Hemingway spent much time in Ronda's
Few foreigners ever have been so closely identified with Spain as is Ernest Hemingway. A Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning novelist, essayist, and correspondent, Hemingway was able to capture the many complexities of Spain in a way that enchanted the world. His relationship to Spain was more than that of the casual tourist or even of the detached observer – Hemingway wholeheartedly celebrated all that was Spanish culture and lifestyle. However, few people know that Hemingway spent his final birthday in Andalucia and that it was one of the last times he would be seen happy.
Nicknamed “Papa” by all those who knew him well, Ernest Miller Hemingway was never one to watch life pass him by; he lived it to the fullest. Born near Chicago on 21 July, 1899, much of his early years were spent in the outdoors fishing and hunting with his father, something that would remain central to his character during his life. In fact, throughout Hemingway’s life the physical, even macho aspects would remain in the forefront of not only in his lifestyle but of his writing as well. He would later serve valiantly on the Italian front during World War I, receiving a severe injury in the leg. This would become another major source of literary inspiration.
Upon returning to Chicago, Hemingway turned his attention to writing. In 1920, he moved to Toronto, Canada and started his first writing job with The Toronto Star, finally becoming their foreign correspondent. He then moved to Paris with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, joining a loosely-affiliated group of American expatriates that collectively became known as The Lost Generation. It was here that he met the writers John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. It was Stein who convinced him to turn his back on journalism and devote his talents to fiction. He published The Sun Also Rises in 1926. It became a best-seller, ensuring his financial freedom for the rest of his life.
Fiesta: The sun also rises
Hemingway first travelled to Spain in 1923 to experience bullfighting, acting on the advice of Gertrude Stein. It was then that he experienced the fervour of Feria de San Fermín in Pamplona, witnessing the encierro or “the running of the bulls”. In fact, it was Hemingway’s writing that made San Fermín the internationally renowned festival that it is today. It appeared in The Sun Also Rises. The trip marked a watershed moment for Hemingway, beginning his love affair with bullfighting, an affair that would last until he finally took his own life in 1961. This love would be immortalised in his novel, Death in the Afternoon, which is more or less a treatise on the art of bullfighting.
Hemingway returned to Spain many times just to watch numerous corridas (bullfights). However, 1937 saw him return to this country for a totally different reason. This time he returned as a correspondent to cover the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway was a staunch supporter of the Republican troops during the war and often put himself in danger doing what he could to support his side. These Spanish experiences served as the fodder for numerous short stories and also for the novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was published in 1940.
Andalucia was a frequent stop on Hemingway’s visits to Spain and it usually had to do with bullfighting. For example, he watched numerous fights in the bullring of Malaga. In 1959, he decided to return to Spain not only to write a work about bullfighting but also to chronicle what was known as a mano a mano (hand to hand). These are a series of bullfights which pit two great matadors against each other in an attempt to show their superior skill at fighting. They are very rare occurrences since it is not often that there are two matadors of this calibre fighting at the same time. It was this rarity that Hemingway hoped to capture, originally for a 10,000-word article for Life Magazine.
(Interestingly enough, the Life Magazine article mushroomed in size from the originally-commissioned 10,000 words to and unwieldy 120,000 words and was never published. It was reduced to 45,000 words and eventually published as The Dangerous Summer in 1985 after his death.)
The two matadors were the veteran Luis Miguel Dominguin, the most famous bullfighter in Spain since the death of the mythical Manolete and who was also the playboy lover of Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, and others. His opponent was the younger upstart Andalucian, Antonio Ordóñez, who was born in the birthplace of modern bullfighting, Ronda. Hemingway was good friends with both men. During a respite in the fighting, the Hemingway and the Ordóñez entourages came to stay in Churriana, Malaga at the mansion of a close friend.
The Hemingway that returned to Spain on this trip was only a shadow of the man who fell in love with the country. Years of hard living, mental, and physical deterioration had taken their toll. Pictures from that era show him frail and without the self-assurance for which he was well known for all of his life.
Because it was Hemingway’s 60th birthday, a party was promptly called by his wife Mary. Nothing was left to chance. Champagne was flown in from France and Chinese food was flown in from London at great expense. There were also fireworks directed by an expert from Valencia, carnival booths, and a live orchestra. The invitees included people as varied as the U.S. ambassador to the Maharajah of Jaipur and it lasted two full days. Unfortunately, the firework display was so lavish that it ended up setting fire to a palm tree and the fire brigade had to be called in all the way from Malaga. After putting out the fire, they joined in the festivities as well, letting party-goers drive the fire truck. Hemingway was the life of the party and back to his old form. People had not seen him enjoy himself so much for a long time.
Hemingway travelled throughout Andalucia during his lifetime but this trip would be his last. The writer’s mental and physical health would rapidly deteriorate of the next months, he would become paranoid, and he would attempt suicide a number of times while being checked in and out of mental clinics. He finally shot himself on 2 July, 1961, less than a year after his birthday party in Churriana, one which his close friend, A.E. Hotchner called “the best party ever.” The depth of his love for Spain and bullfighting can be judged by the fact that he had in his home where he took his life, tickets for the bullfights in Pamplona. They would begin a week later without him.