Life and death in Hemingway’s Pamplona

[words and photograph © Mark Eveleigh]

Over the past few weeks we’ve been blogging about writers who fell in love with Spain. There was Laurie Lee, who said that Granada is “probably the most beautiful and haunting of all Spanish cities; an African paradise set under the Sierras like a rose preserved in snow”; George Orwell, who maintained that Barcelona is where “waiters and flower-women and bootblacks looked you in the eye and called you comrade”; and Gerald Brenan who claimed the Mosque of Cordoba is “the most original and the most beautiful” building in all of Spain. In our final post in this series, we take a look at Ernest Hemingway’s Pamplona.

Spain: a romantic prison for foreign writers, part IV

Ernest Hemingway first visited Pamplona in 1923 and, even apart from the conception of The Sun Also Rises, the Fiesta of San Fermin was to have a long and powerful hold over him.

Every year an estimated four million people follow the ghost of Hemingway through the crowded, medieval streets of Pamplona and thousands of sangria-soaked desperadoes run with the bulls up the thundering canyon of Santo Domingo. Don Ernesto’s bust outside the bullring on Paseo Hemingway is still decked with a red bandanna by devotees and his old room at Hotel La Perla has been booked for every fiesta until the year 2040 by a Swedish publisher who, with laudable optimism, fully expects to celebrate his hundredth birthday there.

The writer was first attracted to Spain by the bulls. “The only place where you could see life and death, i.e. violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring,” he explained in Death in the Afternoon, “and I wanted very much to go to Spain where I could study it.”

“Pamplona is the toughest bullfight town in the world,” he reported to The Toronto Star during that first visit. “The amateur fight that comes immediately after the bulls have entered the pens proves that.” There has never been any evidence to suggest that Hemingway himself ever ran with the bulls but he has been the inspiration for thousands of people from all over the world who have become confirmed addicts of a fiesta that is as delightfully irresponsible today as it ever was.

As the great hell-raiser admitted in 1932, “Pamplona is changed, of course, but not as much as we are older. I found that if you took a drink that it got very much the same as it was always.”

1 Comment

  • It was Hemingway (along with Laurie Lee, Orwell and James A MIchener) who started my own love affair with Spain. I’ve been based in Pamplona for the last 9 years and even today it is still hard to walk through the old city without stumbling over the ghost of Papa a few times.
    – ME

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