The Last Thoughts of a Dying Man

The Snows of Kilimanjaro - Ernest Hemingway

Well, there I was, sitting on a train on the Paris Metro heading towards the first of the cafes (I would call them pubs, but they are not strictly pubs in the Anglo sense of the word) were Ernest Hemmingway would spend his time getting drunk with his literary mates. At the time, I was reading Satre's Men Without Shadows but a part of me felt that if I was going to have a drink at the six cafes that Hemmingway frequented then maybe Hemmingway would be a much more appropriate author to read than Satre, though the problem was that I hadn't brought any Hemmingway with me. Fortunately the internet saved me because not only had I been wanting to read The Snows of Kilimanjaro for quite a while, but the text was also available for me to read. So, when I sat down at Les Deux Magots I grabbed my smartphone and began to read this incredibly engaging short story.


Before I begin I have to admit that the three cafes (Les Deux Magots, Cafe de Flore, and Brasserie Lipp) that I visited were incredibly expensive. In fact the price of a drink would be around ten euros. At the first one I ordered a beer but then I realised that I was supposed to be doing an Ernest Hemmingway so when I went to the Cafe de Flore and the Brasserie Lipp I decided that I would go for some wine (red of course since I am not a big fan of white wine). As I was sitting at the Brasserie Lipp I then struck upon the idea that I should mention to the waiter that I was doing a project on Ernest Hemmingway (which I'm not, but the word project always seems to get people to assist) and he proceeded to show me where Hemmingway used to sit. Still, I do wonder if these cafes were as expensive in Hemmingway's time as they are now. Anyway, before I continue, here is a photo of where Hemmingway used to sit in Brasserie Lipp:


Hemmingway's Spot



Well, it seems that I have been waffling on about Hemmingway's drinking habits and not actually talking about this short story. Well, needless to say it literally blew my mind. The story is about a man named Harry who is dying of gangrene, namely because he suffered a wound and it was not attended to fast enough. Mind you, this was not an uncommon occurrence at the time as I have since found out that penicillin wasn't discovered until after World War I, which meant that if you were seriously wounded then your chances of survival, especially if the wound became infected, were slim. This story, however, occurred after World War I, though it is clear that Harry was involved in the war. When the war finish, instead of returning home Harry decided to stay and travel around the region, which is why he ended up on the plains of Africa.


The thing about this story that struck me is that it is about the lost generation, the generation and fought in, and survived, World War I. I have been confronted with the realities of World War I while traveling about Europe, in particular visiting the Musee d'armie in Paris and the Flanders Field Museum in Ypres, and I have to admit that it is incredibly emotional. In fact if they have to build anything in any of the areas where the war was fought they have to bring in the bomb squad because there is still live rounds buried in the ground. I was actually taken to a spot where they were building a road and the number of shells that had been pulled out of the ground one hundred years after the war was incredible.


Recovered Shells



Okay, I know that I have probably gone off topic a bit, but the thing is that with me, being four generations away from those who fought in the war, visiting these sites still had a significant impact upon. In a way this generation, the generation that fought in World War I, seems to be reflective of my father's generation, those who went to Vietnam, and returned to a world where they struggle to be able to connect to those who never experienced life on the battlefield. In a way it is probably why people like Hemmingway didn't return to the United States because for him, and for the other American veterans of the the First World War) the actual fighting was so far away from home, and when one returns home one literally returns to what is in effect a foreign land. In the end many of them ended up like Harry, dying in a foreign land, never having managed to realise their dreams.


30 August 2016 - Paris