28 November 2007

Ernest Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream"

The modern incarnation of the eternal El Floridita in Havana, Cuba

When I was younger, I read Hemingway's Islands in the Stream for the fishing stories, local-Caribbean-color narratives and the crisp Hemingway prose. Now, upon rereading it after setting it aside for a decade, I find depth and solace in the struggles of the older men. Struggles with loneliness, death, lost love, duty, and facing life with half a century behind them.

The bar pictured above is a setting in the middle section of the three movement novel that is the book: I. Bimini, II. Cuba, and III. At Sea. (The fourth book in this series was separated and became the novella The Old Man and the Sea.)

As I read, Hemingway alter ego Thomas Hudson and I are in the car right now, dressed and ready to travel from the Finca Vigia to Havana, with a long stop at El Floridita -- (Wikipedia: .... El Floridita, also renowned for its Hemingway associations [read one of his regular bars], claims to be the “birthplace of the daiquiri.) Papa Hemingway had his frozen daiquiris as doubles without sugar. The bartender, as a matter of bar policy, would leave the shaker with the customer. It contained another drink and a half.

When Papa was slumming it in Key West, he hung out at Capt. Tony's -- not the current location of Sloppy Joe's. In Havana he could get "uptown" past the slums, to the Gold Coast if you will, at El Floridita in the mid-1940's. There were old friends to see, some to avoid -- great old stories to be told and new rum-induced anarchistic toasts to be made. The things we fill our lives with, in war, to make them seem worth living. And then she walks in -- love and death and learning to handle both.

As you could not escape The War in Rick's Cafe' Americain in Casablanca, you cannot escape World War II even at El Floridita. In the end, Hemingway teaches here that all that's left is duty. Truly.


whiteray said...

Man, maybe I was too young when I read it, but I found this one intolerable. I suppose I should give it another go, but (and this is sacrilege for a writer, I suppose), Hemingway doesn't do a damn thing for me. My flaw, not his, I'm sure, but there you are.

Paco Malo said...

Two perspectives on why the glass is half full: one, when I tried to impress my future father-in-law once (he was a classics professor with tenure) by making a Hemingway reference, he called Hemingway an "over-rated pamphleteer".

Another: I like Sly Stone's take better, "Different strokes, for different folks."