Oak Park readies to celebrate Ernest Hemingway's birthday

At home with Hemingway

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Ernie's birthday is Thursday and to set the mood, we're running some family photos, courtesy of the JFK Library in Boston (where the Hemingway archives are located), Prof. David Krause of Dominican University (who acquired copies of most of these photos through the JFK Library) and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park (which has some family photos as well). Most were taken inside and outside the family home at 600 N. Kenilworth.

It's been a good month or two for Ernie's image, rejuvenated by Woody Allen's hit film, Midnight in Paris, which elevates the Hemingway of 1920s Paris beyond his usual depiction as over-testosteroned, drunken buffoon. After being caricatured for decades, this was a refreshing change of pace. The film, if you're interested, continues its long run at the Lake Theatre, though it will likely be leaving soon.

Since the foundation's annual Hemingway Birthday Lecture (see sidebar) concerns Ernie's early gainful employment as a reporter, here's one of his articles, published in the Toronto Star Weekly on Feb. 18, 1922 (courtesy of the book By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, edited by William White):

Tuna Fishing in Spain

Vigo, Spain — Vigo is a pasteboard looking village, cobble streeted, white and orange plastered, set up on one side of a big, almost landlocked harbor that is large enough to hold the entire British navy. Sun-baked brown mountains slump down to the sea like tired old dinosaurs, and the color of the water is as blue as a chromo of the bay at Naples.

A grey pasteboard church with twin towers and a flat, sullen fort that tops the hill where the town is set up look out on the blue bay where the good fishermen will go when snow drifts along the northern streams and trout lie nose to nose in deep pools under a scum of ice. For the bright, blue chromo of a bay is alive with fish.

It holds schools of strange, flat, rainbow-colored fish, hunting packs of long, narrow Spanish mackerel, and big, heavy-shouldered sea-bass with odd, soft-sounding names. But principally it holds the king of all fish, the ruler of the Valhalla of fishermen.

The fisherman goes out on the bay in a brown lateen sailed boat that lists drunkenly and determinedly and sails with a skimming pull. He baits with a silvery sort of a mullet and lets his line out to troll. As the boat moves along, close hauled to keep the bait under water, there is a silver splatter in the sea as though a bushel full of buckshot had been tossed in. It is a school of sardines jumping out of water, forced out by the swell of a big tuna who breaks water with a boiling crash and shoots his entire length six feet into the air. It is then that the fisherman's heart lodges against his palate, to sink to his heels when the tuna falls back into the water with the noise of a horse diving off a dock.

A big tuna is silver and slate blue, and when he shoots up into the air from close beside the boat, it is like a blinding flash of quicksilver. He may weigh 300 pounds and he jumps with the eagerness and ferocity of a mammoth rainbow trout. Sometimes five and six tuna will be in the air at once in Vigo Bay, shouldering out of the water like porpoises as they herd the sardines, then leaping in a towering jump that is as clean and beautiful as the first leap of a well-hooked rainbow.

The Spanish boatmen will take you out to fish for them for a dollar a day. There are plenty of tuna and they take the bait. It is a back-sickening, sinew-straining, man-sized job even with a rod that looks like a hoe handle. But if you land a big tuna after a six-hour fight, fight him man against fish when your muscles are nauseated with the unceasing strain, and finally bring him up alongside the boat, green-blue and silver in the lazy ocean, you will be purified and be able to enter unabashed into the presence of the very elder gods and they will make you welcome.

For the cheerful, brown-faced gods that judge over the happy hunting grounds live up in the old, crumbly mountains that wall the bright, blue bay of Vigo. They live there wondering why the good, dead fishermen don't come down to Vigo where the happy hunting grounds are waiting.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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Sebastian Maharg  

Posted: November 5th, 2014 10:36 AM

An Oak Park native here. A lot of Americans think that Spain is only Mediterranean: sun, flamenco and bullfighting. That's only the southern half. Vigo is in Galicia, at Spain's Northwestern tip. It's green, rainy, lush and one the five Celtic regions in Europe. They speak their own language and even play bagpipes There. So, please, enough of this "Pasteboard" "sun-baked" nonesense of the stereotypical Spain. It's lazy and innacurate.

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