When Marquez Saw Hemingway & the Wine Guy Wept Over a Nobel

In wake of Marquez’s death, reposting this, which originally ran Nov 22, 2011. RIP, GMM.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 30 years ago, on seeing Hemingway 32 years earlier in Paris:

For a fraction of a second, as always seemed to be the case, I found myself divided between my two competing roles. I didn’t know whether to ask him for an interview or cross the avenue to express my unqualified admiration for him. But with either proposition, I faced the same great inconvenience. At the time, I spoke the same rudimentary English that I still speak now, and I wasn’t very sure about his bullfighter’s Spanish. And so I didn’t do either of the things that could have spoiled that moment, but instead cupped both hands over my mouth and, like Tarzan in the jungle, yelled from one sidewalk to the other: ”Maaaeeestro!” Ernest Hemingway understood that there could be no other master amid the multitude of students, and he turned, raised his hand and shouted to me in Castillian in a very childish voice, ”Adiooos, amigo!” It was the only time I saw him.

At the time, I was a 28-year-old newspaperman with a published novel and a literary prize in Colombia, but I was adrift and without direction in Paris. My great masters were the two North American novelists who seemed to have the least in common. I had read everything they had published until then, but not as complementary reading – rather, just the opposite, as two distinct and almost mutually exclusive forms of conceiving of literature. One of them was William Faulkner, whom I had never laid eyes on and whom I could only imagine as the farmer in shirtsleeves scratching his arm beside two little white dogs in the celebrated portrait of him taken by Cartier-Bresson. The other was the ephemeral man who had just said goodbye to me from across the street, leaving me with the impression that something had happened in my life, and had happened for all time.

Garcia Marquez wrote this, for the NY Times, 28 years after Hemingway won the Nobel and about a year before he himself won it. His essay, much like his best works, just keeps flowering:

I don’t know who said that novelists read the novels of others only to figure out how they are written. I believe it’s true. We aren’t satisfied with the secrets exposed on the surface of the page: we turn the book around to find the seams. In a way that’s impossible to explain, we break the book down to its essential parts and then put it back together after we understand the mysteries of its personal clockwork. The effort is disheartening in Faulkner’s books, because he doesn’t seem to have an organic system of writing, but instead walks blindly through his biblical universe, like a herd of goats loosed in a shop full of crystal. Managing to dismantle a page of his, one has the impression of springs and screws left over, that it’s impossible to put back together in its original state. Hemingway, by contrast, with less inspiration, with less passion and less craziness but with a splendid severity, left the screws fully exposed, as they are on freight cars. Maybe for that reason Faulkner is a writer who has had much to do with my soul, but Hemingway is the one who had the most to do with my craft – not simply for his books, but for his astounding knowledge of the aspect of craftsmanship in the science of writing. In his historic interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review, (Hemingway) showed for all time – contrary to the Romantic notion of creativity – that economic comfort and good health are conducive to writing; that one of the chief difficulties is arranging the words well; that when writing becomes hard it is good to reread one’s own books, in order to remember that it always was hard; that one can write anywhere so long as there are no visitors and no telephone; and that it is not true that journalism finishes off a writer, as has so often been said – rather, just the opposite, so long as one leaves it behind soon enough. ”Once writing has become the principal vice and the greatest pleasure,” he said, ”only death can put an end to it.” Finally, his lesson was the discovery that each day’s work should only be interrupted when one knows where to begin again the next day. I don’t think that any more useful advice has ever been given about writing. It is, no more and no less, the absolute remedy for the most terrible specter of writers: the morning agony of facing the blank page.

