Hemingway at the Hill Center

Was fortunate last night to see a cool Hemingway reading at the Hill Center near Barracks Row. A production of the Shakespeare Theatre and the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, actors and authors did readings of Hemingway passages meaningful to them, and Capitol Hill Books and Lori’s Riverby Books put together a beautiful selection of books from Earnest and his friends and inspirations. Among the readers was an actor I’ve loved in several Folger productions, Craig Wallace.

And Capitol Hill Books did a beautiful catalog for the show.

Washington is in rough shape these days, so I’m trying to keep my District separate from its Washington. It’s been a good District weekend so far. Today I tried a new barber on East Capitol Street: Charlie, owner of Hair by Charlie. Not only did Charlie turn out to be a former Senate and Supreme Court barber, but the son of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton came in with his family. And the sun is out. So, we’ve got that.

I’ve missed Bad Hemingway

Found a compilation that I’d forgotten I owned and read it this week during a welcome break from magazines in the mail. I love Hemingway parodies. I’ve written a couple, one about Agile and one about cucumbers. I wish the Bad Hemingway contest was still around. The best opening sentence in the book I found, which collected most of the winners and near-winners from the 1980s:

You know how it is when the old drunk finds his place at the foot of the great seated Arsenale lion and the proprietor of the Bar Arsenale puts out the little metal tables with the Campari umbrellas and the young Italian sailors stand at the counter to have their morning cappuccino and to talk about the girls they had had last night, or about their mammas, because they are mostly from the country and not really Venetians, in spite of their immaculate uniforms, white and very beautiful.

‘Have you ever shot a charging lion?’

About every other week since June, someone told me I needed to see Midnight in Paris. After the Hemingway-meets-Agile post, someone told me about once a day. Opportunities to see the movie came and went in moderately disappointing fashion until Thursday I finally saw it with a visiting Lindsay. And, yes, Hemingway was my favorite character. To hear him demand answers to questions of manliness made the night.

In name, the movie was about writing and the creative process, which made me predisposed to like it. But in reality, the movie was about life and the living process, which of course fed the creative process, which made me love it. The movie wasn’t perfect, not close. But it delighted.

The pacing was pretty strange. I got the feeling working with Woody Allen now was like working with the Muppets. Either you instinctively understood how to fit in and live inside that world, or you didn’t and wandered around the world with a semi-dazed look on your face as weirdos yammered at you. In Midnight, Rachel McAdams, Carla Bruni, Kathy Bates, Michael Sheen, and even F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were on the dazed side, a bit slow and confused. On the other side, fitting in well were Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody and Hemingway.

Owen Wilson was somehow on both sides. Lindsay explained it best, saying he played smart enough to appreciate the time travel but also dumb enough to make us buy its possibility. There were moments he seemed unsure what approach to take, but by in large he acquitted himself just fine. I went home wanting to see Woody use him again.

I also went home wanting to read a book and go to Paris. The movie warned about the second desire and asked for good reasons, which was fair. Good reasons, such as for movie-going, always came along.

Happy birthday, Hemingway! Love, Agile

The man laid his strips of bacon into a skillet, and he did not notice the sound they made. He heard nothing. He was not thinking of breakfast.

As a writer, he should be able to write a story. But he was not a writer himself. Where he worked now, the owner told him such things every morning. As a writer, one must be able to write a story. The story was everything, the owner told him, and he would work until the story was done. Not a writer himself, he could not see how as much might occur.

Having recently come to his new home, the man was learning the work slowly. The work was plentiful, but jobs he had found lasted just two or three weeks. One followed another. This was a custom still strange to him. The others, those who had been there longer, appeared happy for the labor. Their work shirts were clean and buttoned each morning.

They would gather and stand together. The others would turn to him, and the man was aware of what to do: He told tell them what he had done yesterday, what he would do today and what impediments lay in his way. The group then turned to the woman beside him. She recited her answers. He listened, and the others continued to speak in turn.

When they were finished, they would separate and begin their work.

The man did not mind the work, even when he did not understand it. The work he did, and the work the woman did, the work the rest did, would build something. He had come to his new home for this reason. For a writer, the story should be possible. The owner had told him so.

When the man found a problem, he would write a ticket. He would put the ticket into the jira and wait for a response. At times the response would come quickly to him, and he would be surprised. Some days no reply would come. He told himself there were probably many tickets.

Amid his tasks, during some days, the man pictured his father. The old man had taken worse work. Families and sight-hounds traveled to see his father ride the barrel down the river. The barrel would come to the falls, the crowd shouting on the banks under a full sun. Over the falls, into the torment at the bottom, he would see his father go. He did not like the wait. The light would catch the rings of the barrel first, shouts then exploding, and he felt vital on the riverbank between the trees.

The water was good, and he was not a writer. He was a boy and did not understand when the barrel did not bob up. He collected shards.

He dried them away from the water. With the first piece of wood, he had a splinter. With the second, he had a plank. He built the box over which the minister and his mother would pray. He continued to work, never near the river, believing even in jobs he could not fully perceive.

The skillet in his hand began to smoke. The man turned the bacon. He heard oils burn. He remembered a joke he had once heard about a pig and a chicken. He smiled to himself and wiped the sweat from his face.

