May 5: On this day in 1964 Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast was published, and on this day in 1943 Michael Palin was born. Palin has taken on the Hemingway legend twice, once in his television series book, Hemingway Adventure (1999) and once in his novel, Hemingway’s Chair (a 1995 bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book). The Adventure tracks Hemingway through Moveable Feast Paris and the other famous places, if only to peer from a distance, at wall plaques in hotels where the great man wrote, or visiting restaurants and bars where legendary conversations (and drinking bouts) are said to have taken place.
Both the travel book and the novel are based not so much on Hemingway as on Hemingway-gazing, especially as done by Walter Mitty types. The hero of Hemingway’s Chair is a soft-faced thirty-six-year-old still living with his mother in Norwich. By day, Martin is assistant manager at the Post Office; by night, he is Papa. He types on a vintage Corona, while wearing a German army belt; he drinks grappa, kept in a WWI Italian army first-aid cabinet. When the hero-worship overwhelms the day job, Martin’s troubles deepen, but so does Palin’s humor. Here Martin-Papa, now unemployed, returns to his workplace in a ‘going postal’ mood:
“Hello Martin,” Shirley replied cautiously. “How are you?”
His eyes searched behind the counter.
“It must be a nice change not having to get up at six thirty every morning,” Shirley ventured warily.
Martin nodded enthusiastically. “Means I can get up at six, when it’s barely light enough to see the pine trunks and the soles of your feet are wet from the dew on the stones, and the touch of the air from the sea promises how the day will be. It’s the best time to write.”
Shirley was aware of disapproving faces behind the rope. “What is it you wanted, Martin?”
He sighed heavily. “I want the same as anybody else, daughter. I want to know that I’ve taken care of the big things. Like love and hate and fear. And that I haven’t done too bad at the small ones either. And when the time comes to make my peace –”
She interrupted. “D’you want stamps or anything?”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.