Has anyone captured Hemingway so fully so quickly? He gets too at what happens when one goes all in with a writer, as I did with Hemingway (and Faulkner and Woolf):

When one lives for so long with a writer’s work, and with such intensity and affection, one is left without a way of separating fiction from reality. I have spent many hours of many days reading in that cafe in the Place St. Michel that he considered good for writing because it seemed pleasant, warm, clean and friendly, and I have always hoped to find once again the girl he saw enter one wild, cold, blowing day, a girl who was very pretty and fresh-looking, with her hair cut diagonally across her face like a crow’s wing. ”You belong to me and Paris belongs to me,” he wrote for her, with that relentless power of appropriation that his writing had. Everything he described, every instant that was his, belongs to him forever. I can’t pass by No. 12 Rue de l’Odeon in Paris without seeing him in conversation with Sylvia Beach, in a bookstore that is now no longer the same, killing time until six in the evening, when James Joyce might happen to drop by. On the Kenya prairie, seeing them only once, he became the owner of his buffaloes and his lions, and of the most intimate secrets of hunting. He became the owner of bullfighters and prizefighters, of artists and gunmen who existed only for an instant while they became his. Italy, Spain, Cuba – half the world is filled with the places that he appropriated simply by mentioning them. In Cojimar, a little village near Havana where the solitary fisherman of ”The Old Man and the Sea” lived, there is a plaque commemorating his heroic exploits, with a gilded bust of Hemingway. In Finca de la Vigia, his Cuban refuge, where he lived until shortly before his death, the house remains intact amid the shady trees, with his diverse collection of books, his hunting trophies, his writing lectern, his enormous dead man’s shoes, the countless trinkets of life from all over the world that were his until his death, and that go on living without him, with the soul he gave them by the mere magic of his owning them.

About 15 months after  this was published, I was living in New York City when I learned Garcia had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was riding the elevator up to my apartment, and riding it too was the delivery guy from the neighborhood wine store, where I often bought $2 bottles of wine that had originated in Argentina or Australia or Chile — still overlooked sources back then. The wine-store guy, who was from Colombia, was young and smart and heavily accented and ridiculously handsome. That day, carrying a sack of wine up for someone on a higher floor (I got the apartment via an acquaintance’s rent control; the building, with wonderful doormen and a marble floor in the lobby, was way beyond my fresh-grad paygrade, but I had snagged it at the same price my friends were paying to live in hovels), he was beaming.

“How are you?” I asked,  though it was obvious.

He said, “Wonderful. I am so happy today. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has just won the Nobel prize. It is a great day for Colombia. I am so happy and proud.” He looked terrifically happy and terribly homesick.

Somehow this completes a circle: Hemingway; Garcia commenting on Hemingway’s bullfighter Spanish; and the Colombian wine steward, beaming, bringing me the news of Garcia’s own triumph.


At the Times: Gabriel Garcia Marquez Meets Ernest Hemingway

Thanks to Paige Williams for bringing this to my attention.

Peter Matthiessen In Paradise


Matthiessen In Paradise

Perhaps so.

Rivendell Books, here in Montpelier, didn’t waste anytime putting this where it belongs, right out front. I think of Matthiessen late as I go birding, for he set the bird hook in my long ago with Wildife in America and then the African books.

On down the track. I’m finding the death of artists I like brings a particular and particularly painful sort of grief. Experienced first many years ago when John Cheever died, and I wept and wept.  Goodbye, My Brother. Could hardly bear it.

James Salter has a good remembrance of Matthiessen in The New Yorker, where PM first published “The Snow Leopard”:

I was reluctant to give him my work to read. I was afraid of his disapproval and too proud for advice. This may seem funny, considering how much we were with one another and how freely we talked, but there was always that slight competitive element to things. He did give me suggestions about “Burning the Days” that I took.

I’m leaving out the trips to Europe and the intimacy that developed between our families. My children felt close to him, especially Theo, my younger son. When you celebrate Christmases together and everyone’s birthdays and other events through the years, a dense and indestructible fabric is made, really too rich to imitate or describe. We sailed up the Nile. We were in France together, St. Petersburg, Italy. We drank together, sometimes quite a bit. For a few years, in our sixties, we had a ritual of throwing ourselves into the cold sea on November 1st, then having an icy martini with our wives on the beach.

We got old. At the end of the 2012, he left on a trip to Mongolia to write about great Siberian tigers, a threatened group, though he wasn’t feeling well. It involved twenty hours or more of flying and trekking after that. He forced himself to go, and he returned completely exhausted. It turned out to be leukemia.

