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Hemingway Was Here


Ernest Hemingway, despite being dead many years, is still very much present in Spain. At least for the English-speaking traveler. You’ve got your obligatory references in guidebooks, and your Hemingway restaurant and then your not-Hemingway restaurant joke (which is getting very, very, very old by now, but maybe it’s still somewhat amusing the first time). And although nowadays, anointing the latest city that’s like Paris in the ‘20s for expat Americans gives travel writers a regular gig (Buenos Aires is the latest I’ve read about, meeting the key requirements of being cheap and having good food and/or drink), Hemingway’s writing helped mark Spain as one of the spots on the tour for that original Lost Generation.
So this has all been going on for years and years. Hemingway’s Spain meshes perfectly with his macho persona. Bulls and wine, war and dust; it’s no wonder he’s helped shaped ideas of the country for foreigners.
Which is fine, lots of places have their literary icons and you can take it or leave it. Except, amazingly, people still take the macho culture idea seriously. That’s right, we’re talking bulls now. Except now, I suppose it would be extreme tourism, or something.
In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway wrote about Pamplona’s San Fermin festival, which is going on now. It’s a weeklong festival whose “Fear Factor” highlight is a highly intense two or three minutes each morning where people race through the streets of the town ahead of a pack of …bulls. This often takes place after a night of drinking, although that’s definitely not recommended.
And, as you might guess, a bull is not a thing to take lightly (especially since it’s so heavy and all). There’s no TV director to shout “cut.” You don’t just get voted off the island. Every year, people get hurt, and even very occasionally killed. The list of injured seems to be skewed toward foreigners, who don’t know all the bull-running ins and outs locals learn. (I don’t either, so I’m afraid I can’t help you.)
This year, an American was unfortunately hurt very badly. When I worked at a wire service in Madrid, that was one of our regular July chores, keeping track of the San Fermin injuries, and what nationalities they befell. (Sing with me, to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas: “…four scraped Britons, three concussed Americans, two broken-boned Germans and one gored Swede”.)
This is boy stuff at its boyiest – yes, you mainly see men running – and another one of those Spanish festivals whose appeal I really have to stretch to understand. I sort of get it. Real reality, instead of a reality show, and accessible to anyone with a plane ticket. It gets your blood moving more than an amusement park ride will. (Although those are in some cases reneging on the promise of safe thrills and simulated danger. Maybe the next generation’s great novel is about the wildness of a world Disney tour.)
What would Hemingway have thought about what he hath wrought? Who knows? Who cares? Not the drunken, red-sashed hordes rolling through the streets of Pamplona. I just wonder why there aren’t international crowds following Jane Austen’s lead and thronging to seaside tours of Bath. She certainly found plenty of drama to write about there.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:10 AM | Permalink

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