Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Farewell to Arms, and Hemingway's Thoughts on Rome

Shall we stay up tonight and read, dear?

Yes, let's do that.

We'll do it then.  It's a wonderful idea.  We'll have a great time.

Yes, we will.

What will you read dear?

I'll read A Farewell to Arms.  It's by Ernest Hemingway.

I've heard it's good.

I've heard it's good, too.

When was it published?

I don't know. What will you read, dear?

I'll read over your shoulder, dear.  You're so wonderful.

No, it's you that's wonderful.  You're so dear.  Come and read with me. 

Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, and Adolph Menjou in the
1932 version
 A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929.  It' a semi-autobiographical account of Ernest Hemingway's experiences as an ambulance driver in the Italian army in World War I.   We had read Mark Thompson's history of the conflict, The White War, and we couldn't resist Hemingway's story, which includes a combat injury and the retreat from Caporetto.  As the made-up lines above suggest, it's also a sentimental (if ultimately disturbing) love story.  In the book the Hemingway character speaks Italian, abeit with an accent. 

The story has been filmed twice.  The 1932 version starred Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes; the 1957 treatment featured Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones.  Although Hudson more closely resembled the young Hemingway, it's the Cooper version we want to see.  Unfortunately, Deborah Kerr, the ideal Catherine Barkley, is in neither.

The Italian retreat from Caporetto
Events in the book take place entirely in northern Italy and Switzerland, a long way from Rome and a bit of reach even for the long arms of Rome the Second Time.  Yet Hemingway does offer some thoughts on the Eternal City, in the form of a conversation between Tenente Henry (Hemingway), the Major, and Rinaldi.  The Major and Rinaldi are Italian, and Rinaldi is Henry's best friend.  Henry is recuperating from a leg injury. 

The ruminations on Rome begin after several glasses of brandy.  The "I" is Henry:

We will get Corsica and all the Adriatic coast line, Rinaldi said.  Italy will return to the splendors of Rome, said the major.  I don't like Rome, I said.  It is hot and full of fleas.  You don't like Rome?  Yes, I love Rome.  Rome is the mother of nations.   I will never forget Romulus suckling the Tiber. What?  Nothing.  Let's all go to Rome.  Let's go to Rome to-night and never come back.  Rome is a beautiful city, said the major.  The mother and father  of nations, I said.  Roma is feminine, said Rinaldi.  It cannot be the father.  Who is the father, then, the Holy Ghost?  Don't blaspheme.  I wasn't blaspheming.  I was asking for information.  You are drunk, baby.  Who made me drunk?  I made you drunk, said the major.  I made you drunk because I love you and because America is in the war.  Up to the hilt, I said.  You go away in the morning, baby, Riunaldi said.  To Rome, I said.  No, to Milan.  To Milan, said to major, to the Crystal Palace, to the Cova, to Campari's, to Buffi's to the galleria.  :You lucky boy.

I'm sure Mr. Hemingway is a fine writer, dear, but he seems a trifle confused about Rome, don't you think?

Yes he does.

Let's go to Rome!  It would be splendid.  I don't believe it's full of fleas.  We could leave tomorrow.

That's a wonderful idea, dear.  You're so sweet.  We'll have breakfast in bed, and take the first train.  .


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