Monday, July 11, 2011

A Day Hemingway

The shower after dawn lasts until just after six until the clouds give way to the rising sun.  Left behind from the rain is a coolness to the morning air, welcome before the heat of the day sets in.

Most mornings, even in the early hours, foot traffic is heavy by the water.  People setting up umbrellas and chairs, picking the finest spots.  Today, though, because of the rain, the beach is nearly empty. 

Glassed water stretches into the blue-gray horizon.  No waves lap the shore.  The water merely breathes, inhaling and exhaling against the wet sand. 

I’ve been reading A MOVEABLE FEAST by Earnest Hemingway.  It’s a great insight into the artistic culture of Paris in the mid-twenties.  Everyone interested in the connection between prose and place should read this book, if not only for Hemingway’s anecdote about a trip to the statues of the Louvre to ensure F. Scott Fitzgerald that his member was of sufficient size. 

Who knew the museum was good for sexual psychology?

            Somehow, reading Hemingway draws me into his world.  I think of THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and wonder about his life in Key West.  Memories of my visit to his house strain for clarity.

            In effect, I become this sort of Hemingway fanboy.

            What can I say?  I love the classics.

            This unhealthy infatuation of the famous author’s real adventures inspires one of my own.  Granted, I’m no Santiago.  And I don’t have a boat, so really a poor man’s adventure at most.  I do, however, have one of those twenty dollar rafts that sort of look like a boat and come with paddles.  It will do.

With an old beat-up rod and several diced raw shrimp for bait, I set out into the tranquil gulf.  After about thirty minutes of paddling, I’m a good fifty or so yards past the second sandbar.  Far enough that people look like ants on the shore.  Far enough to be in trouble if my dingy of a raft springs a leak.

Within minutes I’ve got a hook over the side.  Bait fish are thick, feeding off animals hiding in the sargassum.  The water, a crystal clear emerald, is perfectly visible twenty feet down.  My first visitors are two tarpon, each as long as my makeshift fishing vessel.  I cast my line at them, not contemplating the disaster of actually hooking one.  Luckily, they are more interested in the skip jack swarming.  The tarpon take after the smaller fish, jumping and leaping from the water in their hunt.

Half an hour later, I’m approached by a green turtle.  It’s cautious at first, perhaps even worried, moving slow and deliberately.  Curious eyes study me and quickly decide I’m no threat.  I toss a few bits of shrimp in the water and as soon as I turn my head, there is a splash and the bait has disappeared.  I’m not sure if the turtle ate it or if it was one of the remora that was tagging along on its shell. 

Soon my line spins out of the spool and the rod bends toward the water.  The reel is old and half-broken, and takes me longer than it should to pull in my catch – a small jack flapping wildly at the top of the water.  I unhook the poor animal and set him free. As soon as I do, I see my third visitor. 

The dark, almost slithering body is worrisome enough, but what gives me alarm is the square shape of the block snout and the long tail.  It’s deep, but large.  Probably a ten foot shark.  The earlier presence and behavior of the turtle now suggests that it might be a tiger.

As it swims into the darker water, I decide my little raft, with its collection of bait shrimp juice spilling into the water, could also be described as a chum bucket.  I paddle my way back to shore.

After a stern scolding on the intelligence of ocean exploration in a child’s raft, my wife and I spend the evening walking the streets of Ruskin Place Art Colony at Seaside.  It is a small square that looks stolen from Paris, France. 

Little boutiques art galleries and clothing stores line up, one after another, like Red Bird Gallery or the aptly named An Apartment in Paris art gallery. 

I think of Hemingway’s time in Paris where he rubbed elbows with artists and talked about writing with authors at street side cafes, and wonder what that experience did for his writing.

            He would have liked it here, too.

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