His illness was private. It lasted more than a year, and the treatment was difficult. During it, as he became weaker, with his characteristic determination he wrote a final book, just published this past week, “In Paradise.” He died in his home near the sea.

Tracking The Mystery Plane in Iran

The tracking of planes has become a kind of global sport, as largely amateur photographers post thousands of images showing arrivals and departures in their attempts to chronicle flight paths. In the case of this plane, for example, one spotter spied it leaving an airport in Zurich around the time of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, held in January. Another photographer tracked the plane, identified by its call letters N604EP on the tail engines, departing a London-area airport for Ghana last October.

But this week’s spotting by a New York Times reporter in Tehran carries particular intrigue because it involves Iran, a country still effectively shunned by the global financial system.

via Iran Gets an Unlikely Visitor, an American Plane, but No One Seems to Know Why – NYTimes.com.

Gay Genes, Death Papers, Parasites, Neanderthals, & Anja Niedringhaus. My Reads of the Week

An Afghan walks in a river bed. Photo by the late Anja Niedringhaus
An Afghan walks in a river bed. Photo by the late Anja Niedringhaus

The world has lost a truly splendid photographer — Anja Niedringhaus, murdered this week in Afghanistan. This was a determined, brave journalist and an unbelievably sensitive artist, finely attuned to both the technical demands and possibilities of every image and, even more exquisitely, the humanity of those in the frame. This is a terrible, terrible loss.  Afghanistan: Seen Through the Lens of Anja Niedringhaus, shows some of her stunning work. The BBC also has a great selection, as does Niedringhaus’s own site. Below is a video tribute from her AP colleagues. She made it easy for them: It’s just her photos, and it’s amazing. They don’t make many like this. 

Sympathies and wishes for strong recovery for her colleague Kathy Gannon, who was also shot, and wounded, in the same attack.


Top Tier

Two splendid reads in the New Yorker: From a new contributor there, Kathryn Schulz, a brilliant and funny look at death certificates; and veteran John McPhee on his adventures and misadventures in interviewing. (Paywall. What? You’re not a subscriber to The New Yorker? You should fix that. Seriously.)

An Adaptation From ‘Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,’ by Michael Lewis. Another astounding romp from Michael Lewis. Here again you see the heart of the Lewis magic: Make action about agency. Somebody wants something. What will they do to get it?

And good GOD this is rich stuff: Erica Wagner on the startlingly frank neurosurgeon Henry Marsh: Life and death at his fingertips: watching a brain surgeon at work

The Drugging of the American Boy – Esquire. How ADHD ran amok.

A Patient in Minnesota Has Lassa Hemorrhagic Fever. The invaluable Maryn McKenna on hemorrhagic fevers on planes, panic, safety, and WTF you should actually worry about.

The Murders at the Lake Michael Hall and Texas Monthly bring the big, as only Texas Monthly and a handful of others can.

Wiring the Brain: Gay genes? Yeah, but no, well kind of… but, so what? by Kevin Mitchell. A reminder we are all mutants, and what that means.

This is how to give a TED talk. Ed Yong: Suicidal crickets, zombie roaches and other parasite tales. Ed also this week informs us of The Worst Places To Get Stung By A Bee: Nostril, Lip, Penis  In case you have a choice.


Arts, crafts, culture, politics

Philip Seymour Hoffman On Acting: An ‘Exhausting’ And ‘Satisfying’ Art : NPR. A beautiful thing, this.

Want to write great narrative? Study screenwriting. Fabulous advice for nonfiction writers struggling (as we all do) to shape stories.

Cynicism in Public Life Contest, John Roberts Edition. A find critique by James Fallows.

Saturday Night Live turned me into a man. I’m a black female scientist. Oops. Great stuff from Dr. Rubidium


Mind, Brain, & Behavior

Why? The Columbine killers’ true intent. A fine book trailer about a book I’m now reading, riveted, moved, and deeply impressed.

Bipolar disorder ravaged my friend’s life – Kristin Ohlson. I can hardly overstate how much I like this piece. Riveting read of a good man’s breakdown, a friend’s failed efforts to save him, and the horrific way our health-care system leaves the mentally ill behind.

