Chasing Hemingway A novelBy Terin Tashi Miller
`The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry...’
-Ernest Hemingway, in A Farewell To Arms, 1929
‘For everything gained, something is lost.’
-Alex Haley, in conversation, 1990
“We should go to Prague,” Jack Gordon said to me.
We were sitting on the terraza along Paseo de Recolettos, across the boulevard from Café Gijon.
“Prague?” I said. “Why Prague?”
“Everyone’s there,” he said. “It’s going to be the new Paris.”
I knew what he’d meant. I’d been searching for ‘The Vortex’ since starting college in a very small town in central Wisconsin and reading “A Moveable Feast.” I’d been searching ever since then for my Paris of the 1920s, my city with enough activity and cheap enough foreign exchange to live, and therefore drink, well enough to be able to become an artist, the real thing, a true writer like my hero.
“We can drink Absinthe there,” Jack said, taking a sip from his cold Mahou beer in a glass at our usual table under the shade of the poplar trees planted along that part of Gijon’s terazza.
“We can drink Absinthe here,” I said. “Like we do every Friday night at Casa Puebla. What do you think the bartender keeps looking seriously at you for every time he pours an ice-filled snifter full from the Ricard bottle?”
“Yeah, but I bet the ‘real’ stuff is in Prague. That’s what everyone’s doing – they’re going to Prague and drinking Absinthe and creating and they’re all going to be rich and famous and here we are, stuck in Madrid, the backwater of Europe.”
I sipped from my glass of Mahou, so cold that Spring day the condensation appeared on the side of the glass so it sweat on our coasters.
“Besides,” Jack said, “at Casa Puebla, the bartender’s pants are so tight you can see how hard his buns are – and I don’t think he’s warning me about the Ricard, if you catch my drift.”
I took another sip, looking into my glass, hiding my smile.
“There are no bullfights in Prague,” I said.
“Damn right,” Jack said. He was not what you’d call a bullfighting fan. True bullfighting fans, I’d learned, rarely root for the bulls.
“So, there you go,” I said. “You go to Prague. I’ve got to stay here.”
I had gotten to the point where I had been seeking ‘The Vortex,’ the place to live and write and to be recognized for it by the likes of Maxwell Perkins, F. Scott or at least Gertrude Stein. But it hadn’t yet sunk in that they were all dead, and the Vortex drew everyone together – everyone didn’t draw everyone else together.Madrid was supposed to be my Paris. It was supposed to be where I’d write something so well, I’d be published and could devote my life to fiction and writing about things I’d learned, things I cared about. But I hadn’t learned that much, I didn’t care that much. Not yet.Ernest Hemingway wrote in an introduction to a collection of his short stories once that Madrid “was always a good place for working,” as were Paris, Key West and Cuba in the cool months. “Some of the other places were not so good,” he’d said, “but maybe we were not so good when we were in them.”I had learned the first part – where are good places to think and learn and write. I had not understood the second part until many years later, after Madrid had become but a memory.
Jack Gordon went to Prague. As far as I know, he’s still there. I say as far as I know, because Prague, like Paris in the 1920s, like all ‘Vortexes,’ had the ability to absorb people’s dreams, to make them into Absinthe hounds who found the work, the effort of actually creating, especially something new, far more taxing than just drinking Absinthe, having those vivid, technicolor, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh dreams.
From the third section:
One morning when I came in early to do some work, as usual he was there – getting a start on the morning bond comment and foreign exchange comments, as he had since I’d helped him with them the year before.
But this morning, he was sitting at his desk staring at a pile of paper that appeared to be bills. Sitting back in his chair, then leaning forward to scrutinize the paper more closely, then sitting back again.
He’d opened the office on time, as usual, and gotten some of the early work done. He was very accountable and self-disciplined that way, and I appreciated it. But this day his mind was definitely elsewhere.
“What’s up?” I said, trying to sound as casual and interested as I did every morning since he’d started early for me.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it,” he said, staring at the bills.
“The phone calls.”
“What phone calls? You get charged by Telefonica for calls you didn’t make?”
“No,” he said, his nervous laugh starting up as he leaned back in his chair again. There was a roughness to the laugh, like it was close to tears. “Kathleen. She’s been having an affair.”
“There’s all these calls to Germany. I never noticed before. I can’t believe I was such a cuckold.”
Reading too much Balzac or Zola will do that to you, I thought. Cause you to use a Victorian term when a Yiddish one will do.
“They could be mistakes – “
He looked at me. Now I could see the tears in his eyes. Years after having crossed into adulthood I could still never figure out what men could do to help other men who needed to cry. With children, you hold them and let them cry and wipe their tears and try to make them laugh. With men, you’re just embarrassed for them, and hope a joke will shut off the water valve before you’re forced to acknowledge you’ve seen it.
My father used to get ‘weepy-eyed,’ or what he called ‘misty,’ watching some movies. He’d also claim something had fallen into his eye. I’d thought he was just weak, and old, and too sentimental. Once, his eyes started tearing as he listened to the song ‘Skylark.’ I asked him for details so I could understand him better, and all he said to me was “that was a long time ago. It reminded me of somebody I knew a long time ago. It was before I met your mother.”
Before he met my mother, I knew, had been a long time ago.
The last time I saw my father cry, he and my mother had received a phone call from the nursing home where my grandmother was being taken care of. The nursing home was saying my father’s mother had lost continence – control of her bowels and bladder. I’d been visiting and heard the whole thing on my parent’s speaker phone –their preferred way to listen to calls together.
That night, his lower eye lids looking dark and baggy, my father volunteered to take their Lhasa Apso puppy for a walk even though it was cold outside. They’d had Apso puppies since picking up a pair from friends in India, Tibetans whose dogs had puppies.
My father looked at me, I saw his eyes well up, he rubbed his bulbous red nose, sniffed, and left. I often wondered if it would have made a difference if he’d had known he would die before his mother.
I gave Roy the rest of the day off. I gave him the rest of the week off. I explained I thought it best if, as he was dealing with his personal crisis, I came in early and I saw and edited again his stuff before it went out, for his good as well as the bureau’s. He agreed and left. Kathleen was in Germany with her boyfriend for the week anyway.
Causes Terin Miller Supports
Civil and Human Rights.
Amnesty International; March of Dimes; Operation Smile; Medicines Sin Fronteras; UNICEF