|Hemingway and Fitzgerald|
In Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast, he describes the first time he met F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Dingo Bar on the rue Delambre where, as Hemingway describes it, "...a very strange thing happened."
As Hemingway was sitting and drinking with some "completely worthless characters," Fitzgerald came in with a tall young man who turned out to be the famous baseball pitcher, Dunc Chaplin. Hemingway was no baseball devotee and had never heard of Chaplin, but recognised Fitzgerald, and took this chance to introduce himself, which went something
" Mr Fitzgerald, forgive me, but my name is Ernest Hemingway, I am a writer."
" Call me Scott. May I call you Ernest?"
" Well, Ernest, this is my friend Dunc Chaplin, who plays baseball and went to Princeton like me."
" Please to meet you..."
" Dunc, call me Dunc."
Scott then ordered a bottle of champagne.
" To celebrate my two new friends, one of whom plays baseball better than I ever did, and I never did, and one who writes better than me, and that takes some doing."
Fitzgerald then went on to explain how he'd come across Hemingway's work in the newspapers, and a couple of small magazines, and how he genuinely thought Ernest was the new voice of the 20th century, and had said so to his editor at Scribner's, Max Perkins, and that Hemingway's work would outlast his own scribbles.
Throughout Fitzgerald's discourse Hemingway observed the famous novelist, describing how he was a man who looked like a boy with a "...face between handsome and pretty, and with fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty."
Hemingway disliked the way Fitzgerald repeatedly kept praising his [Hemingway's] work, as there was a system in those days that said, "...praise to the face was an open disgrace." And although this may sound strange to us in the 21st century, in those years after the First World War was all too understandable: no one wanted to be picked out for praise above anyone else. If, in the fullness of time, your talents grew, and you were seen to be better than the rest, so be it. But no praise until such times. In a way this was the rule of the trenches, of warfare, of camaraderie, and Hemingway realised Fitzgerald had not seen war, therefore could not know. He was a child in comparison to many, in comparison to himself, even though he was three years older than Hemingway.
But although Hemingway would never say it, he thought Scott Fitzgerald one of the greatest writers on earth.
Ernest also recalled that Fitzgerald was lightly built, but not in good physical shape, with a puffy face, although his expensive Brooks Brothers clothes fitted him well, and the white button down collar shirt and a Guards neck-tie looked very smart. In fact Fitzgerald created a style that would last until the 1960s.
But what about that Guards neck-tie?
" Are you entitled to wear that tie, Scott? There's an Englishman over there, an old soldier, who may very well be offended, if he were sober."
Fitzgerald took off the neck-tie and threw it into the street, and then explained that he didn't want to offend anyone - sober or drunk - over a neck-tie, and anyway he'd bought the thing for half a dollar in a flea market in Rome in 1919.
" God alone knows what happened to the owner?"
The three of them drank their champagne for a while, and no one spoke, which suited Chaplin because he didn't have a lot to say, not even about baseball, which he found irritating beyond belief, but was prepared to put up with it as the money was so good.
" Did you have sex with your wife before you were married, Ernest?" asked Scott.
" I don't know."
" What do you mean, you don't know? Of course you know."
Fitzgerald was getting drunk, awfully drunk, and on just three glasses of champagne. Hemingway realised Scott could not take his drink, that drink made him ill and turned him into a small, well dressed monster.
" I don't remember, really Scott. And is it important?"
" Of course it's important."
" If you say so."
" To be honest I don't remember if Zelda and I made love before we married either. I wanted to, but I don't remember. What about you, Dunc?"
Before Dunc could answer Scott Fitzgerald fell off his bar stool.
" Come on, Dunc, we better get him home."
" No, he's okay."
" Okay? He looks as if he might be dying?"
" No, drink takes him that way."
" A drunk who can't take his drink. I saw his face change, the skin tightening so you could almost see his skull breaking through. Come on let's get him into a taxi."
Which they did, and three days later, when Hemingway met Fitzgerald again at the Negre de Toulouse restaurant (now the Restaurant Padova) he reminded him of what had happened at the Dingo.
" Don't be stupid, Ernest, nothing happened. I was just tired and went home. Sick of those damned English you were with too. Damned snobs."
" But I wasn't with any English, they were on another table. You were with Dunc Chaplin. Remember?"
" Dunc who?"
" Dunc Chaplin, the baseball player?"
“ Never heard of him. Now, what shall we have to drink before we order?”
