Every morning a delight

FROM Islands In The Stream by Ernest Hemingway

He watched Serafín pour the drink from the shaker into the tall glass and saw the top of it curl over the edge and onto the bar. Serafín pushed the base of the glass into the slit in a cardboard protector and Thomas Hudson lifted it, heavy and cold above the thin stem he held in his ringers, and took a long sip and held it in his mouth, cold against his tongue and teeth, before he swallowed it.

“All right,” he said. “The happiest day I ever had was any day when I woke in the morning when I was a boy and I did not have to go to school or to work. In the morning I was always hungry when I woke and I could smell the dew in the grass and hear the wind in the high branches of the hemlock trees, if there was a wind, and if there was no wind I could hear the quietness of the forest and the calmness of the lake and I would listen for the first noises of morning. Sometimes the first noise would be a kingfisher flying over the water that was so calm it mirrored his reflection and he made a clattering cry as he flew. Sometimes it would be a squirrel chittering in one of the trees outside the house, his tail jerking each time he made a noise. Often it would be the plover calling on the hillside. But whenever I woke and heard the first morning noises and felt hungry and knew I would not have to go to school nor have to work, I was happier than I have ever been.”

“Even than with women?”

“I’ve been very happy with women. Desperately happy. Unbearably happy. So happy that I could not believe it; that it was like being drunk or crazy. But never as happy as with my children when we were all happy together or the way I was early in the morning.”

“But how could you be as happy by yourself as with someone?” “This is all silly. You asked me to tell you whatever came in my mind.” “No, I didn’t. I said to tell me a happy story about the happiest time you remember.

That wasn’t a story. You just woke up and were happy. Tell me a real story.” “What about?” “Put some love in it.” “What kind of love? Sacred or profane?”

“No. Just good love with fun.” “I know a good story about that.” “Tell it to me then. Do you want another drink?” “Not till I finish this one. All right. At this time I was in Hong Kong which is a very

wonderful city where I was very happy and had a crazy life. There is a beautiful bay and on the mainland side of the bay is the city of Kowloon. Hong Kong itself is on a hilly island that is beautifully wooded and there are winding roads up to the top of the hills and houses built high up in the hills and the city is at the base of the hills facing Kowloon. You go back and forth by fast, modern ferryboats. This Kowloon is a fine city and you would like it very much. It is clean and well laid-out and the forest comes to the edge of the city and there is very fine wood pigeon shooting just outside of the compound of the Women’s Prison. We used to shoot the pigeons, which were large and handsome with lovely purple shading feathers on their necks, and a strong swift way of flying, when they would come in to roost just at twilight in a huge laurel tree that grew just outside the white-washed wall of the prison compound. Sometimes I would take a high incomer, coming very fast with the wind behind him, directly overhead and the pigeon would fall inside the compound of the prison and you would hear the women shouting and squealing with delight as they fought over the bird and then squealing and shrieking as the Sikh guard drove them off and retrieved the bird which he then brought dutifully out to us through the sentry’s gate of the prison.

“The mainland around Kowloon was called the New Territories and it was hilly and forested and there were many wood pigeons, and in the evening you could hear them calling to each other. There were often women and children digging the earth from the side of the roads and putting it into baskets. When they saw you with a shotgun, they ran and hid in the woods. I found out that they dug the earth because it had wolfram, the ore of tungsten, in it. This was very saleable then.”

Es un poco pesada esta historia.”

“No, Honest Lil. It isn’t really a dull story. Wait and see. Wolfram itself is pesado. But it is a very strange business. Where it exists it is the easiest thing there is to mine. You simply dig up the dirt and haul it away. Or you pick up the stones and carry them off. There are whole villages in Extremadura in Spain that are built of rock that has very high grade wolfram ore and the stone fences of the peasant’s field are all made of this ore. Yet the peasants are very poor. At this time it was so valuable that we were using DC-2’s, transport planes such as fly from here to Miami, to fly it over from a field at Nam Yung in Free China to Kai Tak airport at Kowloon. From there it was shipped to the States. It was considered very scarce and of vital importance in our preparations for war since it was needed for hardening steel, yet anyone could go out and dig up as much of it in the hills of the New Territories as he or she could carry on a flat basket balanced on the head to the big shed where it was bought clandestinely. I found this out when I was hunting wood pigeons and I brought it to the attention of people purchasing wolfram in the interior. No one was very interested and I kept bringing it to the attention of people of higher rank until one day a very high officer who was not at all interested that wolfram was there free to be dug up in the New Territories said to me, ‘But after all, old boy, the Nam Yung set-up is functioning you know.’ But when we shot in the evenings outside the women’s prison and would see an old Douglas twin-motor plane come in over the hills and slide down toward the airfield, and you knew it was loaded with sacked wolfram and had just flown over the Jap lines, it was strange to know that many of the women in the women’s prison were there for having been caught digging wolfram illicitly.”

Sí, es raro,” Honest Lil said. “But when does the love come in?”

“Any time you want it,” Thomas Hudson said. “But you’ll like it better if you know the sort of place it happened in.

“There are many islands and bays around Hong Kong and the water is clear and beautiful. The New Territories was really a wooded and hilly peninsula that extended out from the mainland and the island Hong Kong was built on is in the great, blue, deep bay that runs from the South China Sea all the way up to Canton. In the winter the climate was much as it is today when there is a norther blowing, with rain and blustery weather and it was cool for sleeping.

“I would wake in the mornings and even if it were raining I would walk to the fish market. Their fish are almost the same as ours and the basic food fish is the red grouper. But they had very fat and shining pompano and huge prawns, the biggest I have ever seen. The fish market was wonderful in the early morning when the fish were brought in shining and fresh caught and there were quite a few fish I did not know, but not many and there were also wild ducks for sale that had been trapped. You could see pintails, teal, widgeon, both males and females in winter plumage, and there were wild ducks that I had never seen with plumage as delicate and complicated as our wood ducks. I would look at them and their unbelievable plumage and their beautiful eyes and see the shining, fat, new-caught fish and the beautiful vegetables all manured in the truck gardens by human excrement, they called it ‘night-soil’ there, and the vegetables were as beautiful as snakes. I went to the market every morning, and every morning it was a delight.


Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 6:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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