Venice, Hemingway and Pound

Venice, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound. These two very different but hugely influential writers were both drawn to this most extraordinary city.

Hemingway and Harry’s Bar

Now an institution in many cities across the world, the first and original Harry’s Bar opened here in Venice at Calle Vallaresso, 1323 on May 13 1931. Everyone who’s anyone has been to Harry’s Bar, including Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, Peggy Guggenheim and Woody Allen, but the writer most associated with Harry’s Bar is Ernest Hemingway.

Owner Guiseppe Cipriani remembers that Hemingway became a fixture in the bar ‘during the long cold winter of 1949 – 50’ where he divided his time between ‘the Inn on Torcello, the Gritti and Harry’s Bar, where he had a table in the corner.’

At the time he was completing Across the River and into The Trees in which the main character, Cantwell, is in Venice, in winter, facing death. The novel generally received poor reviews, although Tennessee Williams wrote in the New York Times:

“I could not go to Venice, now, without hearing the haunted cadences of Hemingway's new novel. It is the saddest novel in the world about the saddest city, and when I say I think it is the best and most honest work that Hemingway has done, you may think me crazy. It will probably be a popular book. The critics may treat it pretty roughly. But its hauntingly tired cadences are the direct speech of a man's heart who is speaking that directly for the first time, and that makes it, for me, the finest thing Hemingway has done."

Harry's Bar and the Bellini

Hemingway is said to have been the first person to order a Montgomery at Harry’s Bar. This very dry Dry Martini, mixed to the proportion of 15 parts gin to 1 part dry Vermouth, is named after (the British) Field Marshal Montgomery who liked to have a 15 to 1 ratio of his own troops to enemy troops on the battlefield.

Harry’s Bar is famous for the Bellini, the white peach cocktail created by Guiseppe Cipriani in the thirties, comprising one part white peach puree to three parts Prosecco. Make sure everything is as cold as possible and only add a little sugar or syrup if the puree is too sharp. Never use yellow peaches, and don’t add any other ingredient.

Harry’s Bar, Calle Vallaresso, 1323

Ezra Pound in venice

Born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho, Ezra Pound first visited Venice at the age of 13 on a three-month tour of Europe with his mother and Aunt Frances. He returned in 1908, living for several months in a house on the corner of Rio S. Trovaso. Many years later, in Canto LXXVI, he mentions the view from his room:

"Well, my window...looked out on the Squero where Ogni Santi...meets San Trovaso...things have ends and beginnings"

The house is situated next to the walled garden and above the maritime supplies shop; his room was at the top right. Here he wrote his first book of poems "A Lume Spento".

He also lived on the corner of Rio S. Vio above what is now a print shop, diagonally across from the Anglican Church. Whilst sitting at the water's edge in the Campo S. Vio he considered throwing those early poems into the Grand Canal.

He returned to Venice in 1958 and to live with Olga Rudge, whose house was on Calle Querini, one street off the Guidecca Canal on the Rio della Fornace. There is a plaque identifying the house.

Pound died on 1 November 1972, aged 87, with Olga by his side. He lies near Diaghilev and Stravinsky in the protestant section of S Michele Cemetery. Four gondoliers dressed in black rowed the body to the island cemetery.

Olga died in 1996 and was buried next to Pound, both beneath simple marble tombstones engraved by Venetian sculptor Joan Fitzgerald, who was a close friend. "O God, what great kindness have we done in times past and forgotten it, That thou givest this wonder unto us, O God of waters?" (Night Litany)


Pound also stayed for two years in the 1960s at the Hotel alla Salute and Allen Ginsberg found a house not far away. They used to meet in the hotel garden.

It was here that the famous conversation of 28th October 1967 with Ginsberg, Peter Russell and Michael Reck took place, in which Pound made clear his deep regret for his earlier anti-semitism, saying: "... but my worst mistake was the stupid suburban anti-Semitic prejudice, all along that spoiled everything ... I found after seventy years that I was not a lunatic but a moron ... I should have been able to do better ..." (recorded by Michael Reck and published in The Evergreen Review the following year).

Peggy Guggenheim also stayed at the hotel; her contemporary art gallery is close by at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.

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