I have had more on my mind lately than emoticows and would be posting many a blog on each of the various thoughts that catch my attention like jingling keys and the bits of shiny stuff I’d normally follow, BUT the bloody Internet connection here sucks balls this week so I’m stuck struggling even to send emails.
While I have a slight and fleeting chance of getting something up … in the blog sense, of course … I’m going to smoosh a bunch of stuff into one post with the hope it doesn’t end up like a peanut butter, pork chop and prune sandwich and is somewhat digestible.
Ah, yes! The joys of island life …
Aside from the distance, shit Internet, the difficulty of finding a ______(fill in the blank: plumber, electrician, gardener, carpenter, mason … whatever) who will know what they’re doing AND show up, water issues, bad parking, a propensity to blast crap music from fridge-sized speakers and the lack of Mexican restaurants, life here is pretty good.
We have the most beautiful beaches in the world, lovely mountains and forests, tropical weather, a relatively low crime rate, a postal service that works, clean streets, free education and health care, freedom of religion (and freedom not to have one), and some bloody well interesting people.
Almost no one comes to Seychelles casually. It’s too far from anywhere just to drop by and getting here takes no little effort. There were no people living here at all only about 300 years ago, so even the ancestors of early inhabitants would be considered newbies is most places.
Sure, we now get our share of the rich and famous … and royal … popping in for a week or two for holidays in paradise, but it takes an effort and a special sort of person to call Seychelles home for any length of time.
That being the case, I have had the great good fortune of meeting some very special people.
One comes to mind very much now with this week marking the death of Ernest Hemingway, the author of my favorite literary quote, “The road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs” … and a lot of other great stuff … and the man I immediately think of whenever I hear crowds shouting for “Papa”. (How disappointed I’ve been to find it’s the pope they’re yearning for!)
I was a kid when he took his life, an action that put paid to the wonderfully succinct combos of words that grabbed and held and took me to bars I’d end up drinking in in later years, although not to the extent he took the pastime.
So, I never met the man, which is probably an okay thing since he wasn’t known for having a way with children:
… [he] once told his puking ten-year-old son, “I’ll fix you a Bloody Mary — you’ve just got a hangover.”
I have, however, met and count amongst my friends, Hemingway’s pilot. Okay, one of Hemingway’s bush pilots in Africa, but the only one to join Papa in two … count ’em TWO! … crashes, and both within 2 days.
On January 21, 1954, Ernest and Mary took off from Nairobi, with veteran pilot Roy Marsh at the controls. Taking off from Costermansville – today’s Bukavu – the tour was to continue to Entebbe via Murchison Falls.
“But then it happened,” recalls Emmanuel Eyenga, who has brought some guests in his boat to a point near the waterfall. A post with a sign on top it is jutting out of the water. Written on it is “P.B.M. 9026”.
“That was the registration number of the Cessna. It came down right here,” Eyenga says.
While approaching the falls, Marsh had overlooked a telegraph line at the lodge. The pilot managed to make an emergency landing, but the civilised world was far away.
Headlines like “Ernest Hemingway lost in deepest Africa” were splashed across newspapers and obituaries on Hemingway were already appearing in the US even as the search for him continued.
Then, as a passenger plane on a flight from Entebbe to Sudan changed course, the pilot looked down and saw the Cessna.
The trio were picked up by the SS Murchison which took them to Butiaba on Lake Albert. There, they ran into a pilot named Reginald Cartwright, who convinced Ernest, Mary and Roy to fly with him to Entebbe where the world’s press were waiting.
But Cartwright crashed the plane while taking off. Hemingway managed to escape the wreckage only by smashing a door open – with his skull.
Roy Marsh lives here in Seychelles. Now in his 90s, he’s still dashing, charming, witty and wonderful … and smells like the most delicious combination of beer and cookies, for some reason. (Well, the reason for the beer aura is pretty obvious.)
When I first met Roy some years ago he was still playing a few sets of squash every week and could be found in town most any day he was in the country, speeding around and socializing.
