A few random points before I get into my wonderful yesterday.
My Italian friends in Upstate New York, eat your hearts out! I just had fried smelts for lunch. Just like our grandmothers and mothers used to make. And some of our wives. The smelts were fresh. Tiny.
Eastern U.S. is six hours behind me. It is 7:30 in the morning where you are. It is 1:30 in the afternoon here.
Yesterday and last night a struggle for me. I have not yet acclimated to the change in time zones. The sleeping pill does not help.
When I was in italy 30 years ago with my parents and family, electricity was a problem. The country does not produce enough power. I was admonished yesterday for wasting electricity. I was leaving lights on when I went from one room to another. I was told that the power is governed and watched by the authorities. If a particular apartment uses too much electricity during a specified time, the power is automatically turned off.
I am a dreamer. I have always thought how terrific it would be to have sex in an airplane. Unfortunately, I never have and doubt I ever will. Yesterday I mentioned the event and described it as the Thousand Mile Club. The whole world responded to let me know I misnamed the event. It is the Mile High Club. The error produced the largest number of criticisms I have ever received.
I arrived Saturday. It was St. Louis Day. Italians are appafrently big on saint days. eEeryone I met, without fail, congratulated me on my Saint’s day when they learned my name.
Males generally wear baseball caps in Key West and other parts of the U.S. I assume to protect their balding heads from the sun. Others merely because they like it. To some, it is fashionable. No men wear baseball caps in Italy. I have not seen one on th streets of Novara or at Lake Maggiore. I wear mine, however. I have concluded most Italian men have bronze faces because their faces are always exposed to the sun. I wonder about the percentage of skin cancers.
Smoking is not losing acceptance. It is gone. Most persons smoke in Key West. No one smokes in Italy. The same was true in Washington, DC. I am embarrassed to smoke. I refuse to pull out a cigarette where I can be seen.
Yesterday was Lake Maggiore.
Beautiful! Awesome! As I thought about it, everywhere is. Each place has a different flavor. We enjoy most, if not all. So Key West, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco…..all have a beauty and presence unique to each.
I was oooohing and ahhhhhing as I drove around Lake Maggiore. The homes lovely. Stately mansions abound. Big. Ten thousand square feet or better. Some 30,000 to 50,000 square feet. Summer accommodations for only the very rich.
The lake itself is huge. Several islands within. The water had a familiarly to Key West. A rocky stone bottom. Water shoe time for all!
My goal was Stresa. A place with a history all its own. A history that includes Hemingway.
It struck me as I was walking around Stresa that most of the people were my age or older. I am 77. Many in wheelchairs or using canes or walkers. I read later on in my internet search that Stresa was a “…..town fading gently into the past.” It is. Stresa was quiet. Almost silent.
But, beautiful! Majestic old hotels. Lovely grounds. I searched out the Grand Hotel Des Iles Barromes. Big name! Most of the hotels started Grand Hotel something or other.
The Borromes family have been the titular head of the area for well over 500 years. Charles Borromeo lived back when Martin Luther split with the Catholic Church. Charles was a deeply religious man and countered with a new catechism and other writings in opposition to Luther’s proclamations. He subsequnetly was named a Saint and is mush revered. His family lives on their own island. A big one. Their home is at least three times the size of the biggest hotel you have ever seen. The most recent male Borromeo married a princess and their world goes on.
My goal was to visit Hemingway’s haunt. His Sloppy Joe’s in Stresa. The Grand Hotel earlier mentioned and named after the Borromeo family. Magnificent. For the very rich, even today.
Italian bars are not as in the U.S. A small bar is generally in a corner of a large room. The bar either sits no one or perhaps 4-6. The rest of the room is filled with parlor like furniture. Sofas, easy chairs, and the like.
The Grand Hotel’s lobby was huge. In the corner was a small semi-circular bar with four stools. This did not look to me like the place Hemingway would have spent his days drinking and writing. I chatted with the elderly bartender. I was correct. He was kind enough to give me the grand tour. Apparently few these days ask about Hemingway.
Hemingway’s bar was in the back two large rooms away. What was Hemingway’s bar, no longer exists. It was a small semi-circular bar in a relatively small room. Mayb 20 x 30. There was room for a small baby grand. Everything is now gone. Has been removed. Down to the concrete walls. Nothing is as it was. It is a cold empty room used for storage and occasionally cleaned up for a small dinner party.
The bar was three rooms back from the lobby. The next room going toward the lobby was much larger. It had contained a billiard table. Hemingway and an elderly local count used to play daily and drink martinis. Martinis were Hemingway’s drink of choice at the bar and billiard table. The next room, the one directly off the lobby, was huge. Big enough for a ten foot wide long table with 26 chairs comfortably set around the table. I counted them.
That big room and the smaller but large center room were the seating areas for those wishing a drink. The drinks that were served from Hemingway’s bar in the third smaller room. Once again, all gone. No more.
I had dinner on Pescastori Island. One of the smaller islands on Lake Maggiore. It is reputed Hemingway ate on the island often. It was a short boat ride away. Like visiting L’Atitudes. I ate on the open second floor of Ristoranti Pescheria. Enjoyed a fish called persico, if I recall the name correctly. A local fish. It is revered and recognized as Kest West’s hogfish is. Mine was prepared in a light batter with crushed hazelnuts. Wow!
I wanted a cup of American coffee. Ordered a snifter of Grand Manier to go with it. The cup was normal size by American standards. It was half filled. Appeared to be espresso. I told the waiter I wanted American coffee. He explained it was. It contained three shots of espresso. Accompanying the coffee was a tiny pitcher of hot water. I was to pour as much of the hot water as I wanted into the espresso to weaken it. That was American coffee!
Arthuro Toscani owned an island on Lake Maggiore also. A huge rectangular home. Lovely.
I could see Switzerland from the Grand Hotel. I could also see on a nearby shore a mountain of white. This is where marble came and comes from. Fifteen hundred years ago, pieces were broken by hand. Today, by machine.
This blog is unusually long. I apologize. However, there is much I wish toi share. Stay with me a bit more. I guarantee you will enjoy the rest of the Hemingway story.
Hemingway visited Stresa in 1918 and then again in 1948. Perhaps several times in the late 1940sup to the time of his death.
Hemingway was injured in Italy during World War I. He was an ambulance driver. He fell in love with his nurse. Agnes von Kurovasky. The two spent ten days at the Grand Hotel in Stressa while he was recovering.
A few years later, Hemingway began writing A Farewell To Arms. The novel was published in 1929. The story involved Frederick Henry who was an American driving an ambulance for the Italian Army in World War I. Henry was injured. Fell in love with his nurse. Catherine Barclay. Things got screwed up and the Italian governemment wanted to capture and shoot Henry as a deserter. He had to get away.
Henry and Catherine escaped to the Grand Hotel in Stresa. A friend at the hotel arranged for a small boat. The game plan was to take the boat across Lake Maggiore to Switzerland. It turned out to be an ill fated trip.
It is fascinating how Hemingway intertwined his personal experiences with the novel.
That’s all folks!
Enjoy your Sunday!