined the newly formed American Army intelligence unit, the OSS (Hemingway's son Jack would also serve in the OSS) serving as the officer-in-charge of partisan operations in the Veneto region.

Towards the end of the war Gianfranco was captured by criminal elements working within the Italian partisan movement for the purpose of holding him to ransom. But he managed to escape only to see his family's estates mistakenly flattened by American bombers.

He was the ideal hero for a Hemingway novel.

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