Then, as Hemingway describes it in A Moveable Feast " ... he asked me why I liked this café and I told him about it in the old days and he began to try to like it too and we sat there, me liking it and he trying to like it, and he asked questions and told me about writers and publishers and agents and critics and George Horace Lorimer, and the gossip and economics of being a successful writer, and he was cynical and funny and very jolly and charming and endearing, even if you were careful about anyone becoming endearing. He spoke slightingly but without bitterness of everything he had written, and I knew his new book must be very good for him to speak, without bitterness, of the faults of the past books..."
Then, over lunch, Fitzgerald told Hemingway how he and Zelda had recently attempted to motor down to the South of France, but had had to abandon their small Renault car in Lyon due to the bad weather and would Hemingway travel with him down to Lyon by train and drive the car back to Paris with him.
And because the lunch was going so well, with Fitzgerald not at all badly affected by the two large whiskies he'd drunk, and because it was such beautiful spring weather, with the countryside at its best, Hemingway readily agreed and arranged to meet Fitzgerald the following morning at the Gare de Lyon to catch the express south.
It had been a wonderful lunch, with Hemingway's memory of their first meeting at The Dingo Bar little more than a bad dream.
Hemingway was at the station very early, waiting outside the main entrance for Scott, who had agreed to bring the tickets. But with each passing minute Hemingway became increasingly concerned, and with just five minutes to go before the train pulled out he bought a second-class ticket and boarded.
As Hemingway mentions in A Moveable Feast he had, in those days, a very quick temper and would probably have belted Fitzgerald in the mouth had he turned-up at that moment.
But Hemingway's notorious temper soon calmed as he watched the beautiful countryside and ate a splendid lunch - and drank a bottle of St- Émilion - in the dining car.
When Hemingway arrived in Lyon he wired the Fitzgerald apartment in Paris explaining which hotel he, Hemingway, was staying in, and pondered on two facts: one, that he'd never known of a grown man missing a train before, and two, that he was probably going to learn a great deal about F. Scott Fitzgerald on this trip, assuming the novelist ever showed up.
Toward evening Hemingway received a wire saying that Fitzgerald had certainly left Paris for Lyon, but no one, including Zelda (who was in bed with a headache) knew which hotel he was heading for. Hemingway checked, but no one had seen Fitzgerald arrive in Lyon.
Hemingway contacted all the good and expensive hotels (Fitzgerald would not stay in a bad or cheap hotel) but to no avail. There was nothing for it but to find a cheap restaurant before retiring for a good night's sleep.
But before the restaurant came a bar, where Hemingway drank an apéritif, read the papers, and met an old man who ate fire and bent coins with his toothless gums for a living. The two eventually ate in a cheap Algerian restaurant where the old man told Hemingway many stories of his life as a fire-eater, bemoaning the fact that young fire-eaters were ruining his business with trickery and that he would probably have to give up fire-eating pretty soon. He didn't know how he might make a living if he did. Hemingway paid for the meal and wished the old man well and hoped they might meet again.
Hemingway then made his way back to the three star hotel he could not really afford, began to read from A Sportsman's Sketches by Turgenev - a book he'd borrowed from Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare & Co - before falling asleep half way through chapter two.
The following morning Scott Fitzgerald was waiting for Hemingway in the hotel's reception.
Fitzgerald had refused to come up to Hemingway's hotel room while the latter was shaving preferring to meet him in reception. Perhaps Fitzgerald felt guilty about missing the train to Lyon and wanted to meet somewhere where Hemingway couldn't easily vent his fury over what Hemingway no doubt saw as very sloppy manners. So F. Scott Fitzgerald settled down with a newspaper as Ernest Hemingway took a very leisurely shave, making Fitzgerald wait.
When Hemingway at last shook Fitzgerald's hand in the hotel's reception the author of The Great Gatsby said how sorry he was over the mix-up, and that had he known which hotel Hemingway was staying in everything would have been simple. Hemingway explained that he'd phoned the Fitzgerald's apartment in Paris leaving a message saying which hotel he was staying in, but Fitzgerald insisted he never received that message, and that Zelda had been dreadfully unwell anyway and if a message had been left she had probably forgotten.
Hemingway said that that was all right, that it really didn't matter and that he'd enjoyed his first stay for a couple of years in a smart hotel, and that he'd been able to catch-up on some Turgenev, so everything was fine and not to worry, and that maybe they should find a small café where they could have a good breakfast before locating the car and making their way back to Paris.
Fitzgerald thought breakfast was a fine idea but insisted they have it in the hotel. Hemingway said it would be cheaper and quicker in a good café. But Fitzgerald was insistent, and as Hemingway describes in A Moveable Feast:
" It was a big American breakfast with ham and eggs and it was very good. But by the time we had ordered it, waited for it, eaten it, and waited to pay for it, close to an hour had been lost."
