Hemingway has long been my literary hero. As a teenager, I loved his sparse sentences, and the way he could craft emotional responses out of hard, unemotional language. A Farewell to Arms has one of the best endings of any book I’ve ever read. But it’s The Old Man and the Sea I’m thinking of as I write this post.
Last week, Whangaroa Harbour played host to a fishing competition. But they weren’t catching any old fish… oh, no. We’re talking the Big Daddy of fish – 90 – 140 kgs of fish – the Striped Marlin. The boats started to come in at 4pm. We were the only spectators, dashing up from Kerikeri after school finished, but as more boats sailed in, so did the spectators. By 6pm the wharf was full.
If I half-closed my eyes I could see Hemingway with his full grey beard, holding onto the chain as the weighmaster lowered it into his boat, wrapping the hook around the Marlin’s tail and watching the chain tighten, standing back with that look in his eye – the look of a hunter bringing home his prey.
“There is nothing like it,” my friend said, “It’s an extraordinary feeling when you know you’ve hooked a Marlin. You know there’s going to be a fight. You know it might last hours.”
Though I can appreciate the excitement, I’m no hunter. The sight of the Marlin hoisted high and poked and prodded, weighted and measured was awe-inspiring, but ultimately sad. That beautiful, blue eye that could no longer see…. The striped markings on their sides, and the blue of their fins which, apparently, flash like sapphires under the water as the Marlin cuts through the sea…. I would rather have seen it back where it belonged.
The Fish-Smoker from Kaeo – a lovely man – was waiting with his pick-up truck by the wharf. He loaded in a few at a time and took them away. As the sun descended on the horizon, I could see a contented Hemingway sitting in the bar by the sea, a beer and a plate of smoked Marlin beside him.
“Bon Appetit, Ernest.”