Meeting Hemingway in Spain

Ernest Hemingway is one of my favourite authors. I am soothed by his candor, grittiness, confidence and simplicity. Until I discovered Hemingway I was prone to read works of a more super-natural quality: with lyricism, with extraordinary characters, of unreal situations and interspersed with convoluted allegory. It was fun and I still enjoy such literature. But life in truth is not so fantastical. Hemingway’s literature provided me with a reality-check when I sorely needed one. I don’t idolise his person but definitely his writings.

519ZMQMHD5LWhen my husband, Mr. Pink, suggested we take a small trip to the south of Spain for an extended Thanksgiving weekend I became very excited. For I would finally get to experience the landscape and culture that became the background of some of Hemingway’s finest works; one of these being, For Whom The Bell Tolls. It is a story set in the thick of the Spanish Civil War; high in the Sierra pine forests. You follow Robert Jordan, an American volunteer, who is sent to assist a guerilla band in blowing up a strategically important bridge and end up realising the injustice of and the vanity involved in war.

My husband (being the genius that he is) decided that we would drive through some parts of the Sierra and visit a little town called Ronda, on our way to Seville. I had never heard of Ronda before and it was mostly thanks to the love my husband has for travel itinerary planning that we were considering it. He saw nice images upon ‘googling’ for it. We grabbed our loaned Lonely Planet: Spain (ed. 2013) and skipped to Ronda. The Surprise! Ronda, the name derived from being surrounded by mountains, was made famous for inspiring many ‘romantic writers’. Importantly (to me) one of the events that took place in Ronda, during the civil war, was used by the Ernest Hemingway in chapter 10 of his book For Whom The Bell Tolls. The event was the walking of the ‘fascists’, the rich Dons, through a corridor made by a two lines of people, over to the cliff face adjoining the Ayuntamiento (town hall), to jump off or be thrown off. The popularity of the book (its the namesake movie) and the Nobel-winning author have led to the walkway by the cliff face being named as Paseo de E. Hemingway. I wonder what he would make of this?

Walking on cloud nine with Hemingway (c) Sam Rappaz
Walking on cloud nine with Hemingway (c) Sam Rappaz

It felt surreal to be there. To finally see the Ayuntamiento building, which is now a tourism office and the cliff itself. My imagination, I realised, is kind – the actual cliff is more fearsome. As must be actual war.

Here are some of Hemingway’s words from Chapter 10,

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The old Ayuntamiento of Ronda, now a tourism office (c) Sam Rappaz
The cliff of idealism (c) Sam Rappaz
The cliff of idealism (c) Sam Rappaz

The town in built on the high bank above the river and there is a square there with a fountain and there are benches and there are big trees that give shade for the benches. The balconies of the houses look out on the plaza. Six streets enter on the plaza and there is an arcade front he houses that goes around the plaza so that one can walk in the shade of the arcade when the sun is hot. On three sides of the plaza is the arcade and on the fourth side is the walk shaded by the trees beside the edge of the cliff with, far below, the river. It is three hundred feet down to the river.

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The plaza (c) Sam Rappaz
Looking back and looking down (c) Sam Rappaz
Looking back and looking down (c) Sam Rappaz

He placed them in two lines…as they stand in the city to watch the ending of a bicycle road race with just enough room for the cyclists to pass between…Two meters was left between the lines and they extended from the door of the Ayuntamiento clear across the plaza to the edge of the cliff. So that, from the doorway of the Ayuntamiento, looking across the plaza, one coming out would see two solid lines of people waiting.

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Last view (c) Sam Rappaz

It was Don Federico González, who owned the mill and feed store and was a fascist of the first order…He was barefoot as when he had been taken from his home and he walked ahead of Pablo holding his hands above his head…Don Federico entered the double line. But when Pablo left him and returned to the door of the Ayuntamiento, Don Federico could not walk forward, and stood there, his eyes turned up to heaven and his hands reaching as though they would grasp the sky…Then Don Federico dropped his hands and put them over the top of his head where the bald place was and with his head bent and covered by this hands, the thin long hairs that covered the bald place escaping through his fingers, he ran fast through the double line with flails falling on his back and shoulders until he fell and those at the end of the line picked him up and swung him over the cliff.

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6 thoughts on “Meeting Hemingway in Spain”

  1. Wow! This is one of my fave blog posts ever! I’m an avid Hemingway fan (helps that he wrote short stories set in Michigan where I live) and have read For Whom the Bell Tolls a couple times. This really helps in the visualization of the geography. Thanks! I have to admit, though, that I really liked Sun Also Rises better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Tom. I am glad the post finally fulfilled its purpose. I have been waiting to hear exactly this since I posted it! It was great being in the Sierra landscape to physically feel the roughness that Hemingway puts forth in For Whom the Bell Tolls. I am jealous that you can experience that any time in Michigan. I also have a confession – haven’t read Sun Also Rises (yet) but hope to get to it soon. Have a good weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re absolutely right that the landscape is an important “character” in For Whom. You have something to look forward to with Sun Also Rises. It’s no exaggeration to say that with that novel Hemingway changed the way people wrote English prose. Hope you’re enjoying the weekend, too!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sam..firstly..I loved the layout of your blog. everything is so systematically arranged and neat..it is VERY PLEASING..!!
    Hemingway post is very informative thank you..will try to read his work…the last part of the post wherein you correlated the lines with the photos taken by you..was the highlight..!!
    Loved it…looking forward to more posts..!! 🙂

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