Papa’s Spain

Through the years, I am amazed that I have retained such an affinity for Ernest Hemingway. The truth is, most of the subjects on which he writes are not topics to which I can relate – big game hunting, fishing, bullfighting, war – all of those hyper-masculine activities that make me shrug my shoulders instead of trying to relate. Plus, he is such a misogynist. The character of Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls (which I finished in Spain, fittingly) has to be one of the characters in all of literature who annoyed me the most. The part where she is talking about how she intends to keep her figure for him to Richard Jordan made me want to vomit and commence binge eating all in the same moment.

Yet, in spite of all of those things, I love Hemingway. I love his terse prose and his distrust of adjectives, to concepts that I never seemed to master. I love the directness with the way he tells a story. As a result of those stylistic choices, he actually makes me interested in subjects like big game hunting and bullfighting.

I love the prose of Hemingway’s Africa. When I traveled to Africa in college, the only fiction work I brought with me was a dog-eared copy of the complete short stories of Hemingway. I loved the Paris described in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Before I went to Paris for the first time, I reread that book and The Sun Also Rises and imagined the Paris of the Lost Generation. So fittingly, Hemingway had to go with me to Spain as well. I finished For Whom the Bell Tolls on the beach on the Costa del Sol and spent much of the remainder of my days contemplating the Spanish Civil War and even bullfighting.

A visit to Ronda’s famed, historic bullfighting arena certainly did the trick as well. Modern bullfighting was invented in Rhonda and today, the most highly esteemed contests are still held annually in Rhonda.

Here I am, looking more middle school cheerleader than famed matador in my suit of lights:

Ronda thinks highly of Hemingway. That named street placard at the top of this entry I found in Ronda.

Rhonda also has a few famous bridges spanning its tremendous gorge. The first thing that came to mind when I saw it was Robert Jordan, the American explosions specialist in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The entirety of that book takes place in the few days prior and the day of Robert Jordan’s assignment to blow up a particular bridge in hopes of stopping the fascist advance on Madrid. Clearly, the bridge in Ronda was not what Hemingway had in mind (the closest city to the action in the book is Segovia, on the north side of Madrid), but I still couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Once you start thinking about the Spanish Civil War, it is really hard to stop thinking about it. Hemingway served as a war correspondent during it, and saw the horrors of it up close. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, because it was a complicated mess where people like me wouldn’t have fit in on either side.

The Reina Sofia Museum had an excellent portion of its museum devoted to the Spanish Civil War. It includes the most famous Picasso painting (and my single favorite Picasso work) Guernica, Picasso’s protest piece regarding the atrocities committed by Franco’s army on the civilian population living in that small town in northern Spain. French-made films of the Republican army attempting to defend Madrid against constant bombardment played in the background. Propaganda posters filled another gallery in the museum.

It is a war that I probably would have thought little about (except the bare minimum I needed to know for my AP European History Class in high school) unless it was for Hemingway. Now, I can’t stop thinking about it.

Heck, maybe I will even read Death in the Afternoon, about bullfighting now.

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