Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ray Bradbury: "The Parrot Who Met Papa"

Ray Bradbury
"The Parrot Who Met Papa"
from Long After Midnight

"The Parrot Who Met Papa" is the second story I have read by Ray Bradbury that centers on Ernest Hemingway, sometimes familiarly known as Papa.  The first I read was "The Kilimanjaro Device," a time-traveling tale.  My post on that story is at  I wonder if there's any more about Hemingway and why he chose to write about him.  I also wonder if he has any other stories about real people.  I guess I will just have to read more stories by Bradbury. 

I suppose most people back then knew that Hemingway spent considerable time in Cuba.  That was the problem, for so many people knew this that Hemingway became a tourist attraction when he was there.  When the staring got to be too much, Hemingway would absent himself from his usual watering holes and hide out in a small local bar, the Cuba Libre.   At one end of the bar was a parrot in a cage, an ancient parrot to be sure.  Hemingway grew to like the parrot and would spend much time talking to it.  In fact, the question was whether Hemingway ended up talking like the parrot or the parrot sounded like him. Rumor had it that Hemingway had taught the parrot a word-for-word record of his last unpublished novel.

This parrot became famous, almost as famous as Hemingway himself.  So, although it was a shock to many, the reasons why El Cordoba, that was the parrot's name, was birdnapped? should have been obvious.  But, the real reason wasn't known, until much later.

Ray (the name of the teller of the tale, a coincidence, no doubt) decids to investigate and flies down to Cuba.  Upon interrogating the bar owner, he decides he knows the identity of the birdnapper.  He had asked the bar owner if someone strange or peculiar or eccentric had recently been there. The bar owner then described such a person who had been there the day before the parrot had disappeared:

"What a creature!. . . He was very small.  And he spoke like this: very high-eeee.  Like a muchacha in a school play, eh?  Like a canary swallowed by a witch!  And he wore a blue-velvet suit with a big yellow tie. . .And he had a small very round face. . . and his hair was yellow. . .he was like a Kewpie doll."

Ray recognizes him and blurts out, "Shelley Capon!"  (a capon is a castrated domestic rooster fattened for eating).  Ray knew that Shelley Capon hated Hemingway and now was very concerned about the fate of El Cordoba.

Perhaps I'm wrong here, but that description and the name reminds me of Truman Capote. Unfortunately I don't know anything about the relationship between Hemingway and Capote, so I can't offer that as evidence.

Ray then decides to confront Shelley Capon and rescue El Cordoba.  Shelly Capon is the most interesting character in the story.  If you have read the story or read it sometime in the future, let me know if you agree or disagree with my speculation regarding the identity of Shelly. 

It took a while for me to realize this, but this is a detective story!  El Cordoba is a victim of a kidnapping, and Ray comes to his rescue.  Shelly Capon is the unique and fascinating bad guy with his henchmen about him in the hotel room when Ray confronts him.  Their meeting gives us a clue:

Shelly greets him:  "'Raimundo, sit down! No .  .  . fling yourself into an interesting position.'

Ray responds:  "'Sorry,'  I said in my best  Dashiell Hammett manner, sharpening my chin and steeling my eyes.  'No time.'"

The tone is almost noir.  Ray senses a threat from those gathered in the hotel room.  Will he be allowed to leave, on his own two feet?   He responds with a threat of his own, clearly a hard-boiled detective tale.  Bradbury later introduces a very familiar element from a Hammett story, just to remind us of this story's antecedents. 

Overall, it's a light-hearted work, not to be taken seriously.  But, on the other hand, it is written by Ray Bradbury .  .  .


  1. Fred, I must find and read the story! You've baited and set the hook quite well. Why am I all of sudden reminded of Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes? Hmmmm.

    1. R.T.,

      Now you've got me curious. I don't know the story by Julian Barnes. Could there be a connection? Bradbury, as he does in this story, frequently mixes and matches the real and the fictional.

    2. Fred, I doubt any connection other than different authors with stories featuring parrots and famous authors. The Barnes novel is a tongue-in-cheek metafiction that I read in a modern literature class. I enjoyed it then but would probably not think much of it now. The novelty of metafiction wears thin quite fast.

    3. BTW, my recent posting about teaching literature somehow seems relevant to my memories of Barnes. I invite your comments on that posting.

    4. R.T.,

      It looks interesting. Both feature a search for a missing parrot that had an important connection to a famous author. Bradbury's story was first published in 1972 while Barnes's novel came out in 1984. I wonder if Barnes had read Bradbury's story.

      The library has a Spanish language edition and an audiobook (7 CDs) version only. I just put in a request for it through InterLibraryLoan.

    5. i read Flaubert's Parrot, but it didn't register very convincingly; probably just me... the other one i'm quite sure i read it some time but i don't remember... i get tired of saying that; sorry... but what can a person do? gringe and bear it i suppose... anyway, i'll look up the Bradbury; he did have a sly, quirky sense of humor....

    6. Mudpuddle,

      I can't count the number of times that I have to say that I know I've read it, but I can't remember anything about it. That's one of the advantages of blogging: now I've got some comments about some of the stories I've read, which is very helpful, assuming of course that I remember that I made a post of it here.

      Yes, Bradbury's sense of humor was on the sly, quirky side.

  2. Great post Fred.

    I have read a lot of Ray Bradbury stories but I do not think that I ever read this one. I love Bradbury and it is time that I give some of his writings that I have read a reread.

    1. Brian,

      I am doing the same thing. I have several collections of stories by Bradbury, and I'm slowly going through them.

      I don't think this is one of his better known stories.

  3. I've never heard of this, but what a fun connection between two legendary authors! Thanks for sharing it.

    1. Stephen,

      What a pair! I see them as complete opposites.

  4. I have read a couple of Hemingway bios recently but did not know about this parrot. Being a parrot lover and mommy to my own parrot I am upset for poor little Cordoba.

    Now I have to read the book to know his fate.

    1. Sharon,

      Sorry I wasn't clear about that. The parrot supposedly belonged to the bar, The Cuba Libre. I have no idea if the parrot actually existed or if it's a figment of Bradbury's imagination.