I was sitting outside the Bean Café in Little Israel with a friend and we were drinking coffee in the sun and the sun was bright and the coffee was dark and good and we were reading. It was Wednesday, so Kelly was on the first in his stack of new comics. I rolled a cigarette and opened my copy of Ernest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast. I had just ended a two-year relationship with someone I had merely grown accustomed to and was ready to start writing again. If anyone can make you want to write, it’s Hemingway. I’d finished the chapter titled “People of the Seine” and was halfway through “A False Spring” when I felt my belly grumble. At first, I thought it was the writing (that’s where it would start, in the belly, and work its way out through the fingers and before you know it, you’ve got five pages in front of you and you wonder what you’d been thinking the whole time). But that, it wasn’t. The dark and good coffee was working on my empty stomach.
I told Kelly I was hungry and he agreed because Kelly is always hungry. We gathered our things and stood to light cigarettes and the tobacco was smooth and we made off along South Street, walking and determined; cloud of smoke trailing behind us.
At 9th Street, we started toward the Italian Market. It was a beautiful day and the avenue was alive with people and pheasant and cheese and produce. At Scott & Judy’s, we stopped and bought asparagus. I knew that no matter what we would eat, the asparagus would surely enhance its flavors. The bundle was strong and green and rather inexpensive. Across the street was Di Bruno Bros. – The House of Cheese.
We went inside and I made my way through the line and behind the counter. Mike Ferr waved to me from the phone and there was Rico and Joe ‘Bruzz helping customers, and then I saw Hunter. “Yo, ‘Gelo,” he says, “I thought today was your day off.”
“I’m hungry,” I said, slamming my bundle of asparagus on the counter next to a meatslicer.
“What are you making?” A good question. I hadn’t really thought of what to eat, but I knew I must; I was beginning to go bleary and my stomach turned with every passing moment. It was then I thought, if I am going to be a great writer, I’ll have to eat like one.
I slice open a loaf of seeded Italian bread from Carangi Bakery and lather it with a generous amount of Pommery Mustard with cognac. The mustard was bold, but with the cognac, came off as a sweet and polished condiment. From there, I went to the case and took out a leg of Jamon Serrano, a Spanish ham cured with salt from the saltbeds of the Mediterranean. Hemingway probably ate Serrano ham in thin, handcut slices (as the ham is traditionally served) while attending bullfights in Pamplona, watching the charging bull dance with a charming and patient matador in the brutal, yet, graceful ballet ending in either glory or death. Or both.
Next, I took the asparagus, drizzled them in olive oil and threw them on the grill for about five minutes until brown, taking them straight off and onto the sandwich immediately, on top of the Serrano. Because asparagus continues to cook after you’ve taken it off the grill, they sizzled and popped; their juices lightly glazing the ham.
Now for the cheese.
My first instinct was the semi-soft Ossau-Iraty Gran Cru, but Mike quickly dispelled that option. “The Iraty’s awesome,” he says, “but a sheepsmilk cheese is going to get buried under all that mustard and ham. Not to mention the asparagus.” He had a point. I needed something bigger, but still, not distracting. I thought of Hemingway sitting at some café on the Cote d’Azur waiting for Martina with Catherine, before Catherine went crazy, burning his manuscripts in a fit of jealousy. They probably ate a creamy cowsmilk tomme they purchased while in Savoie and took with them on their endless honeymoon, which would come to a certain and miserable end by Chapter 28 in The Garden of Eden. Thin slices of Tomme de Savoie softened without melting over the warm asparagus.
Knife in hand, with a certain sense of accomplishment and partially out of dire hunger, I began to close the sandwich. Kelly yelled suddenly, “WAIT!” and I dropped my knife. “You don’t expect me to eat that without any peppers, do you?” What was I thinking. And the most apropos pepper to use came to me from over the green hills of Africa – the South African peppadew. This small, bright red pepper was perfect – like a Hemingway novel, coming off as sweet and soft and later, belting you like a boxer for the finish and all you can wonder is how they fit all that pepper into such a tiny little thing.
“There,” I said after the peppadews had been chopped and laid out.
I closed the sandwich and cut it into segments. There was enough for everybody with some left over. We all ate and I received many pats on the back. Mat from mailorder says with a mouthful, “Oh my god… You’re a genius.” I couldn’t argue. I wrapped what was left and was on my way out the door, into the sunset with Kelly, when finally, after he’d swallowed, Mat added inquisitively, “So Angelo, what do you call this thing?” I stopped halfway out and thought about it. “It’s called The Hemingway,” I said and walked out the door.
As I walked home and the evening came; as I thought about the places Ernest Hemingway’s been and the places I’d go; as I thought about the stories I’d write and the food I would eat, I would eat that last piece of Hemingway. And as it worked it’s way into my belly, nourishing myself and my work, I smiled and thought that this sandwich – The Hemingway – truly is a movable feast.