Feliz HemingDay!


(photo via Brazos Bookstore)

Tomorrow (July 21st) is Ernest Hemingway’s 114th birthday. Which means that right now in Key West the annual Hemingway Days festival is going on, highlighted by the world-renowned Sloppy Joe’s Hemingway lookalike contest. If you want to celebrate, but want to stay a little closer to home, Houston’s wonderful Brazos Bookstore is celebrating HemingDay today from 2:00-8:00. Appropriately, the festivities start with cocktails from Down House in the Heights.

The Key West celebration plays a part in the book I’m reading right now, Catalan novelist Enrique Vila-Matas‘ 2003 novel París no se acaba nunca. It starts:

«Fui a Key West, Florida, y me inscribí en la edición de este año del tradicional concurso de dobles del escritor Ernest Hemingway. La competición tuvo lugar en Sloppy Joe’s, el bar favorito del escritor cuando vivía en Cayo Hueso, en el extremo sur de Florida. No es necesario decir que presentarse a ese concurso–repleto de hombres robustos, de mediana edad y con poblada barba canosa, idénticos todos a Hemingway, idénticos incluso en su vertiente más estúpida–es una experiencia única.»

[I went to Key West in Florida this year to enter the annual Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest. The competition took place at Sloppy Joe’s, the writer’s favorite bar when he lived in Cayo Hueso, at the southern tip of Florida. It goes without saying that entering this contest–full of sturdy, middle-aged men with full gray beards, all identical to Hemingway, identical right down to the stupidest detail–is a unique experience.]

The narrator (who shares the author’s name) thinks that years of drinking and fattening himself up have made him look like Papa H, but he’s quickly thrown out of the contest for his «absolute lack of physical resemblance to Hemingway.» It becomes a running joke–despite the firm objections of his wife and friends, the author/narrator keeps insisting he looks like Hemingway.

The musings of this older, fatter narrator/author frame his recollections of a period in the 1970s when, as a very young man, he went to Paris to live the writing life that he saw described in A Moveable Feast. It’s a short, comic meditation on, among other things, the ways that literary personas shape our ideas of what literature is supposed to be. The narrator says that he doesn’t even really like Hemingway’s writing, but there he is in Paris, trying to be Hemingway.

By the way, Vila-Matas is a founding member of La Orden del Finnegans, a lighthearted group of writers that meets in Dublin every year to celebrate Bloomsday in tribute to James Joyce. So he would definitely approve of you raising a glass to Hemingway this weekend. And his novel (which was translated into English by Anne McClean in 2011) offers a nice literary way to think about the impact, good and bad, the big guy has had on contemporary writing. Because haven’t we all worn out our copies of A Farewell to Arms and A Moveable Feast?

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