Destinations: Spain and France
Happy Birthday Ernie! Ernest Hemingway was born110 years ago on July 21. It seems appropriate to celebrate by talking about his first break-through novel,The Sun Also Rises which turns out to be a pretty good travel book.
From dissipated ennui in Paris to dissipated blood sport in Spain, The Sun Also Rises follows a group of world-weary drunks from Paris to Pamplona. Excuse me if I sound disrespectful to the life lived by this particular group of ex-pats, but is is very difficult to imagine how the venerated members of the Lost Generation ever got any writing and painting done, awash in liquor in numberless bars. (See more plus more photos, or leave comments on the next page)
I thought that I had read this book before, but if I did read it in my college days, it slipped out of my memory, so I approached it recently with a new eye. As usual when I talk about books here, I did not do any research on what I am supposed to think about the book. My criteria for A Traveler’s Library is simple. Does it make me want to go somewhere?
First, Hemingway’s craftsmanship in the Sun Also Rises is magnificent. I don’t have to tell you that, since a college professor already told you some time ago. Second, I can’t wait to get to Paris and follow in Jake Barne’s footsteps–even if I don’t care to drink myself into a stupor every night or play a game of musical men like the impossibly beautiful boy-magnet Lady Brett. (Jake, of course, is the newspaper reporter stand-in for E.H.)
Third, I stand in awe of the way that Hemingway makes me SEE the countryside of southern France and northern Spain. Particularly since the prose uses line drawings rather than relying on lush adjectival brushstrokes. His is language to study.
This book serves the traveler well. From cultural differences:
“You can never tell if a Spanish waiter will thank you. Everything is on such a clear financial basis in France. It is the simplest country to live in. No one makes things complicated by becoming your friend for any obscure reason.” AND “They were all French and Belgians and paid close attention to their meal, but they were having a good time.”
Or snapshots of places:
Paris–”Crossing the Seine I saw a string of barges being towed empty down the current, riding high, the bargemen at the sweeps as they came toward the bridge. The river looked nice. It was always pleasant crossing bridges in Paris.”
Bayonne–”Cohn made some remark about it being a very good example of something or other. I forget what. It seemed like a nice cathedral, nice and dim, like Spanish churches.”
I found page after page of these pure and simple descriptions of place that made me recall the Spanish countryside and yearn to see Paris. When Ken and I were in Spain we avoided the bull ring. I never went to the bull fights held in nearby Nogales when I first moved to Tucson.
People said that you must see a bullfight to understand Spain. And I believed that came from Ernest Hemingway. But that is not entirely his point of view.
Before I read the book, I thought he emphasized the bull fight to the exclusion of everything else, but looking at the book, I see that pastoral scenes, and particularly the religous nature of Spain and the intensity of the fiesta shares the spotlight.
Finally, I had that tingle of recognition that you get when you have shared an experience with a famous novelist–or at least a character in a novel. Jake/Ernie and I both/all ate suckling pig at the ancient Botin restaurant in Madrid.
Book cover by “Grave-Digger”;Paris Bridge by “jgrimm”; Botin by Tym Altman, photos from Flickr under Creative Commons license.
Have you seen a bullfight? In your opinion, how important is bullfighting to the understanding of Spain? Let’s talk. (And have you subscribed by e-mail or RSS feed yet so that we can continue the conversation?)