And it was while Fitzgerald was paying the bill that he thought it would be a good idea if the hotel made them up a picnic lunch. Hemingway tried to argue Fitzgerald out of the idea, saying they could get food on the way, and a good bottle of Mâcon from Mâcon, or they might stop at any number of restaurants on the way back to Paris. But Fitzgerald reminded Hemingway that the latter had recently told him that Lyon chicken was the best in the world. So Hemingway gave in and the hotel made them up a superb lunch that took another hour and cost five times what it would have cost to buy food and wine on the way.
As two hours had already been wasted Hemingway suggested they have a drink in the hotel's bar. Fitzgerald said he was not a morning drinker (although Hemingway could smell booze on his breath) and asked if Hemingway was. Hemingway told him it depended on how he felt and that if he felt he needed a drink he'd have one, no matter what the time of day. Did Fitzgerald want a drink in the hotel's bar or not? Fitzgerald said yes, a good drink would set them up for the journey, so they had whiskies and Perrier water in the bar.
Hemingway and Fitzgerald then argued over who should pay Hemingway's hotel bill, with Fitzgerald insisting he pay. But in the end Hemingway paid for his room and the breakfasts and the drinks in the bar. He knew his credit was good with Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Co, and that he didn't want to be beholden to Fitzgerald, not now, not ever.
After a great deal of searching Fitzgerald and Hemingway found the garage where Fitzgerald had left the car.
Hemingway was amazed to find the car's roof was missing, and writes in A Moveable Feast that:
" The top had been damaged in unloading the car in Marseilles, or it had been damaged in Marseilles in some manner and Zelda had ordered it cut away and refused to have it replaced. His wife hated car tops, Scott told me, and without the top they had driven as far as Lyon where they were halted by the rain. The car was in fair shape otherwise and Scott paid the bill after disputing several charges for washing, greasing, and for adding two litres of oil. The garage man explained to me that the car needed new piston rings and had evidently been run without sufficient oil and water. He showed me how it had heated up and burned the paint off the motor. He said if I could persuade Monsieur to have a ring job done in Paris, the car, which was a good little car, would be able to give the service it was built for."
The garage owner then tried to persuade Fitzgerald to have a new roof put on, pointing out that neither of them had waterproofs and that it looked like it might rain. Hemingway suggested to Fitzgerald that it might be a good idea to at least buy waterproofs, but to no avail. Fitzgerald was now keen to get back to Paris.
So the intrepid duo squeezed themselves into the tiny Renault, and after about an hour they were stopped by torrential rain forcing them into the nearest café. In all, that first afternoon, they were stopped ten times by rain, and as Hemingway points out in his memoir if they had had waterproofs they could have motored on pleasantly, instead of parking under trees every few miles.
During one spell under a roadside tree the two writers ate the lunch the hotel in Lyon had prepared for them, which included:
"...an excellent truffled roast chicken, delicious bread and white Mâcon wine and Scott was very happy when we drank the white Mâconnais at each of our stops."
In the town of Mâcon Hemingway bought four more bottles of wine which they drank as they needed, and Hemingway was delighted to see how much Fitzgerald was excited by drinking from the bottle, as "...a girl might be excited by going swimming for the first time without a bathing suit.
But toward the end of the afternoon Fitzgerald had begun to worry about his health (he was a dreadful hypochondriac), telling Hemingway two gruesome stories about friends of his who had died of congestion of the lungs recently through getting wet.
An argument then broke out between the two of them when Hemingway said that his friends had probably suffered from pneumonia. Fitzgerald then told Hemingway that he, Hemingway, new nothing about medicine even if his father had been a doctor, and that congestion of the lungs was a malady indigenous to Europe, and that Hemingway's father, and therefore Hemingway, only knew about American diseases. Hemingway reminded Fitzgerald that his father had studied medicine in Europe as well as America. But Fitzgerald was having none of it, explaining that congestion of the lungs was recently new to Europe and consequently Hemingway's father could not have studied the disease when he was in Europe back in the 19th century. Hemingway then went on to explain that doctors from around the world exchanged knowledge, which meant that most doctors were familiar with most diseases and that Fitzgerald should stop talking and worrying and drink some more wine which would make him feel better.
And it did for a while until Fitzgerald asked Hemingway to head for the nearest big town because he felt a fever and delirium coming on, which were the classic signs of European congestion of lungs, and that they must hurry.
