DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jun 13 2012

Art and appetite

by Dea Anne M

I think I can say that I’m not the biggest Hemingway fan in the world but probably the book of his that I like best is A Moveable Feast — his memoir, told in a series of essays, of his life in Paris after WWI. Perhaps part of my admiration for that book has to do with my fascination with a period of history when  so many American writers, artists, and thinkers made the choice to live and work in Europe far from the limits and conventions of home. Many of these expatriates were not without a safety net though, and I have to admit that a particular passage in Hemingway’s book irritated me for awhile.

“It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking. Hunger is a good discipline and you learn from it.”

“Hunger is Good Discipline,” A Moveable Feast

Now, Hemingway was far from starving in Paris as his wife Hadley came into the marriage with an inheritance that supported them more than comfortably (of course those dollars went a long way in the Paris of those times). “Hmph!” I thought, convinced as I was that Hemingway was merely posturing. These days, I think a bit more kindly about those lines as a re-reading of the book not too long ago reminded me that the book as a whole deals in many ways with hunger  not so much of the physical body but of the spirit. Hemingway is hungry in these essays for experience and for the dedicated pursuit of art. I believe now that I was overly influenced by a later persona of Hemingway who honestly mostly struck me as a macho braggart. A Moveable Feast reminds me how much more there is to Hemingway as a writer and how very enjoyable his prose can be.

All this musing about Hemingway has been inspired by a favorite website that I have recently discovered, Paper and Salt, whose stated mission is to “…attempt to recreate and reinterpret the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction.” The site hasn’t been up for a long time and there are not, as yet, a huge number of posts but the writing is both eloquent and entertaining, the photography is beautiful, and the recipes…well,  they’ve made me want to get into my kitchen as quickly as I can and start cooking. I don’t know about you, but Lobster Tail with Spaghetti and Bread Crumbs inspired by the letters of Gabriel Garcia Marquez sounds pretty scrumptious. Apparently,  Marquez enjoyed a long-time correspondence with Fidel Castro and many of their letters involved discussions on best methods of preparing seafood. Oscar Wilde was famous, if not notorious, for his love of champagne and his recipe is a luscious sounding cocktail involving the bubbly stuff and fresh strawberries. I think my favorite post so far though is the one for Truman Capote and Italian Summer Pudding. In Too Brief a Treat: the letters of Truman Capote Capote writes “Food. I seldom think of anything else.” I’m not quite that obsessed (I think), but the posted recipe is certainly something that I wouldn’t mind my thoughts lingering on. Featured ingredients are bittersweet chocolate, raspberries, ladyfingers, and mascarpone cheese. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but I think it’s irresistible. Need proof? Just look…

Image from paperandsalt.org

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Leigh P. June 13, 2012 at 1:00 PM

I read this during grad school as part of an American Expatriates in Paris class and had essentially the same impressions you did. Hemingway came off as arrogant and with certain delusions of grandeur. The picture he painted of every person in this memoir gave embarrassing depictions of them: Fitzgerald as a crying fool over leaving Zelda for one night to accompany Hemingway on a trip (I’m pretty sure I remember Hemingway contradicting himself in the memoir about this, having previously stated that Fitzgerald had never spent a night away from Zelda for the entire time he knew him) and Gertrude Stein in an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship with Alice B. Toklas, for example. He made Hadley out to be a shrew and didn’t seem to care about his son.

Interestingly, the professor teaching my class lived in Paris for over a decade, researching Hemingway et al and gave us all the contradictions in the paths of the Paris streets he said he traveled that never connected. If time proved ruinous on Hemingway’s memory of the streets I have to question other “facts” in the book.

And yes, they all had great safety nets and believed they were hardened in battles of the war when they drove ambulances. I realize that was necessary and a contribution but I think they exaggerated their efforts for personal gain.

For a much more exciting alternative version of the Rive Gauche crew/Lost Generation, I suggest Caresse Crosby’s The Passionate Years. Truly scandalous!

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