The Borromean Islands are another world from Bimini, the celebrated islands in the Gulf Stream where Hemingway had adrenalin-filled days chasing big fish, struggling to hoist the tuna and marlin on board before they were apple-cored by hungry mako sharks. Hemingway later discovered that a machine gun made a fine addition to his fishing expedition armamentarium.
Hemingway did not discover the Bimini islands (in the Bahamas) until he was in his midthirties. It was a much younger Hemingway who washed up in the Borromean Islands when he was just 19 years old. “This is where he landed,” says Luigi. “He was in a rowing boat which he’d borrowed from the barman of the Grand Hotel over in Stresa. He came ashore and asked if he could get a Martini.”
Not a lot has happened on Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island) since Hemingway landed in September 1918. Except that tourism has replaced fishing as the principal source of income on this island of a few dozen souls in the Italian waters of Lago Maggiore — a long, sinuous lake which straddles the Swiss-Italian frontier. It’s a geographical oddity which served Hemingway nicely in A Farewell to Arms, where stoic hero Frederic Henry escapes the Italian authorities by rowing along the lake to reach safety in Switzerland.
At the southern tip of the island, guests at the Hotel Verbano are still lingering over a late breakfast on what is sometimes acclaimed as one of the more desirable waterfront terraces in Italy. One of the lake steamers cruises in towards the landing stage. The loudspeaker announcement on the boat hums over the water: “Prossima fermata: Isola Superiore o dei Pescatori,” nicely combining two of the names by which the island is known. “I’m not sure we say that here,” says Luigi. To us, it’s Isola di Pescador.”