On the trail of F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway

Travel Writer: Ciara O’Callaghan traces the steps of two great writers, from Paris to Cuba, to Barcelona and Alabama

Following two writers around the world was never going to be an easy task, especially when neither stayed in one place for long. F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway first met in 1925; their story began in Paris, as did mine.

Members of the so-called “Lost Generation” of the 1920s, these two unlikely friends had a volatile, yet amorous, relationship. The Jekyll and Hyde equivalent of the literature world: Hemingway, the ultimate man’s man, bullfighter and womaniser and Fitzgerald, the eternal outsider and hopeless romantic. But what they famously had in common was a fondness for hard drinking and good writing.

A literary trail of Paris brings you to the bars where these men formed a moveable friendship. Fitzgerald, a successful author, first met Hemmingway as a lowly journalist in the Dingo bar. Harry's New York and the Ritz stir memories of a decade past that the French still call les années folles – the crazy years.

Next stop, Finca la Vigíal, Havana, Cuba. Hemingway famously called Cuba home. Three different wives, fishing and writing were the recipe for his happiness. His usual tipple of choice in El Floridita, 12 Papa Dobles, must have only added to his bliss. It wasn't difficult to imagine this happiness after a couple of daiquiris, sitting next to a bronze statue of Papa in a city that feels perpetually stuck in the 1950s.


My next journey took me to the sister bar in Barcelona. Boadas owes its foundation to Miguel Boadas who was the head barman at El Floridita and opened in Barcelona in 1933 to what undoubtedly was Hemingway’s delight. A cocktail bar where the glass is never half empty and the bartenders practice an act of creation.

A merry stumble later and you are at Bar Marsella to fully taste Hemingway’s Barcelona. Drinking the “green fairy”, or absinthe to the uninitiated, is an experience in itself. My lack of Spanish went unnoticed by simply muttering this magic word and so appeared my sugar cube, water, fork and a generous helping of absinthe verte. Three simple steps: place the sugar cube on the fork over the glass, drip the cold water slowly over the sugar until it is dissolved and drink.

My final stop, 919 Felder Street, Montgomery, Alabama, could not have been further from this dive bar. Everything you would expect of the Deep South: Huckleberry Finn-esque simplicity mixed with a class system that forced Daisy to marry Tom Buchanan.

It was here in Alabama that Fitzgerald finally had a home with his wife Zelda and daughter Scottie. He was always the outsider here, proving to Zelda and her father that he was good enough to marry her, but he was never sure that he was and “complicated it more by being in love with her”.

Stepping inside his jazz shoes and walking through his home, I uncovered his “thought book” penned as a child, his sketches of the ethereal Joyce and, perhaps most poignantly, his correspondence with Papa Hemingway, pursued even in his darkest moments. While Fitzgerald’s star was fading, Hemmingway’s was rising but he never forgot his “rummy” Fitzgerald.

Hemingway is often cast into the role of Hyde; as more of a fiend than a friend, known for criticising Fitzgerald behind his back. Less known, are his kind words to Fitzgerald, his constant reassurance that “you can write twice as well now as you ever could”. Fitzgerald always referred to Hemingway as “the greatest living writer of [his] time.”

Hemingway once said that you “should never go on trips with anyone you do not love”. Luckily for me, I loved them both.

Entries to The Irish Times Travel Writer competition, in association with Travel Department, are now closed. The winning writer will be annoucned on October 29th in The Irish Times Magazine. See irishtimes.com/travelwriter