We are both fascinated with where the writers whom we both admire once lived and worked. The combination of talent and environment demonstrated right on the page of a writer’s work resounds like an invitation to further explore them in that environment, so sometimes we do.
Of course, a serious student of the nurture vs. nature theory would point out the flaws that looking at one of the possibly many places a writer has lived as having left any sort of mark on them as writers, and on the literary work that may have been conceived or penned during their residence at said place, but that doesn’t stop us from being curious.
Ernest Hemingway has always been an alluring figure for a myriad of reasons and when we both stumbled upon the fact, years ago, that he had briefly lived in Toronto while writing for The Toronto Star, our Hemingway affection grew. Suddenly, he seemed like one of us: enduring long and difficult winters; enjoying the delights of parks and streets that are familiar to us, and frustrated by a career as a reporter that might have suited his capabilities, but certainly not his temperament. Toronto, wonderful as it was, wasn’t big enough for his imagination. The city has undergone tremendous change and continues to, but the Toronto from our childhoods was a Toronto that was really a big small town, not the international class city it has become today.
Greg Gatenby, in his Toronto: a Literary Guild, highlights Hemingway’s Toronto experience. According to Gatenby, at the end of Hemingway’s Toronto stay in 1923, he lived at what is now called The Hemingway at 1599 Bathurst St with his first wife Hadley (who incidentally gave birth to their child during this period).
We haven’t found anything to indicate that he wrote any of his great works here, but a writer is often writing, so you never know.
He did write the charming, albeit paternalist poem “I Like Canadians” in 1923, with memorable lines like,
“I like Canadians
They are so unlike Americans
They really believe that they won the war [sic 1812]
They don’t believe in Literature
They think Art has been exaggerated
But they are wonderful on ice skates.”
Also mentioned in The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, was how frustrated and unhappy Hemingway was with his boss and his assignments, so the couple left town early and broke their lease. “Skip out” is actually more like it since “Hemingway invited friends to the apartment and had them smuggle out clothes, books, and other small items under their coats as they left.” (Gatenby, 414)
Maybe desperate times required desperate measures as the saying goes. Seems so crazy that someone like him, the 1953 Pulitzer prize winner and the 1954 Nobel Prize winner would resolve his problems by running away from them.
Sometimes it’s these small discrepancies between expectations and action that really illuminate someone’s character, and makes them interesting. When we were in Cuba, we visited Havana where we were given a tour, which included the bar he frequented for a mid-afternoon drink. What drink did this macho and sophisticated writer prefer?
A strawberry daiquiri.
That made the teenager in us smile.
As writers, it’s a good thing to remember these contrasts when creating characters.
We drove by the Hemingway building (it used to be an apartment building and is now condos) the other day and took some photos. We wished we knew which floor he lived on, but it’s probably best that we don’t as the new residents probably wouldn’t appreciate having people from the street stare up into their home in whistful curiosity.
And speaking of curiosity, here’s what the Hemingway looks like now: