Ernest Hemingway is one of those writers in which he writes for the common man; there are no lofty words or “higher planes of existence” in his books. His descriptions are simple and to the point and yet they carry such a weight that it is almost easy to forget that you are merely reading the book instead of actually listening to him speak. My first dance with Hemingway was the book The Sun Also Rises; immediately, I wanted to pack up a bag and fly to Paris to see if I too would experience Paris in that same way. Would I, as a writer, come to love (and loathe) the City of Lights like he did? Would I also be able to stomach watching a bullfight in Spain as he did?
So, it came as no surprise to me, then, when I began reading A Moveable Feast years later that I fell in love with not only his words but also Paris and the Lost Generation all over again. Here we see Hemingway, or Hemi as people called him, along with his first wife Hadley and their son living in Paris and living the life of a poor but artistically inclined family. Along the way, he meets up and drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his insane wife Zelda, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others while walking through the streets, writing furiously at cafes while eating at a bare minimum, and living the life of a true expatriate. There was not one moment wasted in his life; he saw fit to do whatever whenever he liked for it was all part of why he was in Paris.
After devouring the book in one day, I found myself wondering just why reading Hemingway during this time was profoundly different than when I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer a couple of months ago. I first read Miller when I was in university, wide eyed and bushytailed, eager to take on the world while reading everything I could get my hands on. Miller was a writer who pushed the envelope to the edge then, with a wink and a smile, threw it over without giving a damn if anyone cared enough to look. I admired him and his frank words; he explored every possible sensation while living as a poor writer in Paris and it seemed to never be enough. However, when I read it again many years later, I found myself not being able to finish it. Why? The words were the same, the manuscript had not changed, so why was it that I could not go beyond 70 pages of Miller while I devoured Hemingway in one night? Both lived in Paris around the same time; both were writers; both loved and hated the city. There may not be an exact answer but I do know this: Hemingway’s words flowed smoothly across my brain like a cool glass of water, even when he talked about certain subjects such as trying to explain to Fitzgerald that size does not matter, only how a man uses it, or when he consistently and humourously insults a literary critic while sitting in a café. While Miller was, as I discovered later, like running through a rocky patch of road that somehow still felt pretty good to do, Hemingway was like sailing on a lake with a bump every now and then. I felt I could understand Hemingway better now that I am older and more “seasoned” than when I was in my 20s and had no idea just what I wanted to be when I grew up. Perhaps that is what Miller felt as well when he wrote his tomes of excellence, for they are still wonderful books that perhaps I shall try to read again later down my own road of life. For now, however, let me sit in a quiet café in Paris, sipping on a cup of tea or perhaps something stronger, and watch a young man two tables away from me furiously write out his words in a journal, watching him pour his very essence into what would later become his gifts to the world – “I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”