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The Hemingways Go Flying

The macho man of American Letters was a nervous flier. His wife was another story

Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918. Photograph: National Archives and Records Administration, 192668.

After recovering from wounds he received as an ambulance corps volunteer during World War I, Ernest Hemingway married Hadley Richardson in 1921. The following year the couple moved to Paris, where Ernest was the foreign correspondent for the Toronto Daily Star. The newspaper ran the following piece on September 9, 1922. (Reprinted in Into the Blue: American Writing on Aviation and Spaceflight, edited by Joseph J. Corn, 2011).

Strasburg, France, Aug. 23. — We were sitting in the cheapest of all the cheap restaurants that cheapen that very cheap and noisy street, the Rue des Petits Champs in Paris.

We were Mrs. Hemingway, William E. Nash, Mr. Nash’s little brother, and myself. Mr. Nash announced, somewhere between the lobster and the fried sole, that he was going to Munich the next day and was planning to fly from Paris to Strasburg. Mrs. Hemingway pondered this until the appearance of the rognons sautés aux champignons, when she asked, “Why don’t we ever fly anywhere? Why is everybody else always flying and we always staying home?”

That being one of those questions that cannot be answered by words, I went with Mr. Nash to the office of the Franco-Rumanian Aero Company and bought two tickets, half price for journalists, for 120 francs, good for one flight from Paris to Strasburg. The trip is ten hours and a half by best express train, and takes two hours and a half by plane.

My natural gloom at the prospect of flying, having flown once, was deepened when I learned that we flew over the Vosges mountains and would have to be at the offices of the company, just off the Avenue de l’Opera, at five o’clock in the morning….

The Nashes were waiting at the office for us…. The four of us rode out to Le Bourget, the ugliest ride in Paris, in a big limousine and had some more coffee in a shed there outside the flying field. A Frenchman in an oily jumper took our tickets, tore them in two and told us we were going in two different planes. Out of the window of the shed we could see them standing, small, silver-painted, taut and shining in the early morning sun in front of the airdrome. We were the only passengers.

Our suitcase was stowed aboard under a seat beside the pilot’s place. We climbed up a couple of steps into a stuffy little cabin and the mechanic handed us some cotton for our ears and locked the door. The pilot climbed into his seat back of the enclosed cock-pit where we sat, a mechanic pulled down on the propeller and the engine began to roar. I looked around at the pilot. He was a short little man, his cap backwards on his head, wearing an oil stained sheep-skin coat and big gloves. Then the plane began to move along the ground, bumping like a motorcycle, and then slowly rose into the air.

We headed almost straight east of Paris, rising in the air as though we were sitting inside a boat that was being lifted slowly by some giant, and the ground began to flatten out beneath us. It looked cut into brown squares, yellow squares, green squares and big flat blotches of green where there was a forest. I began to understand cubist painting.

Sometimes we came down quite low and could see bicyclists on the road looking like pennies rolling along a narrow, white strip…. We went over great forests that looked as soft as velvet, passed over Bar le Duc and Nancy, gray red-roofed towns, over St. Mihiel and the front and in an open field I could see the old trenches zig-zagging through a field pocked with shell holes. I shouted to Mrs. Hemingway to look but she didn’t hear me. Her chin was sunk forward into the collar of her new fur coat that she had wanted to christen with a plane trip. She was sound asleep.

You can read more about Hemingway’s aviation adventures in “Who Was Fatty Pearson?” in our October/November issue (on newsstands and posted to this site next week).

 

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