“If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy. But since I am not, I do not care.”
― Ernest Hemingway,
No trip to Cuba could possibly be undertaken without familiarising myself with Hemmingway’s works. As an English student (ie. in all senses of the phrase; I am English (mostly) and I have studied the English language both academically and simply for pleasure… perhaps that qualifies me as crazy before we start!), I should have read some of his works. Hemmingway is recognised as one of the greats in literary terms; Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for literature aren’t just handed out, willy-nilly or else they wouldn’t be worth the toil, now would they?
I am slightly ashamed to find that in spite of being really fairly well-read (if any of those Internet-based questionnaires are to be believed at least), until recently I have never even opened a single page of Hemmingway’s. Shakespeare; I’ve read most or large parts at least of 21 of the 37 plays definitely written by him; Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, William Golding, Aldous Huxley, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, E. M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, D.H.Lawrence and of course, J.K. Rowling… as well as very many others, I have read. With great enjoyment, I learned to read at a very early age and it has remained a favoured pastime of mine since I could hold a book in my hand.
So I was, on the one hand, appalled to find that my reading of worthy American novelists is so sadly lacking, whilst on the other hand, this meant that I had a whole new wealth of material to explore.
I started by Googling (of course, I could have Binged, but that doesn’t sound so much fun…) Hemmingway and was instantly fascinated by such a magnificent, larger than life character that takes up simply oodles of Internet space. His life is so interesting, I got lost for days before my holiday even began, just sifting through all the biographies, theories and opinions about this remarkable writer’s life and his substantial body of work.
I decided that I needed to start reading some of his actual writing before I became bogged down with other people’s opinions of the work.
(Cue drum roll please…!)
A list was drawn up. (Ching! (That’s the hi-hat))
It was waa-haa-haaayy too long! I’d be reading for months! Not that the prospect concerned me of course, but we were only going to actually be IN Cuba for two weeks, so I had to prioritise. The rest can be read later, at leisure.
I KNOW that holidays are the very definition of leisure! I’m not completely cuckoo!
I needed to download my reading list onto my Kindle before we went as we couldn’t be sure about the availability or reliability of the Internet once we had set off, so there was an element of urgency about my endeavour. Which should I choose?
Of course, The Old Man and the Sea sat firmly in pole position.
“Now is no time to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do with that there is”
― Ernest Hemingway,
I also added ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘To Have and Have Not’ and the posthumously published ‘Islands in the Stream’, the latter largely because it made me think of the wonderful Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ duet with the same title. I had heard of the others too, which always helps when choosing I think.
But it was The Old man and the Sea that grabbed my attention and no sooner were we settled into our new vacation home (a four-star holiday complex in Guardalavaca, on Cuba’s north-facing coastline, looking out to the Bahamas across the North Atlantic Ocean – although it is decidedly Caribbean-like at this point), I settled down on a beach-side lounger, drinking in the exquisite blue of the sea, Kindle in one hand, tropical cocktail in the other.
For your delectation, I am including some visuals, to help you get the idea…
So, I thought I would read for an hour or so then take a nap and then maybe eat something and then rinse and repeat.
I wasn’t expecting to be quite so enthralled by the story!
“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
― Ernest Hemingway,
It is quite the most gripping tale, a literally un-put-downable story of survival, all played out under the very same sky I was looking at. The main character, the Old Man (named Santiago) decides to take his tiny fishing boat (called a ‘skiff’) right out into the Gulf stream, alone, in order to try to break his dreadful run of bad luck, termed ‘salao’, which has lasted for eighty-four long days.
The epic battle with his quarry, an eighteen-foot-long marlin with more than enough spirit to struggle legendarily, that ensues over the following three days is simply awesome in the truest sense of that word. The loneliness of the two, fisherman and fish, forever linked by bait and rod, is empathically described, with Santiago showing true compassion for his adversary, frequently referring to it as his brother: “I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.” Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. . . . Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. . . . There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.”
― Ernest Hemingway,
The story’s resolution is not what one might hope for the mightiness of the struggle that has been undertaken, but it is ultimately fitting. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet (in spite of this seeming to be my forte at the moment – whilst Facetiming my granddaughter I accidentally revealed that Anakin becomes good at the end… I genuinely didn’t realise I was giving the plot away there!) because I can genuinely say this was more than worth the time invested.
I found myself welling up with huge, fat tears of affinity with this pair of souls. I wanted them to find peace. I like to think that they did, for who could not in this beautiful paradise?
Thanks for reading… there is more to come from our trip to Cuba when we ventured out of the hotel compound and into the extraordinary countryside and second city that is Santiago Di Cuba. Adios!