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An Immoveable Feaster

Ernest HemmingwayIf you go to Paris and visit the English language bookshop Shakespeare and Company and ask them what is the most popular book they will tell you its A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Written during the last ten years of his life, it is a sort of journal of his days in Paris as a young struggling writer. In its pages you will meet F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and other famous writers who were there as well. A young writer could read this book and use it as a blueprint on how to be a struggling young writer in Paris, though the fact that it took ten years to put together a 122 page book of reminiscences shows that by then Hemingway was a struggling old writer, trying to recapture whatever magic he had in his prime. Its an easy read but people who have never read Ernest Hemingway might be forgiven for thinking, what's the big deal?

The truth is that (well my opinion anyway) there is so much writing going on these days that you can find better stories, told in a more entertaining way on travel blogs and even blogs written by people who never go anywhere. Hemingway wrote at a time when few people had the time to write and most people did not even have the time, or ability, to read. A book like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald which is considered a masterpiece might not even make it into print these days unless the author self-published it. Required reading, it is hated by high school students all over America who grew up reading Hunter S Thompson as history and social commentary. Would Henry Miller make a splash nowadays? I don't think so. What if David Sederis was writing in the twenties and thirties? He would have been like a God and now taught in schools all over the world in every language, and yet he is just the pet writer of a lot of smart people who love him, and an unknown to the rest.

Ernest HemmingwaySo what am I getting at? That I am better than Ernest Hemingway? No, not really. I think my writing is funnier and easier to read than a Moveable Feast and like a million monkeys with typewriters I have written so many of them that some brave editor could string together enough well written sentences to make a book or two. But so could anyone. Just like in pop music where it seemed to start with Chuck Berry, then Elvis, then the Beatles and now every kid in the world plays an instrument and is in a band and buys (or steals) music, so it is with writing. Everyone writes and those who don't, read. Its a huge marketplace of sellers and buyers and in my case I am giving it away for free, so how can I not be popular writing about a place where everyone wants to go and doing what most people want to do, which is eat and drink and make friends that last minutes or a lifetime?

But Hemingway did have an advantage over me. He was living in Paris and I am in Athens. He was living in a place and a time that by comparison was boring. You read the book and its mostly going to a cafe here or there and treating himself to a meal which he painstakingly describes and maybe he is joined by some famous writer that he is trying to avoid and they gossip about some other famous writer, or he goes to the horse races and wins a lot of money. The best part of the book is when he leaves Paris to go to Lyon with F. Scott Fitzgerald's car to pick up Fitzgerald's car, which reads like a Woody Allen adventure, a series of disasters colored by Fitzgerald's neurosis, with Hemingway as the straight-man. I on the other hand don't have any famous friends whose mere mention will cause the reader's attention to be riveted to the pages of my site he appears on, though I do have friends that can give Fitzgerald a run for his money in the neurotic department. And I live in Athens, which is never boring. If I walk out the door of my apartment I know something interesting will happen to me or I will see something that will have me thinking about it for the next few hours or days and will probably end up as dinner conversation. Yes but this sounds like an advantage, I hear you thinking. It would be except it happens all the time and there is so much of it that I have to shut myself in the apartment and not go out in order to write at all. Like the XTC song "...I've got 1-2-3-4-5 senses working overtime, trying to take this all in...."

Here's an example... I stay home to write but after a few hours I am hungry so I decide to go down the street to Mary's for some horta and maybe bean soup. On the way I am walking behind this tall bearded Polish homeless guy who hangs around the neighborhood begging in a subtle way. He sits on a step with his head down and his hat in front of him. He walks around with a backpack, the kind my daughter carries with her to school, filled with everything he owns I suppose. I pass him and turn up Kefalonias street and hear a loud bang behind me on Kypselis at the intersection. A car accident. But its a kid on a motorbike who crashed into the side of a car with such force that the cars door is completely bashed in and the kid is out cold on the street, maybe dead with blood from his head making a dark puddle on the pavement. The first person to him is the homeless guy who shields the boy with his body from the traffic and stays with him until other people from the nearby cafe run over. Then he begins directing traffic while someone else is yelling on the phone to send an ambulance and the police. The woman, a girl actually, moves her car to a side street and returns and is attacked by an old woman, the mother of the cafe owner who has not even seen the accident "You killed the boy!" and she pushes her hard and continues yelling until someone says that actually it is not so clear and that the boy may have run the red light. She then becomes just another spectator instead of a participant in the drama. Now everything is organized with a couple people talking to the boy who is beginning to stir and the woman in the accident on the cell phone to her parents or lawyer, still with everyone in the middle of the street and the homeless Polish guy directing traffic around them like the police would have done if they had shown up. Half an hour later the boy is on his feet and you can hear the ambulance stuck in traffic but slowly making its way to the scene. When it arrives I move the homeless guy's backpack which he left in the only spot there is to park, (my little walk-on role in the drama), and watch as the boy, his long black hair matted with blood is led to the ambulance which drives away, sirens blaring. The police never show up. I say a couple words to the Polish guy who reeks of alcohol and says something incoherent though in some kind of broken English. Then I continue on to Mary's and eat my lunch, having forgotten all about it.

Since then I have seen the Polish guy numerous times, sitting on the steps of the building next to mine, his head down and his hat out. There is always some small change in his hat, a few pennies, maybe ten cents. I always leave him a euro or two because of what I witnessed at the accident. He has never looked up so he does not know it is the same guy leaving the big coins. But its like this secret agreement between souls. The guy could be a mass murderer and he has no idea of who I am or what I do. But because of this one event, for as long as I see him I will give him money. Whether he spends it on something to eat or booze or drugs does not matter. But as long as he is asking for money I will give it to him for as long as I live here, and this is all because I took a break from my writing and went out for something to eat.

Athens is more interesting than Paris, mostly on a human level, and probably because the Greeks are such a volatile people. They are emotional and passionate and are the stars of the drama, though the immigrants are also part of the cast and have their roles to play. Anyone can be a good writer if they live here and write about it. Its just a matter of making the time to write because every hour spent in front of a computer writing about Athens is an hour when you are not living Athens.

And with that thought I will leave you because Andrea is sick and wants me to go to the pharmacy for cold medicine. I will let you know what adventures I have on the way there and back if I get around to it. Anyway it is presumptuous and arrogant to compare myself to Hemingway who is so well known that he is even in the spell-check of the program I use to make my websites. And the program was made in Korea!

And I don't even have a Wikipedia page!

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