J.Press ingratiated me during my early years with a mind-blowing array of celebrities, including a brief sojourn with Ernest Hemingway. It seems like only yesterday we hoisted our leather botas for the running of the bulls 1959 in Pamplona. The spectacle this season begins July 7, inevitably perpetrating maimed drunks with every couple of years a fatality.
My Loomis Chaffee prep school roommate and to this day best friend, former Goldman Sachs partner Gene Mercy and I celebrated our Lehigh and Dartmouth college graduations for a razzamatazz binge with everything up for grabs when Europe cost barely five dollars a day. Driving south from Paris we tried our luck at the tables in a faded vintage casino in ritzy Biarritz. Afterward, counting our losses, we headed over the nearby border to see if the sun still rises in Franco Spain the way it did for Hemingway’s favored few in the Roaring Twenties. Leaving our battered Simca rental car in a designated lot outside town, we bedded down for a couple of pesetas per night in a feral tourist trap with a grotesque puke-and-dysentery stained stand-up water closet down the hall.
Garbing our festival wardrobe at a local mercado, we were outfitted in a white cotton pullover collared shirt with bolero pants of the same material tied at the waist by a cheap red satin cravat turned into a belt. A well- used kitchen towel plus ashtray remains lent the formerly pearl white outfit an appropriate peasant affect. Signature pañuelo (neck scarf) knotted as an ascot across our open shirt collar, the outfit was topped by a fire engine Basque beret. Two prep school collegians doubtfully attired al nativo.
The festival began the day before we arrived. It was 1924 all over again, and the town belonged to Hemingway. We thought the place would be overrun by American tourists and fellow collegians, but we were practically alone the only virgins in the whorehouse. Hemingway was in his old Room 217 at the Hotel La Perla Hotel in the northeast corner of the Plaza del Castillo. He arrived with a large party from Madrid. Hemingway was corpulent, bearded, and drank at the teeming boisterous Bar Txoko on the plaza across from his hotel.
Hemingway, wife Mary always by his side, was seated at their boisterous table of honor on the plaza. Among the group was Washington Post humorist and political polemicist Art Buchwald. Debonair Melvin Douglas, a suave actor and leading man of stage and screen, was next to Buchwald. I had an inside track to both — my J. Press entitlement. Buchwald was an occasional customer always engaged with my uncle, Irving Press, at the New York store. Melvin Douglas was already slated for the leading role in Gore Vidal’s play The Best Man, set for an October opening on Broadway, his stage wardrobe tailored by J. Press. We discussed at length New York fitter Felix Samelson’s ministrations on both gentlemen together with the ins and outs of an Ivy League wardrobe.
They enjoyed our gung ho intoxication and took us to the throne. It was a quick match. Hemingway told us to call him “Papa” gregariously toasting “the table’s new college mascots.” Papa Hemingway filled the bowl with plenty more toasts, “This wine is too good for toast-drinking, boys. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”
Eccentric novelist, poet, playwright Gertrude Stein once scolded Hemingway that he was “part of a lost generation.” The sun also rises for Ernest Hemingway half a century after his death, and it positively glows in the exultant memory of our days of wine and roses in Pamplona.