Tuesday, January 10, 2012
The Farm by Paul Hendrickson
Walter Houk (the only friend Hemingway had who is still alive) was born to working-class folk in Mission Hospital, on June 14, 1925, in a little nondescript community on the eastern edge of Los Angeles called Walnut Park. That was the summer of The Sun Also Rises – its seemingly miraculous, falling-out-whole, first draft, which in effect was the final draft. Another story of that summer, not nearly so well known, might be thought of as the first node of connection between someone destined to be very famous and someone who’d achieve a startling lot in his life, even if none of it was destined for the front page, which is only the story of the rest of us.
Two days before Walter Hauk was born, and half a world away, on the Left Bank of Paris, twenty-five- year- old Ernest Hemingway and thirty-three year old Hadley Hemingway, who live so reputedly broke and happy with their baby boy above the high whine of a sawmill, had gotten into their gladdest glad rags and gone to a major art opening. It was the first one-man show at the Galerie Pierre for the Spanish Catalan surrealist painter Joan Miro. Hemingway got seized that evening to own a canvas called La Ferme (The Farm). For some months he’d glimpsed the painting as a work in progress in the artist’s studio. The next day, saying that he wished it as a birthday present for his wife, he put a five-hundred-franc note as a down payment, with the balance due in the fall.
A small complication was that the gallery owner had already promised the painting to Hemingway’s friend Evan Shipman, the sometime American poet and lover of the horses at Longchamp and Auteuil. The day after that, at Shipman’s urging, the two nonheeled writers decided to do the sporting thing and roll the dice. Biographers would disagree on whether the painting’s full price was thirty-five or five thousand francs ($175 or $250), but either figure would have represented something mountainous to Hemingway ( the big canvass now hangs in the National Gallery of Art, its value in the millions).
In another two weeks, Hemingway and his wife would leave for Spain and the festival at Pamplona, and within little more than a year he’d no longer be poor or unknown or living with Hadley – one of the self-admitted biggest mistakes of his life. But the connecting point here is that he’d thrown the dice and held his breath and won his Miro on the same day Walter was born – and twenty-five years later, in an impromptu tour of his home, Hemingway would be showing off the painting to Walter, whom he’d met about twenty minutes before. And who, in his own way, would feel transfixed by The Farm, as he’d be struck by the other modernist oils hanging casually throughout the house: the Paul Klee, the Juan Gris, the Georges Braque, the Andre Massons. But most especially the Miro, hanging on the south wall of the dining room,. “You see,” Walter once said, knowing nothing of the dice story, “I’d never met anyone before who owned paintings of this quality. And since I was a painter myself, doing it in my spare time, trying to put together a show at a small gallery in Havana, this was eye-opening. Looking at those paintings with him that first day, listening to him talk about them with such pride, especially the Miro, with its technical precision, may have been my first clue that there was some other kind of man here.”
“Gallantry of An Aging Machine”; Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson