From the battlefields to Harry’s Bar is a big jump but Hemingway was made for battles and bars. Follow in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway – a macho man adrift in a feminine city. The First World War, commemorated this year, led Hemingway to Venice and his life’s work. Whether fighting, writing, hunting, drinking or romancing, Hemingway devoured Italian life.
"I’m an old Veneto fanatic," confessed Hemingway, because "here people know how to live." It was a love affair that saw the legendary writer through war and peace in the region. Hemingway’s wartime experiences as an ambulance-driver, soldier and war correspondent only served to deepen his love of the Veneto in peacetime, and feed into his fiction. Here, Hemingway relished the comradeship of war, the solitude of the lagoon, the thrill of the chase, and the companionship of the drinking den.
Harry’s Bar is a legend that knows it’s a legend. Hemingway’s haunt feels low-key but fans go for the timeless atmosphere. "We simply try to be ourselves," says Arrigo Cipriani, who at 82, still greets guests in person. Arrigo (Harry in English) boasts that he is the only man ever named after a bar. He first met Hemingway in 1950 and remembers the American’s fondness for duck-hunting at dawn and Valpolicella-drinking by night. As for Harry’s appeal for Hemingway, "I think solitude frightened him, and that was why he always sought the company of others."
Hemingway was a regular from 1949 onwards, commanded his own corner table, and even composed his Venice novel there: "the book came to me in a sort of haze in a bar, Harry’s Bar." The haze might have been linked to the strength of the dry martinis. Hemingway originally befriended Arrigo’s father, Giuseppe, who accompanied the writer on outings to Torcello, "where I had to drink a little myself – much, much more than a little, actually – just to keep up with him."
Hemingway’s love affair with the lagoon begins with silent Torcello, surrounded by marshes, and pastel-tinged Burano, a splash of colour in a bleak lagoon. In his Venice novel, `Across the River and into the Trees’, Hemingway evokes these haunting backwaters, complete with bobbing boats and a crooked belltower - "the lovely campanile on Burano that has damn near as much list on it as the leaning tower of Pisa." On sleepy Burano, Hemingway once mocked the islanders for having nothing to do but make boats and babies. Today, the island boasts Slow Food inns serving Hemingway’s favourite dishes – including unsuspecting lagoon ducks lurking in the reeds. As an avid hunter, Hemingway readily describes the dawn wait over the half-frozen lagoon, the ducks in flight, and the snow-capped Dolomites beyond.