Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

"A Bicycle Is a Splendid Thing": Hemingway's Source for Bartolomeo Aymo in A Farewell to Arms

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

"A Bicycle Is a Splendid Thing": Hemingway's Source for Bartolomeo Aymo in A Farewell to Arms

Article excerpt

Bartolomeo Aymo, an ambulance driver under Frederic Henry's command in A Farewell to Arms, is Hemingway's tribute to a 1920s Italian cyclist of the same name. The historic Aymo's hard-luck career and tenacious riding style inform his fictional counterpart and underscore the qualities Hemingway famously valued in athletes, soldiers, and men of action. This paper summarizes Aymo's career with an eye toward the ways it might have caught Hemingway's attention and inspired him to immortalize the cyclist in fiction. The discussion also surveys Hemingway's fascination with cycling and its role in his work, especially A Farewell to Arms.

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"Hem knew all the statistics and the names and lives of the riders"

--JOHN DOS PASSOS (1)

BARTOLOMEO AYMO, an ambulance driver under Frederic Henry's command in A Farewell to Arms, is an eponymous tribute to a 1920s Italian cyclist. The real-life Aymo's hard-luck career and tenacious personality shed light on his fictional counterpart, and underscore the qualities Hemingway famously valued in athletes, soldiers, and men of action.

Born on 25 September 1889 in the small Italian town of Carignano, which sits south of Turin in the northwest region of Piemonte, Aymo (2) began to race in South America in 1916, and enjoyed his major cycling success in Europe from 1921 to 1928 before retiring in 1930. After retirement, he owned a bicycle shop in Turin. He died there on 11 December 1970, at the age of 81 ("La morte di Aymo" 25).

During a four-year stretch in the early to mid-1920s, Aymo was among the elite cyclists in Europe. He finished third in the Tour de France in 1925 and 1926, and fourth in 1924. In both 1925 and 1926, Aymo won the Nice-Briancon stage, a grueling 275 kilometer course through the Alps. In the Giro d'Italia, Aymo placed second in 1922, and third on three occasions: 1921, 1923, and 1928. Aymo won the Giro del Piemonte, his hometown race, in 1923, claimed second in 1922 and 1925, and third in 1924.

Although Aymo's excellence in these important cycling events is noteworthy, for the Hemingway reader it is more relevant that Aymo came close to winning events far more often than he actually won them. Aymo raced during a golden era of cycling, competing against legends like Giovanni Brunero, Costante Girardengo, Alfredo Binda, and also Ottavio Bottechia, who is mentioned in The Sun Also Rises. (3) As a secondary member of his racing team, Aymo was often forced to subjugate his own quest for victory in order to benefit his captain. During the 1926 Tour de France, a journalist observed of Aymo: "If he hasn't distinguished himself exceptionally, it is because the team leaders were champions like Girardengo and Brunero and apparently, he had to step aside for them" ("Dans les Lacets du Col de Braus" 70.) (4)

Although Aymo may not have been as supremely talented as his more successful contemporaries, his tenacity made him popular. Sports reporters describe qualities in Aymo that surely would have attracted Hemingway's attention: the 1923 Giro di Toscana featured "the vain effort of Aymo" ("Nuova vittoria di Girardengo" 2); likewise, of the" racers in the 1925 Giro del Piemonte, "Aymo was the most brilliant because from top to bottom he conducted the course with energy and resolve" ("Belloni vince il Giro del Piemonte" 2). The most energy and resolve, perhaps, but not the best time; Aymo finished in second place.

In the 1926 Tour de France, Bartolomeo Aymo reached the status of a cult hero, not for winning the race, but for his rugged comportment in defeat. Documents from the 1926 Tour, for instance, testify to Aymo's allure as an also-ran. One article proclaimed: "He made a prodigious effort and was not running but flying, and after fifteen kilometers of struggle, could reach the leaders" ("Il XX Giro di Francia si inizia con una serie di sorprese" 5); two weeks later, Aymo persevered: "Aymo's bad fortune: Aymo retook the group, but in the same instant, had his first flat tire, and immediately after, a second. …

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