Friday, June 10, 2011

Hemingway, drunk as a skunk

I just came upon this bizarre audio of Ernest Hemingway in today's Corriere. In it, Hemingway declaims a fanciful presentation of his upcoming book, Across the River and into the Trees, making role reversals and adding funny details such as the 18-year-old Colonel swimming off into the sunset from Venice to Chioggia. Hemingway shows himself to be a true americano, exhibiting the almost congenital inability of Americans to pronounce the Italian ch- as a k. Despite the noted example of "Chianti," with which I'm sure the author was (very) familiar.

The actual book has been trounced repeatedly by both critics and public over the years, but I think it's underrated. It is semi-autobiographical and based on the married Hemingway's love? infatuation? for the 18-year-old Venetian Adriana Ivancich. The story tells of a dying 50-year-old American colonel's last days in Venice and the lagoon. The colonel, like the author himself, had been in the region during the First World War, and notices the changes both in the world and in himself, none of them good.

While imperfect, I consider this essential for anyone who is really interested in "Ernesto," who called himself an "old Veneto boy." Those who know and love Venice will appreciate his true affection for the city, and the little scenes such as when the crusty, hardened officer goes to the Rialto market and carefully picks out what he wants, shucking an oyster along the way (if memory serves me). His pride in his knowledge of Venice is shown in the clip with the ironic statement that he will describe the city as soon as he consults his guidebook, the Baedeker.