- Vince Santoro
Which two authors would I have dinner with?
Updated: Mar 27
Ernest Hemingway and Taylor Caldwell have been known for their inspiring and exceptional writing. So, what would it be like to have dinner with them?
Let the fantasy begin …
As we waited for our drinks, I leaned over to Ernest. “Put that cigar away,” I whispered, to avoid embarrassment.
“It’s Papa,” he replied in his usual charismatic tone. “I told you many times, call me Papa. And this is no ordinary cigar. It’s a Cuban puro.”
“I know what it is,” I said as my eyes followed the waft of smoke charging towards me like one of the bulls from his book, The Sun Also Rises. I moved my head to the side and added, “This is not El Floridity and it’s not 1952. It’s 2022 in Sotto Sotto, Toronto. You remember Toronto, don’t you?”
“Of course, I do,” Ernest said as he extinguished his cigar. “The Toronto Star. I started there as a freelancer and eventually worked as a foreign correspondent in Europe writing stories about post-WWI conditions.”
I looked over to Taylor. She wasn’t a bit annoyed. The curl of her lip suggested she rather enjoyed the exchange and would have also enjoyed a Cuban cigar.
Our server came with our drinks. “Two daquiris,” he said. Ernest smiled and tapped his finger on a space on the table in front of him. “Martini for you, madam. And Negroni for you, sir.” We toasted to friendship and writing and as the food and drinks came in plenty, so did the conversation.
“Congratulations,” Taylor said, raising her glass to me. “I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Final Crossing. Well done.”
“As did I,” Ernest said. I thanked them, smiled, and took a sip of my Negroni.
Then Taylor turned to Ernest. “Papa, you should have added more religious themes in your books.”
“You mean like your stories?”
“You know very well I have written on a broad range of subjects, not just stories related to real historical events or persons. I do not need to defend my work.”
Ernest smiled and raised his glass in tribute of her accomplishments. It was probably more in his appreciation of a woman who exemplified his own persona – strong-minded, adventurous, and passionate about her craft. The wise fisherman was no match for this marlin, at least not this time.
“And don’t forget,” I said. “While you published The Old Man and The Sea in 1952, for which you later won the Nobel Prize, Taylor had written The Devil's Advocate, set in a dystopia where North America came under Communist rule.”
Ernest leaned back in his chair and took another sip of his drink. Then he began to talk about his time in Cuba and in Paris and in Spain. Taylor raised her hand. Ernest stopped and remained quiet. She then leaned forward towards him and said, “Don’t let the past steal your present.”
The place fell in deafening silence as if everyone had heard our conversation. I broke the stillness with my own curiosity about their work.
“Papa, did writing come easy for you?” He shifted in his seat and cleared his throat as if ready to respond in an interview with a seasoned journalist.
“Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done,” he said. “It is a perpetual challenge, and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.”
Then I turned to Taylor. “You have always been outspoken which is reflected in your intricately plotted, suspenseful stories depicting family tensions. Much of this stemmed from your childhood. Would you agree?”
“To some extent,” she replied. “As you know, I emigrated to the U.S. with my parents and younger brother in 1907. Shortly after my father died and the family struggled. I think I tapped into those experiences and wrote them in my stories.”
“I believe you started to write at the age of eight and wrote your first novel when you were twelve.”
She smiled. Then, as if the memories surfaced, her smile faded. “My ill health prevented me from doing many things, except writing of course. I buried myself in writing and the world knew little about me. Many presumed I or rather the author, was a man. That was my first editor’s doing, giving me a pen name. When my identity was eventually made known there was even some public fuss over it.”
“Did that experience change how you thought about people?”
“The nature of human beings never changes. Political fads come and go; theories rise and fall; the scientific truth of today becomes the discarded error of tomorrow. Man's ideas change, but not his inherent nature. That remains.”
My eyes darted towards Ernest who sat with his hand on his chin, and I could tell he learned something new about Taylor.
“OK, now please humour me,” I said. I reached into my pocket and pulled out three pens, one for each of us. I then took out a piece of paper, ripped it in three and distributed them. I had obviously planned for this moment.
I continued. “If we were stranded on an island and brought with us only one book, what would it be? Write it down, fold the paper and pass it to me.”
They were pensive at first. But then, in unison, they wrote down their answer and handed it to me. I also wrote mine. I unfolded each one and placed them on the table for us to see which book we would have had brought with us.
Taylor wrote, The Old Man and The Sea. Ernest wrote, The Devil's Advocate. I wrote, The Final Crossing.
We laughed and laughed. We ate and drank. We savoured the evening until the place had emptied, except for three revelling authors.
And the fantasy ended.
Until next time!