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.
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.