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QUINTESSENCE

Reflections Revisited

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans. . .

With so many trees in the city, you could see the spring coming each day until a night of warm wind would bring it suddenly in one morning. Sometimes the heavy cold rains would beat it back so that it would seem that it would never come and that you were losing a season out of your life. This was the only truly sad time in Paris because it was unnatural. You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.

In those days, though, the spring always came finally but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.”

- Ernest Hemingway, A MOVEABLE FEAST

After travels from Holland by way of the Rhine and up into the Alps of Switzerland, I experienced what Ernest Hemingway described when he said, “By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.” A wealth of deep thinking - new tapestries of symbolism - spilled over into my dreams. The richness of mingled languages, Dutch, German, French, and Swiss, murmured in my ears. To settle before sleep I read Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast," the restored version. Hemingway's sons, Patrick and Sean, contributed extensive introductory notes to the original chapters left by Ernest in this never-completed memoir of his early years in Paris.

Hemingway described the life of an ex-pat in rich detail and as quoted above, paints a moment when the lingering melancholy of a late spring anchors the bold and unfamiliar. Vivid recollections need "to be made, not described," Hemingway stated. He writes with clean observation, attentive to distinct and simple elements...oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away.

Reading "A Moveable Feast," I tumbled into another time and place. Hemingway's essays on his artistic struggles to write his first novel, his appreciation of raw nature, stories of less innocent, darkly-undertoned friendships, and the details of the uncertain but stable domestic routine upon which he built life with Hadley and "Mr. Bumby," his young son, came alive on the page. Closing the book, I fell to thinking about what makes both the strangeness of new experience and what is deeply familiar penetrate our consciousness. Why do we travel, and why do we always then make "home away from home"?

“Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love,” Hemingway noted after a convoluted, unsettling journey to Lyon with fellow writer and friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Travel highlights companions who are compatible with us by their nature as well as those for whom the burdens of a journey unleash additional friction and underscore hidden, rough-edged dissimilarities. I appreciated anew the genial nature of my fellow travelers on the Rhine even as Hemingway found solace within Sylvia Beach's "lending library" on the Left Bank and in the welcome aperitifs in the salon of Gertrude Stein. The places our minds and souls take comfort equally open us to companionship.

Hemingway writes his way into deeper understanding, opening himself to the journey, to what simply is. His words mark truth like the swift charcoal outline a painter draws to anchor a picture. Reflecting back on the loves and friendships of his Paris years, Hemingway concluded, "You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”
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