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Hemingway and I The writer, who originally hails from Lucania, but has lived in Puglia for a very long time, tells how Ernest Hemingway became a character in his latest novel, Fernanda e gli elefanti bianchi di Hemingway by Raffaele Nigro
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Ernest Hemingway in Africa with his son, Gregory. Courtesy of Gregory Hemingway

      For many years Fernanda Pivano and I had been part of the Piero Chiara Prize Jury, a non-original short story festival planned by the city of Varese.  Michele Prisco, the Jury President, Gino Montesanto, Tano Citeroni and Federico Roncoroni were also with us. We all used to hang out together several times a year and during our work breaks we would talk about everything.  Nanda, what we use to call Pivano, would tell us about her American buddies –writers whose books she had translated into Italian. One of them was Hemingway.  She told me about their friendship and a deep crisis he had faced at one point during his life.  A crisis somewhat related to his personality, his past life as well as to the passions he had been overcome by.  Ernest reminded me so much of a titan who wants to live in the midst of history, or rather, right at its genesis.  And someone with that attitude will always be dealing with events and making history.
       Thus, with this image of Hemingway in my mind and because I had in me a certain urge for chasing life, to some extent I felt really close to the American writer, whose desires and anxiety where perfectly summarized by an old Vasco Rossi’hit song, Vita spericolata.
       In 2005, during one of my Campiello Prize trips to Venezia, I had lunch in a Giudecca restaurant. The innkeeper spent some time talking to me and Annamaria Drugman about some of his guests who were writers and remembering the various times Hemingway had eaten there.  One or two times, he told us, he had seen him sitting in the rain, on a step, with a bottle of whisky in his hand.  How sad he felt to see a man so wealthy and fortunate career wise, beaten by the quirks of life. We tried to find some plausible explanations. We mentioned a living demon in his family, the same one responsible for much grief and trouble, the one who led to the death of his gorgeous grand-daughter, Margot.
       These thoughts began slowly to take shape in my mind until I came up with a plot in which Ernest Hemingway turned out to be the main character of my novel, sort of stepping into my shoes.  In it, Ernest would come to Italy around the mid of the Fifties as one of Fernanda Pivano’s guests, to take part in a very special hunt. Fernanda had heard from Ernesto De Martino that in south Italy, between Apulia, Calabria and Lucania, mammoth still existed and were hunted.  This was extraordinary news and she immediately informed the American writer.  Hemingway was sick, tired and deeply in crisis.  Nevertheless he accepted her offer to come to the Old Continent hoping to recover, both physically and mentally.
       And what does Hemingway discover?  Through a young anthropologist at Naples University he discovers that until the very last moment of someone’s life there’s room for dreaming, and that love is the strongest spring ever created by Nature.  Furthermore, he realizes that Mammoth are not just prehistoric animals but also a metaphor of life.  Mammoth are the stories that are told in Italy’s cities and countryside.  They are recollections, memories fading away.  Mammoth are the Apenninian sliding villages, the old boroughs abandoned by the young generations attracted to the big cities.  Mammoth are the great feelings and our years, that chase us turning us white.
       The discovery of memory, as well as of history and the past dangles a different concept of writing before a writer’s mind.  Maybe he pursued the epic, but put far too much emphasis on conversational chatter, the basis for the minimalist writing style which the TV generation relies on.  I was thus inspired by Ernest towards a poetic consideration that effects me closely: the need for narrating over the extensive course of time, as well as a rediscovery of the epic that in Italy, for at least the last 30 years has been belittled in the name of genre fiction and minimalism.