Hemingway wrote a story called A Clean, Well Lighted Place, it is quite a sad story about 3 men of three different ages, one young, one middle aged and one elderly. The story takes place in a cafe, the clean well lighted space and revolves around the 3 men, the waiter, the bartender, the customer. The waiter is young and impatient, the bartender is middle aged, he is tired from insomnia, the customer is an elderly man, deaf, quiet, lonely. It is the clean cafe the customer comes to drink his brandy and stays till late.
I read this story a while ago and have revisited many times. It is brief and the story is told much through dialogue. You have to listen to it almost, the customer says nothing it is only the dialogue between the waiter and bartender. The young waiter is eager to go home to his wife in bed. The tolerant bartender sees the old customer needs to come and sit in the clean cafe under “the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light.”
There are many aspects of this story that draw me back to it, the poignancy, the ages of man, the craft of the writing, but one is the title, A Clean, Well Lighted Place. I am always puzzled by the word lighted, I would normally say a clean well lit place. Is that correct grammar? is a place well lit or lighted? the word is used as past tense of a verb by adding “ed” or is it present perfect? past perfect? must look up...
The other aspect of this poignant story is again in the title and the setting for the story, the clean and well lit cafe, which makes me re-read this story. There is no description of the cafe, only that it is clean, the bar is polished, it is night and electric light is on. Through the dialogue the bartender knows it is the cleanness and light that brings the old man back night after night. It is the place, the surroundings, the trees, the patterns the light makes, the cleanness and the order.
This past weekend I was at a talk with other designers for London Design Week, on Sunday morning we gathered together with coffee and champagne and had a discussion about how designers need to be philosophers and psychologists which again brought me back to this story, I believe that behind this story is aesthetics, the cleanness of the cafe, the well ordered place, the pattern of leaves from the light all bring solace to the old man. In an interview I had last week the young man asked me a question “why is it important to get the inside/ outside of your home right?” I nearly said that is a philosophical question, but replied with “ good design is satisfying, it pleases us to be in a beautiful space....it increases the flow and harmony in life” all the stuff you read in magazines. I wanted to say there is this story you should read that really tells how interior design is really important and it makes us feel better and is good for business, but I didn’t tell him that, instead when he asked me what is my style, I said I like a clean well lighted place.