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Hemingway Adventure

Marion, Montana

Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureEvening. Exhausted. At an open-air dinner beneath a big, protective river willow tree outside the old wood farmhouse, moments like the attorney’s fall grow in the retelling, along with those of my Laurel and Hardy-esque attempts later in the day to rebuild a pine-log fence with the help of two grandmothers from Massachusetts.

Over a good country meal of prime beef, with cabbage, mushrooms, jacket potatoes of exceptional flavour, cream, fresh-baked bread and a Cabernet Sauvignon riskily called ‘Dynamite’, Ellen draws out the guests with well-practised skill. Part schoolmistress, part ringmaster, part entertainer, she soon has us all recounting wedding stories and how we met stories, and Rick is telling us about romance in a Laundromat and soon personal hygiene secrets are being traded as if we’d known each other from school. This would surely have had Hemingway running for cover. He came to the dude ranches of the West to get away from people, to recharge the batteries, hunt, fish and write. And it seemed to work. On his first visit to Wyoming in 1928 he completed the first draft of A Farewell to Arms, though he was to change the ending forty-eight times before he was satisfied. Two years later, with A Farewell to Arms a firm bestseller, he was at the L-Bar-T ranch working on Death in the Afternoon and writing to his friend Henry Strater ‘Am going damned well on my book - page 174 - I can shoot the Springfield as well as a shotgun now.’

He never lost his fondness for the wide open spaces, though increasing fame made it more difficult for him to find the privacy he needed, which is perhaps why, in 1939, he agreed to be one of the first celebrity guests at the Sun Valley resort in the Sawtooth mountains of Idaho, newly opened by Averell Harriman, owner of the Union Pacific Railroad. In exchange for free accommodation and the odd publicity photo calls, he would be left alone.

As we sit around the camp-fire listening to the jolly gurgling yodels of ‘The Singing Cowboy’ I try to envisage Ernest wrestling with the problems of true declarative sentences to the accompaniment of ‘Home, Home on the Range’ and I realise why he was tempted to take the rich man’s shilling and head for Sun Valley.
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Marion, Montana
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Marion, Montana
  • Book page no: 246

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