February 2010

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The Hemingway Project

A few days ago I got a very nice e-mail from Allie Baker, a writer who has started a new blog, called The Hemingway Project, that’s all about, as she says, “the enduring influence of Ernest Hemingway.” Through the wonders of Google, she came across a story I’d done for Islands magazine not long ago in which “Papa” played a key role, so she wrote and asked if she could interview me. I was flattered (click the link above to read it). Since we Hemingway fans have to stick together, I asked her if she’d mind letting me reprint her original blog post. It follows.

Welcome to the Hemingway Project

By Allie Baker

It all started with A Moveable Feast – the first Hemingway book I read for pleasure (without being assigned to read it!) His voice was warm, and yet detached, one could feel the ache of nostalgia in each sentence and yet, at the same time, feel that he was a cad. Moveable Feast left me wanting to know more about him – what happened after Paris? What happened to Hadley and Bumby? To answer some of these questions, I read his biography next, but the biography only created more questions about this complicated man. His life was richly layered beyond my wildest expectations; he lived in exceptional times, he explored several continents, he loved and hated deeply, he wrote books and that are still of great interest to us. He lived out the adventures and the consequences of being a completely free human being. Alas, I was hooked.

This blog is an exploration of our responses to Hemingway; his books, his friends, his travels, and all of what went into making his live so extraordinary. It’s a discussion, a conversation, a debate – and I hope you will be part of this project!

Are you a Hemingway scholar? Do you have a good Hemingway story? Have you taken to wearing a beret and thinking about Hemingway at work? Do you daydream about fighting bulls in Spain? Or making your next home in Cuba? Marrying a couple more times? Do you think he’s overrated? Do you re-read his books every year? Do you have a neighbor who knows a friend whose sister had a crush on him in the 40’s? Please join the discussion about his rare and uncommon, controversial man.

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Across Lions Gate Bridge

Lions Gate Bridge and the hills of West Vancouver.

Lions Gate Bridge and the hills of West Vancouver.

“Vancouver is a very young city. It’s only about 130 years old,” says Manfred Scholermann in his Hamburg accent. “So the difference between old money and new money in Vancouver is about 30 years. To a European, this is very funny.”

(To his point, in 1907, Rudyard Kipling wrote, in a letter to his family, that “Vancouver is an aged city, for only a few days previous to my arrival the Vancouver Baby—i.e. the first child born in Vancouver—had been married.”)

Manfred and I are inching our way through early evening traffic headed towards narrow Lions Gate Bridge. One thing I’ve noticed about Vancouver is that the traffic is as bad as in L.A. When I mention this to Manfred, he says, “Actually, Vancouver has come up with a really great way of handling congestion—they don’t do anything about it. And that forces people to find alternatives to driving.”

Well, okay. There’s a certain pretzel logic in that, I suppose. Lions Gate Bridge itself has a rather interesting history. In 1932, the Guinness family used a bit of their beer money to buy 4,000 acres of West Vancouver mountainside through a syndicate called British Pacific Properties. The idea was to develop the land and turn it into the tony section of Vancouver. The only problem was that the only way to get there from downtown Vancouver was by ferry.

So in order to get people from downtown Vancouver to West Vancouver, a bridge was built, beginning in 1937, at a cost of $5,873,837.17 (Canadian). And West Vancouver was developed (and it is still the most fashionable part of town). And then in 1955, the Guinness family sold the bridge to the province of British Columbia for…(wait for it)…$5,959,060. So I guess they got their cake and got to eat it too.

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Busy, Busy Coal Harbour

Canada Place, with its sail roof, ringed with cruise ships in Coal Harbour.

Canada Place, with its sail roof, ringed with cruise ships in Coal Harbour.

Vancouver is a water nymph floating on her back in a pea green pond. That’s the conclusion I came to after spending much of yesterday walking along the waterfront harbor, ending up at Canada Place, home of all the luxury cruise ships heading seaward as well the main press center for the Olympics.

Take enough escalators up and down Canada Place and sooner or later you’ll find a bar where you can sip a glass of B.C. wine, like a Gehringer Brothers Pinot Blanc or Mission Hill Chardonnay, while watching all the action in busy Coal Harbour, all of which reminds me of a scene from one of those Richard Scarry books like Busy, Busy Town. There is no Mr. Frumble having a very bad day or Sgt. Murphy chasing Bananas Gorilla, but the harbor is, nonetheless, busy and loud with ridiculous noises: the basso profundo blasts of the cruise ships pulling in or out of the pier; the twap-twap-twap of helicopters gently alighting at the heli-port; the gutteral buzz of seaplanes—one after the other—plopping down in the bay like hungry pelicans.

A scene from Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy Town

A scene from Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy Town

Ferries glide by, sailboats flap their sails, and huge party boats with names like Pride of Vancouver and Queen of Diamonds slowly cruise the waterfront, their decks spilling over with bundled up crowds drinking wine and cocktails. Even from high atop a hotel along the harbor, you can hear their mingled laughter, catch a fragment of a song spilling from deck speakers (it’s that Canadian goddess, Sarah McLachlan, I’m sure!), and see the tuxedo-shirted waitresses in bow ties offering up canapés to the guests.

