#63, Stresa, Italy
In the lobby of the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees in Stresa, Italy, this 63 caught my eye. The hotel was a favorite of Hemingway's and while I wasn't staying there, I was curious to check it out. Hemingway stayed here for the first time in 1918 and continued to visit for various stretches of time all the way through the 1950s. Like many writers, he had his habits and preferences. Friedrich von Schiller would inhale rotten apples to get the muse going. Balzac drank fifty cups of coffee a day. Stendhal would read two or three pages of the French civil code before sitting down to work each day on The Charterhouse of Parma. And when Hemingway was in Italy, he always stayed in Room 106 of the Iles Borromees where he could gaze out at the blue waters of Lake Maggiore. It was fun to invoke the thought that shortly after walking over this mosaic floor, Hemingway ordered a stiff drink, absently dropped a few wooden pencil shavings to the floor, had one of his "Damn you, you dirty phony martyr" inspirational self-talks, then set to work diligently, vigilantly, on A Farewell to Arms.
My favorite work of Hemingway's, maybe surprisingly, isn't his fiction. I love the short stories. I'm lukewarm about the novels. But it's A Moveable Feast, his memoir of life in Paris in the 1920s, that really makes my mouth water for more. While reading up elsewhere on earnest Ernest, I came across a website with a small but delicious collection of one writer's investigations into various "literary locations" throughout the world. The piece on Hemingway in Italy is definitely worth a read. Also included in the dozen or so pieces are Virginia Woolf's London, the Brownings' Florence, and Stephen King's Maine. My only wish is that there were more.
The writer in me understands the need for both adventure and stability. A change of environment does the soul good, but so does the comfort of old haunts. When I travel to Dublin, I always stay in the same hotel and ask for a room on the fourth floor. I ask for a room that is north-facing so I can gaze out each morning onto the Grand Canal. The statue of Patrick Kavanagh sits eternally on his arse bench just across the road, so even when I'm alone, there's always company. There's no posh mosaic floor, but the beds are comfy and the hotel bar makes a good hot port. It's a place where I can clear my head and where I can focus on my writing, which is no small thing. As habits go, you could certainly do worse.