" How long before we reach a town?" asked Fitzgerald.
" About twenty-five minutes."
Hemingway was losing his patience.
It then began to rain heavily and Hemingway pulled the car into a small roadside café where the two men talked about death - and drank far too much wine - with Fitzgerald becoming more and more depressed, especially when Hemingway - in an attempt to put things in perspective - told Fitzgerald about the death and destruction he'd seen in Italy during the Great War, and during the Greco-Turkish war, which Hemingway had covered as a correspondent. It didn't help.
Eventually they reached the town of Châlon-sur-Saôn (some 50 kilometres north of Lyon), booked into a small hotel where Fitzgerald went straight to bed complaining of a high temperature.
Hemingway (always the practical one) sent their clothes to be dried, ordered two whiskey and hot lemonades, took Fitzgerald's pulse and temperature - which were normal - and ordered a meal for himself.
Fitzgerald then asked the Oak Parker to promise him that he would look after Zelda and their daughter Scotty when he, Fitzgerald, died in the night. Hemingway told him to drink his whiskey and hot lemonade and to stop being ridiculous because he wasn't going to die that night, and that he didn't have a temperature and therefore wasn't going to get congestion of the lungs, European or any other sort of congestion.
A fierce argument arose with Hemingway wishing he wasn't wasting so much time with this lunatic writer and that he'd never agreed to go to Lyon in the first place.
But Fitzgerald began to calm down, and Hemingway knew he couldn't stay angry with Fitzgerald for long.
Hemingway also knew that Fitzgerald knew that drunks, in those days, often died of pneumonia, and that Fitzgerald knew he was a drunk - even if it only took a couple of drinks. Hemingway knew it was the fear of that which had brought on the stupidity and the arguments.
Later on that night F. Scott Fitzgerald insisted that Ernest Hemingway take his temperature. Hemingway assured him that his temperature was fine to the touch.
" To the touch, what good is that?"
" And your pulse is normal."
" I want you to get a thermometer and take my temperature properly."
Hemingway tried to argue Fitzgerald out of the idea, but Fitzgerald used emotional blackmail by telling Hemingway he couldn't possibly be his friend if he wouldn't find a thermometer and take his temperature.
Hemingway, in A Moveable Feast, writes:
" I rang for the waiter. He didn't come and I rang again and then went down [in his pajamas] to the hallway to look for him. Scott was lying with his eyes closed, breathing slowly and carefully and, with his waxy colour and his perfect features, he looked like a little dead crusader. I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life. I was very tired of Scott and of this silly comedy, but I found the waiter and gave him money to buy a thermometer and a tube of aspirin, and ordered two [more] citron pressés and two [more] double whiskies. I tried to order a bottle of whisky but they would only sell it by the drink."
When Hemingway returned to the room he explained to Fitzgerald that he'd sent out for a thermometer. He then felt Fitzgerald's forehead, which was cold, but not as cold as the tomb, as Hemingway describes it. Fitzgerald then argued that sending out for a thermometer was not the same as bringing one.
Hemingway describes how you could not be angry with Fitzgerald as you could not be angry with someone who was crazy. But Hemingway was becoming more and more angry with himself for having become involved in the whole silliness.
As they waited for the waiter both men fell into silence with Hemingway finishing of the Mâcon they'd bought earlier, and reading the newspapers, especially the crime stories which (as Hemingway explains in A Moveable Feast) in France read like serials, but explains that you will have needed to have read the first instalment to know what is going on because, unlike in US papers, they didn't give summaries. He then goes on to write that the only place to read such serials is at a café table in Paris, and not sitting on the bed of a small hotel fifty kilometres north of Lyon with the rain still lashing down outside as you waited for a waiter to bring a thermometer for a hypochondriac novelist.
When the waiter arrived with the drinks he explained that the pharmacy was closed so he could not purchase a thermometer. Fitzgerald then asked Hemingway if he had explained to the waiter the urgency of the situation and had he tipped the waiter enough because waiters, especially French waiters, only worked for tips, and big tips because they were all rotten.
Hemingway said he had and knew that Fitzgerald had no understanding of waiters, or anyone else who had to work for a living, and wanted to tell him about how a waiter at the Closerie des Lilas had to cut his moustache off when that restaurant opened an American Bar, and that he would have been sacked had he not done so; and how the waiters had become firm friends of Hemingway, and his friend Evan Shipman, and how those waiters had loaned Hemingway money in the early days, money they could not afford to lend, and that you didn't abuse waiters, or taxi drivers as Fitzgerald did. Hemingway realised that Fitzgerald was a dreadful snob and a pain in the arse, which is where he wanted to stick the thermometer if he could get one.
