Sam Eichner’s Hemingway moment, named after the late great American author, Ernest Hemingway, passed away last week, at the end of a bull-fight in Arles, a small town in the south of France.
The moment was devastatingly short-lived—one might say, “momentary.” It was born at 5 P.M., during the commencement of the bullfight, which took place in Arles for an annual festival called, La Ferria. The day had been going in and out of fits of rain, but as the band started playing, and the matador stepped out into the arena, a heavy serenity settled the crowd into a pregnant silence. A ray of sun slipped through the clouds, resting finally on Sam Eichner’s face, his features tensed in anticipation. One of Sam Eichner’s comrades rolled a cigarette, took a few drags, and passed it to him. Exhaling, Eichner declared the cigarette to be “good” and “tight” and, most importantly, “true.” He sipped his beer, feeling the froth on his shabby, unshaved upper lip. This too, was “good” and “cold” and “true.”
Sitting high up above the arena on bleachers in the ancient Roman coliseum, Sam Eichner watched intensely as the bull scampered into the ring. The beast held his head down low, spinning around a few times to get his bearings. Meanwhile the matador was calm. He was a tall, lithe American, maybe twenty, twenty-one, with viscous sideburns and an eye-patch over his left eye. Natives said he lost it in a staring contest with the last bull, but whether or not this was true or just a local joke could not be determined. Soon, silence pure and true and also good rung out through the coliseum; the matador raised his cape, bent his left knee down invitingly; when the bull finally charged he did so with a dancer’s awareness of his partner’s next step. At the last second, the matador lifted his cape, pivoted, twirled his feet. Sam Eichner roared boisterously. He could feel his moment almost at its peak.
Men on horseback then provoked the bull with quick, successive jabs to his torso. Dark red blood glistened on his back, almost indiscernible from the black of his fur, as if the bull was the blood and the blood the fur, his insides bleeding into his outsides. Nothing could disguise its animalism, its raging wild savagery.
As the bull prepared to charge again, the matador unsheathed his sword. He held it straight-on behind his cape, like an arrow paralyzed mid-flight. His feet shuffled backwards, forwards, beckoning the bull to its death. The bull rushed forward, the matador pulled back his cape, and the sword dipped swiftly in and out of the bull’s flesh, right on the top of his head, between the horns. The beast’s feet lost hold of its body, and it fell docilely on its side. Blood ran away from the corpse in thin chutes, like rain running towards the gutter. The matador gestured victory with a sweep of his hand, panning the crowd, who clapped and hollered for a noble death.
Sam Eichner, clutching his empty beer glass in his hands, nodded and smiled shortly and said of the death: “It was hard and good and true, and good— one might say it was doubly good.” But little did he know, that he was also honoring the death of his Hemingway moment, which, like the bull, got dragged away into the abyss of time, leaving behind only its faded stains in the sandy vicissitudes of his memory.
Later, Eichner tried in vain to revive the moment, by drinking more than several rounds of Pastis, a liquorish flavored alcohol famous to southern France that he says, “tastes like my Grandmother’s favorite chewing gum.” Even seeing the matador in a local bodega and chatting with a weathered, plump English bullfighting fanatic with a bushy gray mustache—even using the word “bodega” in a logical sentence—couldn’t bring it back. As a last ditch effort, Eichner sheepishly asked around for a cigar, or a beautiful French woman with short-cropped hair who might want to run her fingers through the curly tufts of his chest hair.
In the end, though Sam Eichner’s Hemingway moment was gone forever (rest in peace, you ugly son-of-a-gun), fate would have it that later that night, Eichner’s comrade would have his, upon getting head-butted by a volatile young French lad who mistakenly accused him of flirting with his girlfriend.