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Hemingway Adventure


Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureHemingway’s world was close and uncomfortable and itchy and sweaty and frequently exhausting. It was, I felt, the real thing. To experience it would require the ability to absorb a little punishment, it would demand an open mind and a degree of recklessness. But it could and should be done. This stuff was too good to be wasted on exams, I must be bold and fearless and go out there and do it for myself.

Unfortunately, in the late 1950s there wasn’t much call for provincial English schoolboys to carry mortars up Spanish hillsides, and though I had a goldfish I hadn’t fought for seven hours to land it.

So boldness and fearlessness were put on hold and I packed the books into the back of the car and looked out at the Newark Bypass as my father drove us back to Sheffield, holidays over for another year.

But something was different. After reading Hemingway I felt I’d grown up a little. Lost my literary virginity. Books would never be quite the same again.

Life, on the other hand, was just the same.

I passed the exams and never read Hemingway again for nearly thirty years. Then someone gave me a copy of his collected short stories. It took just one of them - ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ - to bring it all back.

The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.

Nothing more than that. An image, clean and simple, which was to me as intense as opening a window and gulping in the air. And at that moment the phone rang. It was someone from the BBC asking if I would be prepared to take on a new sort of challenge. To travel round the world in eighty days, non-stop, no cheating, no aircraft.
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Introduction
  • Country/sea: England
  • Place: London
  • Book page no: 9

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