Saturday, August 05, 2006

Hemingway in Mendocino

We drove to Mendocino last week. It is a different sort of coastal California here. The air is very clean. Black hawks fly above the ocean cliffs. Deers congregate on the nearby fields at dusk. I can see all this from our room at the Heritage House.

My husband and I are here for a few days to help his recuperation. He suffers from back injuries that prevent him standing or even walking more than a short distance. He has been spiraling downward emotionally; constant pain takes its toll. A change of scenery seemed like a good idea.

Our room at the Heritage House is Deerfield Seven. It is done in a sort of faux French provincial; a throwback to the 1950s. One critical Internet reviewer called it "decorated like your grandma's house". I don't mind much. Sometimes all the modern marble and granite and shades of beige in modern hotels can get rather boring. This place evokes memories of the 1950s -- cocktail hour, the Cold War, and Hemingway.

It is different; a change of scenery.

Our room looks out on a field and cliffs and the ocean. This is a big view. A panorama. One wall of the room is all windows with a big sliding glass door. We look through this wall of windows and view the ocean while we are comfortably seated in the blue upholstered swivel chairs in our French provincial parlor.

There's no television in the room, no phone, no Internet access, and no cell phone service. My husband dozes off, reads a little, and watches the ocean. I am reading and re-reading Hemingway. Every hour or so I get up and stretch. I check out the effect of the light and wind on the water. Then I go back to Hemingway.

I finished "A Farewell to Arms". I was vaguely hoping that the story would have a different ending and that Catherine Barkley would become a feminist in her old age. Of course it did not happen. I still enjoyed re-reading the novel.

I forgot how much the characters drink in Hemingway's novels. Reading about all the drinking has made me thirsty. Our room has a complimentary minibar (first complimentary one I have ever seen), so although I would normally have a cup of tea, I decide to plunge into the total Hemingway experience and fix myself a gin and tonic. It is very refreshing.

The taste of hard liquor brings me furthur back to the 1950s and now I start in on "For Whom the Bell Tolls". I have never read it before and I am feeling the thrill of reading a classic for the first time. Unfortunately, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is harder going. The cast of characters are mostly Republican banditos fighting the Fascists in Spain's civil war. They are not very likeable. One is a drunk. The others like to argue a lot and bait each other into arguments. It seems like a sort of competition of aspiring alpha males. This does not interest me. These unlikeable people are banded together on a mission to blow up a bridge.

Time to get up and stretch and look at the light and wind on the ocean. It dawns on me that there is a reason women readers like Hemingway's novels. Hemingway's male characters are realistically drawn, heterosexual men who develop deep feelings for women. Of course, they are interested in sex, but they are also deeply connected to one woman. I think this is comforting to most women. Hemingway's universal theme -- that none of us goes through life without significant pain and loss -- makes his work appealing to all readers. Love, pain, and loss.

Now it is time to awaken my husband to dress for dinner.

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