There are floating gas stations (Chevron, Esso, Petro Canada) and a big barge with a fire engine red crane swinging buckets of river rocks to extend the shoreline just that much further out into the water. Container freighters chug past Stanley Park and the Sea Bus hurries towards North Vancouver with evening commuters. It’s mesmerizing and so you understand why I sit there, taking it all in, ordering another glass of wine, until the sun has set behind me, sky and water gone inky black, leaving me like Jay Gatsby, sitting on a pier staring at the red and green dock light across the sound.

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Hiking with Manfred the Magician

A bridge across the Capilano River. Photo by David Lansing.

A bridge across the Capilano River. Photo by David Lansing.

Manfred Scholermann is famished. So am I. We have been hiking all morning in the temperate rain forests of Capilano River Park, following the reverse course of doomed coho and Chinook salmon making their way from the Burrard Inlet to the Capilano River Hatchery, and now we are headed for lunch, in our sweat-soaked shirts and muddy boots, to a stylish café in West Vancouver. The restaurant is filled with well-heeled businessmen and elegantly dressed women.

I would like to take off my damp, dirty baseball cap—I really would—but the constant drip of water from the towering cedars and firs of the Capilano rain forest, which is just twenty minutes from downtown Vancouver, has plastered my thin hair to my scalp like wallpaper. Better to leave the hat on, I think. Besides, Manfred is a former chef, a wine connoisseur, and an excellent raconteur and doesn’t seem the least concerned to be sitting in this tony restaurant with muddy legs protruding from soaked khaki shorts, so why should I.

On our rather strenuous hike, Manfred waxed poetically about the sea, the river, the forest, and all creatures large and small that lived in this forest fairyland. He picked wild salmonberries from the bushes and munched on the young green sprouts of hemlock branches as warm moisture, dew, condensation—whatever you want to call it (it wasn’t exactly raining, though it felt like it)—fell like spit from the tree canopy towering hundreds of feet overhead. It seemed as if every sentence out of Manfred’s mouth contained the word rain or river or sea or water. Though I was soaked through and through, it made me thirsty. It also made me crave salty, fleshy things from the ocean. So much so that I pondered lurching into the fast-flowing Capilano and stalking a salmon like one of the forest’s bears currently hibernating (I hope).

It was at this point, I suppose, while standing on a slick boulder on the banks of the river, that I reached into my pocket for a dry tissue to blow my nose and, forgetting that I’d stuffed some bills in there as well, watched as four twenties, held together with a paper clip, dropped into the swirling water and quickly disappeared downstream.

I cursed. Manfred consoled me by offering to buy lunch. Which is why we are now at this warm little café drinking Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and slurping down salty fanny bay oysters as quickly as our waitress can bring them. And so the afternoon goes along pleasantly enough, with me and Manfred sloshing down Cloudy Bay like pirates and wolfing down oysters like sea otters. Manfred is telling me a humorous story about his days as a chef at the Banff Springs Chateau when I interrupt him with a howl. I have just bitten into something extremely hard in the middle of my fanny bay. I spit it out of my mouth and hold it in the palm of my hand: a perfect little pearl. A gift from the sea.

“That’s very good luck,” Manfred says.

I wipe the pearl with my napkin and slip it into my pants pocket. We finish our lunch. And as we are running down the sidewalk, the rain having picked up while we lunched, I spot a hundred-dollar Canadian note floating in the gutter. Almost an exact conversion of the four twenties I’d lost this morning.

“I think this city is good for you,” Manfred says, slapping me on the back as I climb into his car.

I think he may be right.

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How to make it snow in Vancouver

A Vancouver oddity...snow.

A Vancouver oddity...snow.

I arrived in Vancouver on a warm and rainy day in the middle of February. This was—everyone told me—an anomaly. They never get much snow in Vancouver, even in Febuary, but what with the Olympics going on and everything, the whole town is nervously aware of B.C.’s unusually warm winter.

The first Vancouverite I encountered was the cheerful young girl at the rental car counter who, when she saw my Bunyunesque frame, refused to let me take the little compact car I’d reserved. “You’ll bump your head against the roof of that thing and break your neck,” she said, taking away the keys she’d offered me a moment before. Instead, she was going to upgrade me. For free. To a bright yellow SUV with snow tires.

I said I didn’t think I needed an SUV, thank you very much, particularly since I wasn’t planning on going up to Whistler or any of the other snow venues. Besides, I told her, I’d heard that it was supposed to rain for the next week or so. She told me it was silly to listen to weather forecasts and then offered to show me how to shift the SUV into 4-wheel drive.

Convinced I’d never need this superfluous option, I paid scant attention to her instructions. Aware of my inattentiveness, she stopped her spiel, put a solicitous hand on my shoulder, and said, “Listen, dear. If you put it in 4-wheel drive, it will start snowing. Trust me.”

Well, it rained and it rained as I was driving into the city and in a way, I was glad to have my macho canary-mobile, even if I didn’t really think I’d need the all-drive option. And then a curious thing happened. As I crossed the Granville Bridge over False Creek, splotches of white paste fell from the sky. By the time I turned onto Robson Street, towards my hotel, it was a full on winter storm. The snow was heavy and wet and mostly melted the second it hit the ground. Still, it was snowing. Just like she said it would. Perhaps I should go up to Whistler.

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