Although he was a philanderer, an alcoholic, and often not a very good father, strictly from a traveler’s perspective, Ernest Hemingway is my idol. I read my first ever book of his, A Farewell to Arms, in middle school and often tried to imagine the landscapes he painted with his words. Two favorites were the war-torn fields of the Italian countryside and the peaceful serenity at Lake Maggiore in Switzerland where the book’s characters Frederich and Catherine travel after fleeing the Italian carabinieri (authorities). When dining at El Sobrino de Botin, a famous restaurant off the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain, I could feel Brett and Jake, two main characters from Hemingway’s novel about bullfighting, The Sun Also Rises, alongside me, feasting on cochinillio asado-roast suckling pig (the characaters dine there at the end of the book). I could also envision Hemingway himself there during the 1930s when he covered the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent.
Hemingway was born at a time when most Americans didn’t travel, let alone go on multiple safaris in Africa. It was sub-Saharan Africa that served as the inspiration for his novels and short stories-Green Hills of Africa and The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other Stories. He grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and left there as soon as he could. I actually visited Oak Park last year on a trip to Chicago and found it charming. (Oak Park boasts another famous son, architect Frank Lloyd Wright; his house and studio are there.) Yes, it had a small town feel but it was still less than a 30 minute ride on the L to downtown Chicago. However, at the turn of the last century, America was a decidedly different place from what it is now and I could see Hemingway feeling stifled by the conservative, middle-class society he grew up in. After graduating from high school, Hemingway left Oak Park and volunteered with the Red Cross, serving as an ambulance driver on the Italian Front during the First World War. It was this experience that provided the inspiration for A Farewell to Arms.
It’s in Paris, though, where I feel Hemingway’s spirit is most strongly felt. He first came to the City of Light in 1921 after being hired as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. There are countless buildings and cafes in Paris that are associated with him, as he was not one to sit in a small, cold in the winter, hot in the summer, apartment. On the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the Latin Quarter at number 74, visitors can see where Hemingway first called home after arriving in Paris with his first wife Hadley and their son. Although life there was short of idyllic due to constantly being poor and without money for food and heat, Hemingway had all of Paris at his beckon call. Most importantly, it was Paris that introduced him to some of the 20th century literary greats including Gertrude Stein, who lived nearby on the Rue de Fleurs. Stein would serve as his mentor for many years until they parted ways due to “artistic disagreements.”
Hemingway often frequented places like Brasserie Lipp and La Closeries des Lilas in the 6th Arrondissement, both to socialize and to write. The Musee du Luxembourg was a favorite spot of his to visit, admiring the works of Matisse and Cezanne, along with strolling through the gardens when he was done. It was even rumored that on occasion Hemingway went “hunting” in the gardens for pigeons when money for food was scarce.
Key West, Florida, Cuba, and Idaho would also become home for Hemingway before he committed suicide in 1961. It’s his home in Cuba, Finca Vigia, that I would love to see should complete tourist access between the United States and Cuba ever be fully restored. Finca Vigia, or Lookout Farm as it is known in English, was built in the late 19th century and is located about 15 miles from the capital of Havana. It was here that he wrote much of For Whom the Bells Toll, a novel set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, as well as his most popular work, The Old Man and the Sea.
Considering that Hemingway didn’t enjoy financial success and popularity until later in his life, he’s a testament to the fact that you don’t always need deep pockets to see the world. He saw and experienced more places than most people can only dream about visiting. From a tourist standpoint, Hemingway was a man ahead of his time.