Ernest had just selected the red side of the typewriter ribbon to type “Buy some postcards”. This was for Mary. Typing in blue ink meant sentences to be included in the ongoing novel, whereas red ink was used for private messages to his wife. As usual, he was up at dawn and on with the flannel shirt, waistcoat, corduroy trousers and lastly, his glasses. The latter were always a job to find in the middle of the clutter on his bedside table, which included yesterday’s manuscripts, an ashtray holding his pipe and tobacco and bottles of wine to keep him company during the night, which always seemed too short for him. Ernest would start writing at 5 in the morning and would not leave his room until 11. He wrote and re-wrote his thoughts incessantly. They were simple. Linear. Subject – verb – predicate. Subject – predicate – verb. Full stop and new sentence. This was his revolutionary way of presenting scenes from real life. Inessential words were pared away, to reveal a dynamic, vibrant style. Bold, ironic and packed with double entendres. When his parents had read A Farewell to Arms, they had been deeply ashamed of his style of writing. However, that was how Hemingway saw life, and he expressed this in dense, honed, pungent prose, one page loaded with staccato-style words.
Being in Italy often reminded him of his war experience there, on which A Farewell to Arms was based. Even if it seemed a long time ago, as did WWII. There had been some friction between him and the Fascist regime when, as a reporter for the Toronto Star, he had gone to the Peace Conference in Lausanne in 1923, and after meeting Mussolini, had stated that he was “the biggest bluff in Europe”. Although it seemed ages ago, the memory of a young Italian woman, who was arrested by the Fascists in Turin in 1943 for translating his book illegally, was still fresh in his mind. The book had been based on his experience in the mountains in the Veneto region, and as he was in Cortina now, he decided to try and get in touch with her.
It was nearing lunchtime, and after looking at his work from afar, as would an artist with his painting, he got up, adjusted his belt, finished off his glass of wine and asked his wife to accompany him into town. It was chilly, being late September. They went into the Posta Hotel for a quick Bloody Mary, and then bought some postcards. The most urgent card was to be sent to Turin, to the brave translator, Fernanda Pivano. The message said: “I’m in Cortina and I want to see you”. Signed “Hemingway”. The young woman thought it seemed too good to be true, almost a joke. Indeed, the she only realized that it was no joke when she received a second post-card, which said: “If you don’t want to come to Cortina, then I’ll come to Turin; I need to speak with you”. This was in early October, 1948. Getting to Cortina was not all that easy. However, “Nanda”, as she was known by everyone, bought a train ticket and set off one morning from Turin at dawn, and arrived in Venice. She then changed trains, boarding a small train bound for the Dolomites, which clambered up the mountain to the small town. As she sat on the cold seat while the changing countryside flashed by the window, Fernanda thought about her life, her passion for American literature which had been kindled by the mishap with the Nazis and she smiled. If this had served to lead her to Hemingway, then some good had come out of it. She had packed a small bag with a change of clothes, as it was impossible to travel to Cortina from Turin and back again in a day, and in any case she wanted all the time she could get to speak with the writer. This was a rare opportunity. He was staying at the Concordia Hotel, which was open out of season just for him and his friends. When she finally walked into the hotel dining room it was nine o’clock at night. As soon as he saw her, he got up and went towards her with arms outstretched, hugging her so tightly she thought her bones would crack. While he was holding her, he whispered in her ear “tell me about the Nazi”. At that moment a strange sort of chemistry bonded them. They never stopped talking or comparing their different experiences.
He recounted to her all the events during the war that had inspired the book that brought them together. Unable to enlist in the army due his bad eye, he signed up as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, and was sent to Italy. Every day he would ride his bicycle to the trenches distributing chocolate, cigarettes and cards to the soldiers on the front line. Then one day near Fossalta he was hit by fragments from a mortar shell. Although his leg contained numerous pieces of shrapnel, he still managed to carry a wounded soldier back, but while he was walking his leg was again hit by several machine gun bullets, and he had to be hospitalized. He was first sent to a hospital in Treviso, and subsequently to Milan, a few days before his nineteenth birthday on 17th July, 1918. Here his Italian adventure began, as he fell in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse there, who would become Katherine Barkley in his novel. He believed that war was like hunting and fishing, all situations that required courage, which was the main ingredient in his life. As a child his father, a surgeon, had helped him to bear pain by singing to him, while his mother dressed him in little girl’s clothes, which is why maybe the only way to survive such ordeals was by becoming hyper-macho. When he was ten, he was given his first gun. Moreover, living near an Indian reservation meant that he grew up close to nature, which is why he was not afraid to challenge it. Similarly, his ambling, manly gait was inspired by the way great Indian chiefs walked. Nanda hung onto “Mr. Papa’s” every word, as he liked to be called. They spent two days outdoors, the way Ernest liked it, and between one anecdote and the next they would drive out in his blue Buick convertible with the roof open, despite the low temperature. He doled out gin, his favourite drink during the day, his pipe always ready to be lit, his wife warmly dressed in the back seat, while Nanda sat in the front next to him, listening to his anecdotes on safaris, hunting, fishing, Africa, Spain and Cuba.
The trip to Cortina ended. Hemingway often returned to the Veneto region, hunting with the local aristocrats and stopping over in Venice. That first meeting had gone very well with Nanda and he had enjoyed himself. He wanted to see her again and invited her to spend Christmas with them. Nanda was delighted to accept the invitation, although it seemed so unreal. This was only the beginning of their relationship, which would last all Hemingway’s life. And to think that everything had begun with an arrest.