As Hemingway read his newspaper Fitzgerald turned on him, as Hemingway recalled in A Moveable Feast:
" You're a cold one, aren't you?"
" What do you mean, Scott?"
" You can sit there and read that dirty French rag of a paper and it doesn't mean a thing to you that I am dying."
" Do you want me to call a doctor?"
" No. I don't want a dirty French provincial doctor."
" What do you want?"
" I want my temperature taken. Then I want my clothes dried and for us to get on an express train for Paris and to go to the American hospital at Neuilly."
" Our clothes won't be dry yet, and there aren't any express trains..."
With that there was a knock on the door. The waiter had returned with a thermometer - a large bath thermometer with a wooden back and, as Hemingway describes it, "...enough metal to sink it in the bath."
Hemingway shook the thermometer down "professionally". Fitzgerald then asked where that kind of thermometer went. Hemingway hesitated and then said that it went under the arm and put it under his own arm. Fitzgerald told him to remove it as it might affect his own reading. Hemingway then shook it down again and put it under Fitzgerald's arm where he left it for four minutes.
" Aren't you supposed to leave for just one minute?"
" No," replied Hemingway, explaining that it was a big thermometer and that you had to multiply by four, hoping Fitzgerald would believe him.
" Oh. So what's the reading?"
" Thirty-seven and six-tenths."
" Is that normal?"
" Are you sure?"
Fitzgerald insisted Hemingway try it on himself, which he did with the same result.
Fitzgerald asked Hemingway how he felt. Fine, said Hemingway. Well, we can be happy it cleared up so quickly, replied Fitzgerald, reminding Hemingway that he'd always had excellent recuperative powers.
He then insisted on phoning Zelda.
After that Fitzgerald brightened and told Hemingway how he'd met Zelda and that this was their first night of separation since they had married, which Hemingway did not believe.
When their clothes were dry and pressed they both went down for dinner with Fitzgerald talking all the while about his novels and where the plots had come from, and he kept on talking the following day as they drove to Paris in beautiful sunshine.
When they finally reached Paris Fitzgerald gave Hemingway the manuscript of his new book to read, which Hemingway loved and knew that no matter how badly Scott behaved, which was really a sickness, that Hemingway must always try and be a good friend.
Some months after their eventful – and very wet - car journey from Lyon back to Paris in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald invited Ernest Hemingway to lunch at Michaud's restaurant, which is still situated on the corner of rue Jacob and the rue des Saints-Pères, and is still very much the haunt of writers – James Joyce dined there often in the 1920s - or those who want to be writers, and others who think they're writers.
Fitzgerald had told Hemingway that he had “something very important” to ask his fellow novelist and that Hemingway must be totally honest with him.
According to Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast, Fitzgerald:
“ ...drank wine at the lunch but it did not affect him and he had not prepared for the lunch by drinking before it. We talked about our work and about people and he asked me about people we had not seen lately. I knew that he was writing something good and that he was having great trouble with it for many reasons.”
At the end of the lunch Fitzgerald reminded Hemingway that he once told him he'd never slept with anyone but Zelda. Hemingway couldn't remember. At the Dingo Bar? Fitzgerald prompted. Can't say I can remember, Scott.
Anyway, Fitzgerald went on, Zelda says I'm no longer any good in bed, was never much good if I wanted to know the truth, and it's all to do with size, with measurements. Zelda says I'm too small, down there. Hemingway reminded Fitzgerald that Zelda was crazy and didn't really know what she was saying most of the time, and that women usually said such things when they wanted to control their men, make them impotent and no good to any other women.
Fitzgerald then asked Hemingway if he'd take a look at his, you know, and give him his honest opinion as to its size.
Hemingway took Fitzgerald into “The Office” ( the lavatory) of the Mirchaud and took a good look at Fitzgerald's you know.
Over a drink a few minutes later Hemingway told Fitzgerald that his you know was fine, and that it wasn't the size in repose that mattered but the size when aroused.
"Are you sure, Ernest, you're not just saying that?"
" No, Scott, you're fine. Come on let's get over to the Louvre and take a look at the statues there and you'll see what I mean."
" You see I have this young woman whose interested in me," said Fitzgerald, "and if my measurements are no good I shall feel, well you know?"
" Do whatever the young woman wants, Scott, you'll be fine, you'll see."
So they went to the Louvre and Fitzgerald seemed convinced.
The two writers never spoke of it again.