Slight and quiet, the man has stories that continue to amaze even on the third or fourth telling and writing about him has been a goal for me for a long time … any excuse to spend hours in the company of such a perfect manifestation of a sort of man that just doesn’t exist in today’s world in any number that can’t be counted on one hand.
It’s Roy who makes me wish the work talked about in this article had come along sooner, although I doubt he’d be lining up for it:
If Aubrey de Grey’s predictions are right, the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born. And the first person to live for 1,000 years could be less than 20 years younger.
For sure, Hemingway wouldn’t have been interested, an idea made clear by the fact that he took himself out of the game.
There are many theories put forward on why it was Papa topped himself 50 years ago … including injuries resulting from the second of those plane crashes he shared with my friend Roy … and a new one makes sense.
One old friend of his puts no little blame on the FBI and J Edgar Hoover’s propensity for making life a misery when he could.
Some have blamed growing depression over the realisation that the best days of his writing career had come to an end. Others said he was suffering from a personality disorder.
Now, however, Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life has suggested another contributing factor, previously dismissed as a paranoid delusion of the Nobel prize-winning writer. It is that Hemingway was aware of his long surveillance by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who were suspicious of his links with Cuba, and that this may have helped push him to the brink.
Writing in the New York Times on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, AE Hotchner, author of Papa Hemingway and Hemingway and His World, said he believed that the FBI’s surveillance “substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide”, adding that he had “regretfully misjudged” his friend’s fear of the organization.
That Papa had a good imagination is not a question, and what that can do when mixed with fear based on fact is not easy to live with.
No doubt Hemingway suffered from depression. Many writers do. This article in the Times explores the links tying depression, writers and suicide, including Papa, of course.
It is not surprising that these mood disorders seem most at home in the artistic mind. “The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament,” Ms. Jamison said. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing. “When we think of creative writers,” Ms. Jamison said, “we think of boldness, sensitivity, restlessness, discontent; this is the manic-depressive temperament.”
William Styron, author of that cheerful little ditty,”Sophie’s Choice”, wrote about his battle with depression … a fight he never won, but that did not kill him … in Darkness Visible, one of the most helpful bits of writing I have ever been commanded to read.
This is not to say that one must be depressed to write, nor that all depressives can. Sunny dispositions can lead down primrose paths to libraries, but life’s hard edges and awareness of them … even hyper-awareness … does add grist to the mill and grit to the pulp.
Some might say the days of living large are over. My friend Roy might agree. Marty Beckerman seems to:
But we’ve become so afraid of death that we refuse to actually live. We’re scared of the sun because it might give us cancer; we’re scared of a well-marbled steak because it might raise our cholesterol; we’re scared of bullfighting—the only real sport—so we demean ourselves with yoga and Pilates and other such unholy abominations. The closest we come to genuine thrills, genuine danger, is watching IMAX 3-D superhero movies.
Hemingway, however, knew that death isn’t the worst thing in the world. “[C]owardice is worse, treachery is worse, and simple selfishness is worse,” he said. (Also: staying married to the same woman for more than five minutes.)
Perhaps our safety-padded commercial existence is why young people are increasingly drawn to his life and works. Our entire lives are planned out for us before infancy; deviating from the standard path—SAT > college > 24/7 job—is nearly impossible. (Hemingway didn’t bother with college, instead going straight into the trenches of WWI as a medic, proof that an English degree is truly worthless.)
Independence used to mean defining your own existence; now it means paying your own credit-card bill. Freedom used to mean an open road and uncharted waters; now it means choosing between BlackBerry or Droid data plans. Living on our own terms is a foreign concept, but Hemingway bent the world to his liking through sheer gusto, which is very different than the illusion of choice on sale at the Apple Store. Why speak the truth, consequences be damned, when a single impulsive tweet can cost you a career?
Would love to carry on with this for a while, but my Internet connection just might … right now … allow me to post, and I have to go out and unclog a pipe full of shit since the plumber didn’t show up.
Depressing? Well … not exactly a party, but it does give me something to write about.
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