Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Solidarity for Ronaldo and Hemingway

Living in Milan for as many years as I did, I learned a lot about “Ronaldo” or The Phenomenon as he is commonly referred to in Europe and in Brazil. Soccer is religion in Italy and when one of the two professional teams in the city, F.C. Internazionale Milano (Inter, for short), bought the Brazilian player in the summer of 1997 from F.C Barcelona the media barrage that covered the trade, and thereafter everything about Ronaldo’s life on and off the field, was intense.

Ronaldo

Yet, as famous as Ronaldo was, and continues to be, I never thought I’d see the day when he would be compared to my grandfather. Then in May a friend suggested that I have a look at a column on the Folha de Sao Paulo. The article, “Solidarity for Ronaldo and Hemingway”, was written by Contardo Calligaris, an Italian psychoanalyst and novelist. Calligaris (who lives in Brazil) said that he was surprised to see a message spray-painted at the entrance to a tunnel near a favela in Rio, Ronaldo’s hometown. Some of the soccer player’s fans had written that they “believed in his innocence” and that he would always remain their “phenomenon.” At the time, Ronaldo was at the center of a scandal involving three transvestite prostitutes who had spent a night with him in a hotel. He claimed that he had been tricked and that he had no idea that they were men. They retorted that he was just trying to get out of paying them.

Calligaris asked “but what kind of innocence are we talking about here?” Ronaldo hadn’t committed any crime and his status as a “phenomenon”, strictly speaking, was related to his performance on the playing field and not with anything he might have done in one of the city’s lesser-known hotels. Calligaris reasoned that for his fans Ronaldo wasn’t just a soccer player but also a “macho ideal” and that as such it was necessary for them to continue believing in his “innocence.”

He then said that he’d read my memoir, Strange Tribe, and pointed out to his readers that Ernest Hemingway, another macho ideal, was perhaps not entirely the man that everyone believed him to be and that he may have struggled as much as Ronaldo has recently in dealing with the contradictions between his public image and an infinitely more complex private reality.

Ernest in the 1950's

Of course, I hardly needed to be convinced. It was my book that he was talking about, but more than that I had seen what my father had gone through trying to live up to the macho image that Ernest had helped to create. Gregory had done all the things that people generally associate with being a Hemingway; hunting, fishing, drinking and womanizing, and there were times when he had even surpassed his father. At the age of eleven he tied for first place in a national skeet-shooting contest in Cuba, against adults. Gregory was an incredible shot and a chip off the old block, as far as Ernest was concerned. Any kid who could handle a gun that well had to be a real Hemingway. But there was more to being a member of this club of sharpshooters than met the eye. My grandfather and father shared a fascination with androgyny, or as Ernest had the protagonist of his posthumous novel the "Garden of Eden” put it, a search for “a more African sexuality, beyond all tribal law.” They were machos, but with a twist. Men more interested in finding a union of the sexes, than in living on just one side of the gender divide.

It was similarity that united them and which, at the same time, complicated their relationship tremendously. They were mirror images of each other, but being a real man has never been easy.


15 comments:

Penetralia said...

Hi, John, I like this. Can you read texts in portuguese? When Calligaris´s article was published, it was discussed in Orkut and contested by a young writer called Marcelo Mirisola. I notice some of that discussion at my blog.
My position is: the image that your grandfather passed was from a "macho ideal", image confirmed and never touched in his life. Your book is a surprise, I want to read it. There´s a version in portuguese already? I think Ronaldinho is a genius too, but now he had to deal with a crisis in his image in a very different way.
Bye, best wishes
Lúcio Jr

John Hemingway said...

Ciao Lúcio,

Yes, I can read portuguese, and hopefully some day I'll even be able to speak it:-)
Ernest's macho image was created by others (his editors and my grandmother, Pauline, to name a few) and by himself. He liked to hunt and fish and boxe and discovered that pictures of him doing these things helped to sell his books. But I think that there was always this other side to him, which was as important (if not more so) as the macho ideal. You see it a lot in his early work, in the short stories, like "A Sea Change" or "A Simple Inquiry".
Unfortunately, there isn't a Portuguese language edition of Strange Tribe yet. But I'm working on it!
Um Abraço,
John

Penetralia said...

John, I have this article contesting Calligaris on my blog:

http://penetralia-penetralia.blogspot.com/2008/05/lgica-da-franga-encurralada_28.html

I guess it´s an example of a negative reaction of a young Hemingway´s fan. The title can be translated as something agressive: "The logic of the faggot catched on the dead-end".
I don´t agree, it´s only a curiosity. If ypu need help here in Brazil, you can count on me.
Bye, best wishes, Lúcio Jr.

John Hemingway said...

Yes, he wrote a very long rebuttal of Calligaris' article, but I doubt that he has actually read my book, Strange Tribe, nor is he aware of the academic research that in the last 20 years (since the publication of the "garden of eden") has revolutionized academia's vision of my grandfather.
Mind you, these are not people who "hate" Ernest or who wish in some way to denigrate him, quite the contrary. They consider him an extraordinarily complex and modern writer. Even the feminist scholars have changed their tune and now see Hemingway as a writer who was very much interested in women and in their realistic characterization.
As I've said before, anyone who wishes to understand Ernest Hemingway and his writing has to be aware of his "other side."
Grazie Lúcio per la tua lettera!
cheers,
John

Penetralia said...

Ciao John, I teach literature here in Brazil and I think you´re right, your book is very interesting to a non common sense vision of Hemingway.
Some of the critics possibly will say: "its only language, fiction, you can psicoanalyze the author by his fiction". But the books stills interesting, all the way.
Tchau, abraços para você!

John Hemingway said...

Ciao Lúcio, True you can't tell everything about a man just from his literature, but then I don't try to. However, there are also his letters, which are just as fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lucio and John
Great to meet you here!

It has been an incredibly busy day for me! I mean on my blog. Some are asking for my head. And not on a silver tray.....

John...you've been frighteningly quiet today!
Hope you're okay
LOVE
G
here go the tiny letters!

John Hemingway said...

Gerald, everyone should visit your blog, it's like a Plazo de Toros with you as the bull;-)

Anonymous said...

I've never seen Ronaldo play. I would love to. I've seen moments of the world cup and I 'suffer' on behalf of BR, so to speak.
but as for Ronaldo, he's always standing still....motionless....almost like a cow....standing still, stilness still...
LOVE
GT
as for this entire bruhaha regarding his affair with transvestites...it's still going on. He has just been phtographed coming out of another motel with a couple of she-males, and SO WHAT??????
HYPOCRITS!

John Hemingway said...

Another hotel??? Allora, è un vizio!;-) It is amazing, though, how people care about this sort of stuff. But then, sex sells, so is it any wonder that the newspapers write about it?

Penetralia said...

Hello, Gerald and John. In fact, sex sells. But it´s amazing: after the first scandal, Ronaldo told the TV that he´s totally hetero and few days after her girlfriend said she´s pregnant...I think there´s some problems here. I think he wants to maintain a macho ideal image.
Bye, tchau para vocês!

John Hemingway said...

Caro Lùcio,
As my father once said "I think people should be accepted for who they are." Well, that includes Ronaldo, too, and perhaps even my grandfather;-)
um abraço,
John

Penetralia said...

John: now Contardo wrote a drama piece about crossdressing it´s well suceeded in São Paulo.

Penetralia said...

And...this blog it´s not Contardo´s blog! It´s a person that collect´s his texts.

John Hemingway said...

bueno:-)