Should a robot decide when to kill? It gets complicated. (Mind and brain category? This is about decisions made without those.)

Our most confident memories can be completely wrong. The vagaries of certainty meet the vagaries of memory.

Blazing Trails in Brain Science, a profile of National Institute of Health director Thomas Insel.

Flying Through Inner Space. Carl Zimmer takes you zipping through the brain.

Can brain imaging tell us much about the mind? Catherine Loveday thinks not. Matt Wall says Oh yes it does.


Evolution, genetics, anthropology

Human evolution: The Neanderthal in the family. Ewen Callaway on the disruptive power of really old DNA.

Fun map shows how the upright ape conquered the world. That would be us.

I had my DNA analyzed, and all I got was this lousy story | Ars Technica. Plus some sorta bad news he expected.

An Ancient Evolutionary Advantage?  Emily Willingham with a primer on a new analysis of what Neanderthal genes may have done for us.


Other science-y goodness

“Given this kind of write-up, I was ready to really like this paper.”  Quite a few studies show that early childhood interventions pay off later in improved health. Anne Buchanan finds this isn’t one of them.

Simple Invention For Sealing Gunshot Wounds Gets FDA Approval | Popular Science Amazing little invention, may save many a life.




A Talk on Writing About Young Brains, Mon, April 7 at University of Vermont


Photograph by Kitra Cahana, all rights reserved.
Photograph by Kitra Cahana, all rights reserved.

Monday, April 7, 5 pm, at the University of Vermont, I’ll talk about how to shape a mess of reading and reporting into a magazine story — specifically, “Beautiful Brains,” my National Geographic cover story about adolescent brain and behavior.

If you’re around Burlington, come join us. Event is free and open to the public. Here’s a map showing Old Mill, the building in which you’ll find the Dewey Lounge, where the talk will take place.

And here’s the full event description from the UVM press office. Below that you can find some related reading. 

Award-winning science and medical writer David Dobbs will speak on campus Monday, April 7, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in John Dewey Lounge, Old Mill. The free, public event, “An Evening with David Dobbs,” is hosted by the Department of English and English 1. Dobbs’ work has been featured in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, National Geographic, The Atlantic, Slate, Wired, NewYorker.com, and The Best American Science and Nature Writing. Also the author of four books, Dobbs is particularly adept at making issues in science and medicine accessible and engaging to a broader audience. In this talk, Dobbs will draw on his recent National Geographic cover story, “Beautiful Brains,” to discuss with students how he handles challenges in research and writing.

Information: 802 656-3056

Map: http://j.mp/QI2B1G

Related reading:

Paris Review – The Art of Nonfiction No. 3, John McPhee Solid gold, with some especially rich discussion of structure. For more that, see John McPhee: Structure, at The New Yorker

Paris Review – The Art of Nonfiction No. 4, Janet Malcolm

How I Write: With Spies, Revolvers, Whiskey, and Luck

How To End a Story – One Minute Wisdom via The Open Notebook

How To Pick Apart Great Writing: Joan Didion on Ernest Hemingway

At first, even Michael Lewis sucked. Here’s how he got better.



Tiny Slow Sea Life Made Big Fast and Gorgeous

As someone on Twitter put it, marine invertebrates usually don’t get the glamour treatment. Here they do — amazing corals and sponges do, anyway — in Daniel Stoupin‘s splendid Slow Life .

From the filmmaker:

“Slow” marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges are very mobile creatures, but their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen. These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives.

Learn more about what you see at http://notes-from-dreamworlds.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/slow-life.html

Bet seen on a large screen! You won’t be able to appreciate this clip or see individual cells moving in a sponge on a smartphone.

Please do not share this clip to promote or endorse marine aquarium industry. Do not misunderstand this statement: I have no problems with aquarists or the industry. I simply want people to admire life, but not to be told to buy stuff.

More about using my videos:

Marquis de Sade Talking Serious Trash

When a writer published a scathing and premature death notice about Marquis de Sade, the latter penned the withering dismissal below. This gem came to me via the invaluable Letters of Note and the incomparable Stephen Fry. (Passage transcribed below.) I think I’ll keep a copy of the last paragraph in a keystroke macro so I can deploy it when necessary.