One-star reviews of great books

First morning back in the D.C. area. As I attempt to return to Eastern time, catch my breath, answer your e-mail, and, good Lord willing this week, get the blog back on track, Morning News digs into its archives for “Lone Star Statements,” a fun and highly readable set of “excerpts from actual one-star Amazon.com reviews of books from Time’s list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to the present.” My favorite of them:

The Sun Also Rises (1926)

Author: Ernest Hemingway

“Here’s the first half of the book: ‘We had dinner and a few drinks. We went to a cafe and talked and had some drinks. We ate dinner and had a few drinks. Dinner. Drinks. More dinner. More drinks. We took a cab here (or there) in Paris and had some drinks, and maybe we danced and flirted and talked sh*t about somebody. More dinner. More drinks. I love you, I hate you, maybe you should come up to my room, no you can’t’… I flipped through the second half of the book a day or two later and saw the words ‘dinner’ and ‘drinks’ on nearly every page and figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”

Bullfighting writing mind games

… I’m at the point now where I don’t know if I’m reading Hemingway cadence into bullfighting stories or if it’s actually there.

It was the time of Las Fallas, the annual spring festival in Valencia. Giant papier-mache cartoon floats of Sinbad and Snow White and troupes of amateur dancers with lacquered hair and sequined outfits jammed the old city squares. Spanish matrons and women in evening dresses joined the teenagers and the men in business suits thronging the plaza de toros. The matador Jose Tomas had come to fight.

… ESPN catches up with my favorite speller of the last five years, Samir Patel. He seems as happy as you remember him.

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — He is barefoot when he answers the door, mop-top hair parted just so his sleepy brown eyes can see you, peach-fuzzed mouth dangling phrases like “freaked out” just so he doesn’t scare you. Three thousand five hundred hours of prepping bounced him here, somewhere after his 15 minutes but pre-manhood. But he is unencumbered by doubt or regret.

… John Cusack calls Defamer. You’re going to interpret most of the page in line with your views for or against the Iraq war, as that’s what most of the page is about. But there’s a little more.

“You’re reportedly attached to star in this Roland Emmerich film 2012. You’re seriously playing a limo driver in the apocalypse?”

“I can’t divulge that information. It’s very secretive stuff.”

Also, Cusack 1, snark 0. Says one commenter, “I am chagrined to find out that Cusack uses a phone instead of standing outside of people’s windows with a boombox playing a relevant-to-the-situation tune.” Says another, “What I find most shocking about this is that Defamer HQ has a phone.”

… Photographer Paul Fusco narrates a gallery of his photos taken aboard the RFK funeral train, looking at the crowds railside as the train crossed the country.

… Slate continues to lead non-industry publications in coverage of baseball cards and make me happy. This week, Northwestern grad Darren Rovell looks at “the enduring popularity (and ubiquity) of the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card.” If you’ve never seen the card, you need to read the story and see the picture to understand. I’ve never forgotten the first time I saw it (J.D. Beary’s attic). Similar moments include: buying my first Mussina card (the old Bethesda Dugout), trying and failing to win a Bo Jackson shoulder pads card (Armada/Ramada hotel card show, Nags Head), and walking into the House of Cards for the first time.

… Only if you appreciated that previous item would you appreciate a Topps service that puts your pictures into its old (and new) card frames and chooses the wood-grained ’87 frame as its only frame of the ’80s and ’90s. Can cup and Turn Back the Clock cards be far behind? The multicolored ’75 design also makes the cut, and never have I felt such a compulsion to take a horizontal photo.

… Via TMN’s headline feed, the Village People, the YMCA, the New York Yankees, and others tell Spin their thoughts on YMCA.

… The buyouts hit the Style Invitational. Can it be saved?

… Don’t ask me how I know this. The Google path would take too long to explain, and you’d be more amused without it. The Brady Anderson poster, the Brady Anderson poster, is once again for sale.

‘Big two-hearted river! Booyah!’

When ESPN columnist Jim Caple goes to a bullfight in Pamplona, his resulting article begins in a legendary style.

“In the late afternoon of that day, the sun finally blazed through the clouds and the spectators raised the dust as they waited outside the old bullfight arena. It was so hot, the intense rays could have given the big bust of Hemingway a sunburn if the statue had not been in the shade instead. And it felt good.”

As Caple goes on, I can’t tell if he sticks with the style or not because that beginning gets the style stuck in my head. (While Caple continued, I could not tell if the man had stayed true to the style or did otherwise, for he had introduced the style and I had become drunk on it.)

Paragraphs deep in the story, like the one below, stir the greatest doubts. They don’t stretch the phasing, but they do little do dissuade my internal Papa.

“The matador struts and poses and plays to the crowd and he does this to make for a better, more dramatic fight and perhaps because he hopes he may get on SportsCenter. Eventually the matador takes the red cape and the curved sword and plunges it into the bull’s spinal column and kills him, and they drag away the bull with a team of horses and everyone cheers. It is like how the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry used to be, but no more.”

You take a stab at it.

Last thing before travel

To keep you people somewhat placated during my trip, we’re opening up the vault and picking out The Short Unhappy Life, inspired in 1999 by the annual Hemingway parody contest. It’s not that good (it’s four years old), but it’s all I’ve got time post now. And it involved food, which is never bad.

The 2002 and 2003 Hemingway and Faux Faulkner contest winners are also online and even more worth reading.