They were always hungry, he once wrote, "and every meal was a great event."
Last night Ernest Hemingway's moveable feast -- his collection of letters and manuscripts and other memorabilia -- was also a historical event as the Hemingway Room at the John F. Kennedy Library was dedicated.
The library was the scene of a dinner for 200 guests, winding up a three-day conference of Hemingway scholars. Preceding the dinner was a touching ceremony that emphasized the mutual esteem between Hemingway and John Kennedy.
"I don't think that they knew each other," said Kennedy's widow Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. But she told how the late president had been "enormously affected" by Hemingway's writing. In "Profiles in Courage" Kennedy quoted from the Hemingway line "grace under pressure," Onassis recalled.
Sharing the spotlight in the room where an impala head shot by Hemingway hangs above the fireplace was the author's son Patrick substituting for Mary Hemingway, whose decision as executrix of his estate it had been to place the papers in the Kennedy Library. The collection numbers some 800 manuscripts and 10,000 photographs, family scrapbooks and volumes from Hemingway's personal library.
Onassis called it "one of the most generous things any of us will ever see," and said it was the "greatest honor that possibly could have happened." She told how Mary Hemingway had been courted by some of the most prestigious institutions in the country.
"But she wanted the papers to be here. I don't really know why she did," Onassis continued, "but I'm very moved."
Patrick Hemingway said the reason had been because his father's widow had been "very much honored by the gesture President Kennedy made by honoring artists and writers of all sorts, of which my father was one."
At the dinner last night, author Alan Saperstein received the $6,000 Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for his first novel, "Mom Kills Kids and Self." The featured speaker was George Plimpton, who escorted Onassis to the event.
Appropriately the dedication featured fare out of Hemingway's writing. There were frozen daiquiris "that had no taste of alcohol, and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels, running through powder snow," as described in "Islands in the Stream."
There was pate "on the good bistro bread," from "A Moveable Feast."
Mary Hemingway, unable to attend because of illness, nonetheless was remembered by her chicken tarragon, a favorite of Hemingway's. Then there was also beef stew, ratatouille, potato salad a la Brassierie Lipp and, naturally, wine.
"Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world, and one of the natural things of the world that have been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation, than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing that can be purchased," Hemingway wrote in "Death in the Afternoon."
In glass cases outside the Hemingway Room, photographs of the author are displayed along with several handwritten letters exchanged by him and family and friends as well as typewritten excerpts from several of his works.
There was a certain poignancy to one particular paragraph in "A Farewell to Arms" in which Hemingway writes "if people bring so much courage to the world, the world has to kill them or to break them, so of course it kills them. It kills the very good and the very gentle or the very brave, impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry."
Next to the page is a letter urging Hemmingway to end the book with that paragraph.
"It is the most eloquent in the book, and could end it rather gently and well," insisted the letter's author. "A beautiful book it is!"
At the bottom of the letter Hemingway scrawled "Kiss my a--."