Wednesday, March 4, 2009


#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.


Anonymous said...

Very unique blog.
Fantastic pictures.
I like your blog.

Please visit:

Keep blogging.
Good luck.

Jackie said...

Love, love that vision of the muttering, diligent Hemingway. Ernest was always such a charmer.

I haven't read A Moveable Feast. (The secret's out now.) Maybe I'll give it a try. I think I never picked it up because like you, I am not particularly enamored by his novels and didn't imagine his memoir to be any different.

I admit, however, that the short story "Cat in the Rain" makes me cry. And that more than once, I've had the nearly perfect teaching experience of sharing "Hills Like White Elephants" with students who had never before heard of the "earnest Ernest" you describe.

Balzac! 50 cups of coffee!

mislypoe- a kiss, occurring beneath the branch of a tree which contains a raven

Therese Cox said...

Jackie, Hemingway's one of those writers - you know, those "last name only" writers - who I didn't feel like approaching for a long time. A Moveable Feast makes him so human. The descriptions of his interactions with Gertrude Stein are hilarious, and it's oddly refreshing to see one of those Great Writers struggling with self-doubt. Mostly I love his day-to-day descriptions of life in Paris and how he writes. (Those mutterings, by the way, are almost verbatim from the book.) Let me know if you pick it up!

Yes, I like my blog too.
My blog is very unique.
I will keep blogging. Yes.

detire - the conscious decision to put an end to one's longing for a person, place, or thing

Ray Gunn said...

Jackie, A Movable Feast is not only good in its own right, but can also serve as a fairly reliable map of Paris. I tested this myself the frist time I visited. Interesting to discover that Hemingway of all people was fond of taking the scenic route from point A to point B.

eptating - going through a period of vascillation between competence and ignorance

(deleted comment was mine; I found a typo!)

Anonymous said...

'When I travel to Dublin, I always stay in the same hotel and ask for a room on the fourth floor.'

I think you mean '*with* the same hotel...'.


Therese Cox said...

So, Ray, what's your verdict on Mr. Hemingway's choice of spelling? I noticed you vetoed him when you wrote "Movable". Conscious?

Robt, I meant to say WITH!

OK, for those of you who aren't Hemingwayed out, I'm going to tell my famous Hemingway joke. The only problem is, I have to tell it in reverse because you already have the punchline. Here's the lead-in:

Q: What did Ernest Hemingway have in his lunchbox?

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Julie said...

diligent and vigilant ... not two words that I realised were applicable. Shall have to revisit.

When I was 13 I had a previous primary school teacher drag me protesting into new reading horizons with (in) "Farewell to Arms".

WV = slucket