We took the train across Northern Italy from Milan to Venice in the spring of 2009 and stayed in Venice for four days. We had just spent the previous four days getting acquainted with Milan and Stresa, two key places in Ernest Hemingway’s WWI tale A Farewell to Arms, and we were now visiting another place in Northern Italy where Hemingway decided to place his post World War Two story that he would publish 21 years after his famous World War One novel.
Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.
Ernest Hemingway visited Venice in 1948 and afterwards wrote Across the River and Into the Trees, a story about a very ill colonel in the US Army, stationed in Trieste, who goes duck-hunting at both the beginning and the end of the book and in between spends a weekend in Venice with his current love, a beautiful and wealthy teen-aged girl who is 32 years younger than he. Her name is Renata but he calls her Daughter. Most of the story takes place at either the Gritti Palace Hotel on the Grand Canal west of Piazza San Marco where they sleep and eat and drink or at Harry’s Bar, also on the Grand Canal and even closer to the Piazza San Marco, where they drink some more. In between bites and sips and kisses we learn about Cantwell’s action with the Italian Army during WWI and with the US Army and the taking of Paris when he was a General during WWII. During one point in the long weekend he takes a walk from his hotel to the Rialto food and fish markets and back and mentions that he only had to cross two bridges each way. All the bridges that we saw in Venice have steps and Cantwell had trouble walking up his first bridge.
We had a long weekend, too. We walked a couple of times to the Rialto Bridge (ten minutes from our hotel) and to San Marco (twenty minutes). It took us three days to learn how not to get lost. If you come to the end of an alley and there is no bridge across the canal then you are lost and have to backtrack until you find a bridge. We also took a water-bus and visited the Frari west of Rialto one day and on another day took a water-taxi to visit the island of Murano where we watched a glass-blowing presentation.
We did not go to either the Gritti Palace or to Harry’s Bar during our trip. We stayed at the Hotel Santa Marina for about one-tenth the price of the Gritti and found slightly cheaper drinking establishments than Harry’s Bar where a Bellini cocktail (peach juice and prosecco) costs 20 bucks and a coke will set you back ten bucks.
Our favorite spot in all of Venice was the Piazza San Marco with its towers and columns and basilica and the Doge’s Palace. The Piazza was about a twenty-minute walk south of our hotel.
It rained most of our last day in Venice. We took a water-bus from Rialto to San Marco on that day and from there a water-taxi to Murano.
Hemingway published Across the River and Into the Trees in 1950 when he was 51 years old, the same age as Richard Cantwell, his protagonist. The book was an overwhelming success, reaching number one on the best-sellers list for seven straight weeks. The critics panned the book, though, claiming that the author was all washed-up. Hemingway was hurt and irate and he went home to Bimini in the Bahamas to sulk and to write a novella which he called The Old Man and the Sea. The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952 and even the critics liked it. Most of them probably didn’t notice that they were portrayed as sharks in the story.
Hemingway received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. Both prize announcements mentioned The Old Man and the Sea. Neither mentioned Across the River and Into the Trees.
We picked up Hemingway’s path again when we traveled to Spain in 2010 and to Paris in 2014. After Venice, though, we began to follow Michelangelo as we prepared for four days in Florence and another seven in Rome.