Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hemmingway: The Old Man and the Desert

I recently watched the movie, Hemmingway & Gellhorn, which had been on my to-do list since its debut in 2012. I was reminded of the movie after writing a blog post about my 2009 trip to Cuba where I was fortunate to get a private tour of Ernest Hemmingway’s home in Havana.

I enjoyed the movie and, no surprise, I particularly appreciated the scenes of Hemmingway and Martha Gellhorn at the Havana home they shared.
Ernest Hemmingway's home in Havana 2009
The movie also renewed my curiosity about a rumor I encountered while researching my family history. I never took the rumor seriously because it seemed so incredulous. As the story goes, Ernest Hemmingway once stayed for a period of time in the tiny western New Mexico village of Cubero. Of course, Cubero means something to me because my Grandpa Louie was born and raised in the village near Grants. Generations of my maternal Chavez ancestors were among the original settlers of Cubero.

I figured it was possible that Hemmingway could have stopped over in Cubero in the early 1950s. But I can’t bring myself to believe the claim that Hemmingway wrote his famous short novel, The Old Man and the Sea, from the desert Southwest. When I was in Cuba, it was a thrill to see a copy of the classic book on the shelves of Hemmingway’s bedroom in Havana. I can’t imagine he would have written The Old Man and the Sea any place other than Havana.
Cubero, NM 2011

Over the years, others have explored the rumor about Hemmingway and Cubero. A local blogger went to Cubero on a fact-finding mission in 2009. A resident of Clovis wrote about the rumor in a 1996 edition of the Hemingway Newsletter, a publication of the Hemingway Society. In the footnotes, Kathy Willingham says he couldn’t find any evidence that Hemmingway visited New Mexico, much less stayed in Cubero. “Either the biographers have missed something or New Mexico has some of the best liars,” she wrote.

While I don't claim to have done extensive research on a visit to Cubero, I can say with certainty that he did, indeed, visit New Mexico, thanks to a friend at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives. After a quick search of newspapers, she discovered that Hemmingway visited Santa Fe from Sun Valley, Idaho in February 1948 – four years before he published The Old Man and the Sea, most likely in Havana. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome movie!

    A novel takes a long time to write. In assisting several authors over the years, I know this to be true. Five years is a short amount of time for an author to develop a worthy manuscript. I really think Hemingway was working on the manuscripts for Across the River and Through the Trees (1950) as well as Old Man and the Sea (1952) when he visited New Mexico in 1948. I believe both novels symbolically reflect his personal medical problems. By the time he visited New Mexico, he was already suffering from impotence due to an injury sustained in France (1944).

    Hemingway mastered the iceberg theory, and so his themes remain hidden or symbolic. Since he was always handsome and considered a "manly man," the psychologic impact of impotence is clearly reflected in his works. Intentionally or subconsciously incorporating phallic symbols into his works probably made him feel manly, when he felt he had lost all manliness. He visited New Mexico in 1948. New Mexico is dry and may have appeared barren to someone accustomed to the lush fluidity of the sea. He probably felt how New Mexico looked...old, dry, cracked or worn. At the most basic level of symbolic interpretation...wet and dry, this represents youth and old age. He knew he was aging and it made him feel like he was less of a man. If you look at the image on the cover of Across the River and Into the Trees (1950), it is a phalic symbol going down in flames. The book is about the love of a young woman and death.

    I think Hemingway did visit Cubero and maybe other New Mexican towns in 1948. The dry land probably helped him or inspired him to create his best novel~ Old Man and the Sea (1952). He didn't need to be in Cuba to appreciate the lush days of his youth. The memories were there. Being in New Mexico probably reminded him he was getting old. It is dry and dusty here. Remember...Santiago (the lead character) is an aging fisherman who is struggling with an enormously strong marlin (phallic symbol) from the sea. He also befriended a young man. Maybe the marlin was young as well? At one point in the book, Santiago, the old man has dreams about being young again. He dreams manly dreams about lions on an African beach.

    I am positive that his last few books (published while he was alive), are a symbolic look into his personal problems with sexuality. How can you miss and appreciate the fluid sexuality of manly youth (the waters of Cuba), without experiencing the dry desolation of old age (the desert of New Mexico). He came here to write just as so many other writers have and continue to do. During the 20s, 30s and 40s, artist and writing colonies were popular. Here are a few interesting quotes from Old Man and the Sea. One may serve as evidence of his visit to New Mexico. The others touch on his sexual and psychological struggles as an aging man.

    "The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert."

    "He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor his wife. He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. They played like young cats and he loved them as he loved the boy."

    "He always thought of the sea as la mar which is what people call her in Spanish when they love her. Sometimes those who love her say bad things of her but they are always said as though she were a woman."