Embedded image permalink

No, I am not dead, and I would like to implement proof of my unequivocal existence on your shoulders with a very vigorous stick. I would do so, in fact, did I not fear the plague me miasma of your mephitic corpse. But when all is said and done, scorn is the only weapon that a decent man need use to repel the banalities of a blockhead like yourself.

It is not true that I am the author of Justine. To any other than adult such as I might take the trouble to prove this, but what emerges from your stinking mouth is so stupid that refutation would dishonor more than accusation.

A sensible man, when barked at by curs of your type, spits on them and continues on his way.

So bark away, bray, howl, brew your poison; your inability, like that of the toad, to spit beyond your own nose, causing it to fall back on yourself, will succeed in covering but yourself with the poison you would like to sully others with.

We Like Our War Movies Bloody Clean and Simple, Thank You

Mark Wahlberg in Lone Survivor

Jim Gourley, in a guest post at Thomas Ricks’ Foreign Policy column, ponders the box-office returns of Lone Survivor and other war movies and concludes that to do well, a war movie must appeal to U.S. audiences — and to appeal to U.S. audiences, the movie best focus on the actions of heroes, not nations; on action, not ideas.

The messiest parts ought to involve blood and guts rather than philosophy and politics. It’s arguable that the moral weight of Clint Eastwood’s Sands of Iwo Jima and its companion film, Flags of Our Fathers, with a domestic/foreign split closer to 50 percent, held revenues down below the $70 million mark. Though the ethical wrangling of Lions for Lambs overwhelmingly appealed to foreign patrons, the Robert Redford-directed and -led film only took in $63 million. The same applies to Green Zone, a conspiracy-in-the-ranks story that made a respectable $94.8 million but still ranks as one of Matt Damon’s lowest-earning films….

In short, American audiences appear to still embrace the John Wayne tradition. They can handle the death and heartbreak caused by war, but those burdens must be shouldered by the hero. Any suggestion that the audience, in its role as the society that sends the hero off to war, bears some of the responsibility for the war’s existence in the first place risks losing their enthusiasm for the enterprise on which the entire film is based. In other words, Americans want entertainment, not a lecture. Europeans seem to be more open to explorations of human nature.

When it comes to war movies, in other words…

Jim Gourley, Following the money through war movies tells us what the American audience wants, Foreign Policy.

h/t Alex Horton.

The Neuroscience of Disillusionment

File:Gartner Hype Cycle.svg
The Gartner Hype Cycle

The brain craze was bound to go through the usual hype cycle, so we shouldn’t be surprised that some of us are rolling back our enthusiasms for brain-based explanations of, well, everything. Welcome to those slippery slopes between the peak of inflated expectations and the slope of enlightenment.

And welcome, too, to reconsiderations like that offered here by Matthew Hutson, a science writer and former cog neurosci student who reviews recent books by Gioavanni Frazetto (on the neuroscience of emotion), Scott Weems (neuroscience on humor), and the ever-fascinating Stanlislas Dehaene (neuroscience of consciousness, or just about everything). We need more of this.

Heidegger, Caravaggio and Proust were not neuroscientists, and we should be grateful; if they were, they might have had less to tell us about the life of the mind. Frazzetto acknowledges as much. “When I experience or examine an emotional incident along my trajectory as a man, a friend, a lover, a son or a colleague,” he writes, “the first reservoir of knowledge I consult for explanations and meaning is hardly ever neuroscience.”

This is not to say we shouldn’t study the brain — not by a long shot. Neuroscience is interesting in its own right, in the way it’s interesting to learn about how stars form or how computers work. And it’s immensely practical when something goes wrong with the brain and you need to poke around. But it lends little insight into the felt experience of emotion. We learn the triggers and salves of our feelings through daily experience and introspection, and through psychological experiment.

This is a nice compact treat: Books about the brain: ‘Ha!,’ ‘Joy, Guilt, Anger, Love’ and ‘Consciousness and the Brain’ – The Washington Post.