Monday, June 21, 2010
Okay let’s talk some more about your life – or anything you want to talk about.
My life in Cuba.
Okay. What aspect of it?
I was living in happy exile there. If you compare it to Paris, you can observe some instructive differences.
You lived in Paris for a few years after World War I while you were in your twenties and were working as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, and teaching yourself to write fiction. You were in Cuba, let’s see, after you lost Key West as a base, which means after you and Pauline split up, so I guess it means from the very late ‘30s until Castro’s anti-American campaign, though not aimed at you, forced you out, in the last couple of years of your life.
That’s true as background, but it doesn’t give the flavor of the differences. In Paris I was surrounded by genius and near-genius and maybe-who-knows genius. Picasso, Miro, Joyce, Fitzgerald when he was there – so many authors when they were there – and I was part of it, but only part of it. I wasn’t famous yet, but they could see that I had the talent and the drive, and so maybe would become famous. I was accepted, in other words. And I was a family man in the way only a young man with a young child is a family man. We were a unit and we thought of ourselves that way. And there were so many things to see, so many different things to do. Lincoln Steffens to talk politics and revolution to, the other correspondents from all over Europe and America, conferences to cover, skiing in Austria – all that. It was an active, varied, interesting life full of promise and I was working well among comrades even if they were rivals. And once I’d hooked up with Scribner’s, I had my publisher, and I pretty much knew it all the way down. You’d say, I knew it Upstairs and so Downstairs knew too. That time was all expansion and growth, a good time despite the troubles that always come at any time in our life.
Life in Cuba was very different, as life in your 40s and 50s is bound to be different from life in your 20s.
I had arrived, professionally and socially. I wasn’t just one among many. Havana was not a literary center! So the pressure and the stimulus of personal competition among peers was gone. I wasn’t a family man in the way I had been. My children were in the world and there wouldn’t be any more. I was on my third and then my fourth marriage, and I was no longer assuming that once was for all. I had a vigorous inner life, but a bit less of an active outer life despite exceptions. Or, put it this way, what had been pretty much part of my routine in my 20s had become exceptions in my 40s and 50s. And, biggest change of all, where do you go when you are on the top, but down? For Whom The Bell Tolls was a huge success. Going to match that, every time out of the box? Going to have to match it or be declared over the hill? It was a different kind of pressure, not an expansive one. And of course in the interim there were so many physical accidents, so much wear and tear.
And so much alcohol.
Yes, but maybe the effects that are so obvious to the observer of my life weren’t as obvious to me on the inside, and maybe the alcohol compensated to some extent for other things in my life. You had a statement from Elvis Presley a while ago, on that subject.
You see how one conversation can be used to enhance another. In a very limited way, that’s a pretty good analogy to how we live over here. We interact, and so we are always learning, always digesting and changing and thus sending out new information which others absorb and digest and then have new information – new essence – to send out. It isn’t static.
This, in the absence of a limit to how much you can hold in your consciousness in the presence of passing through time.
Needing to quit soon, but do you have something to wrap up about the differences between your life in Paris and your life in Havana?
Only in that there are different experiences of exile, and each one produces different effects. When you’re running away from home to make your way in the world, that is one thing. When you have no home to return to, that’s another. Nothing tragic about it, just life. But it’s important to see what is, and sometimes people don’t see – or maybe don’t think about the importance of what is to be seen – how and why I lived my life mentally and spiritually at the heart of America, but physically only at the periphery. Like you, I was true to an earlier version that no longer existed, and maybe never did exist except in my mind, the way I had envisioned it.
That’s enough for now.