Friday, July 10, 2009

Running With the Hemingways

Sanfermines, the main festivity in the Basque country which takes place the second week of July in the capital city of Iruñea (known also as Pamplona) and the iconic US writer Ernest Hemingway will be forever some sort of symbiotic entities.

Regarding this connection between the Sanfermines and Hemingway we strongly recommend that you read the book "San Fermingway" by Mundaka's writer Edorta Jimenez, in the mean time we leave you with this article published at the Irish Times:

Hemingways give the bulls a good run for their money

John Fleming

PAMPLONA LETTER: Some bearded gents compete to get in character. Oh and the sun also rises

HERE THEY come running and snorting, muscular and well-fed, thundering through the cobbled streets of Pamplona. Most are sure-footed but others slump heavily against the cordoning walls of the Basque town. While some have bull necks, these guys also have beards and many have American accents.

Coiffured and growling in voices laced with cigar smoke, they came just in advance of the week-long San Fermin festival with its bull run taking place at 8am each day. They have a specific purpose apart from running with the bulls or observing them from safety. One and all, they are here in Pamplona for the first international Ernest Hemingway lookalike competition.

The manly gun-loving bull-idolatrist writer was part of a coterie of Americans whose reverse voyage of discovery to the old world led them to a rediscovery of Spain in the first half of the 20th century.

Holed up in the Navarra capital’s old city, Illinois-born Hemingway wrote the textbook on bull running and fighting. Revering it as a spectacle of blood and lust and soft machismo, he was a literary anthropologist firing a blunderbuss of adjectives into noble savages (bull and man), much in the way Robert Flaherty framed Irish islanders in Man of Aran in 1934.

But Hemingway was a participant observer, living among the peasants. He was drawn to visit Pamplona on nine occasions starting in 1923, staying for the most part in the Hotel Perla.

In the main square, Plaza del Castillo, under a long arcade, like many a writer the world over, he sat and drank and stared at the sinking sun. His novel The Sun Also Rises appeared in 1926, putting the town of Pamplona and its reverence of the bull on the international map.

In 1957, four years before he died, Hollywood made a film of the novel, shooting it on location in Pamplona with Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner and projecting the city firmly into the world’s consciousness. His favourite bar in the plaza now bears his name and is the focus of this impersonator competition held a half-century on from his last visit.

Hemingway liked to nurse a drink. It can seem difficult to find a bar in any touristy quarter anywhere that does not proclaim him as one of its more famous frequenters. The man’s fondness for spreading his custom is often mocked – be it by a bar on Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid that guarantees its clients they are in the one bar where Hemingway certainly did not drink. Or here in Pamplona, where a “Hemingway Pizza” joint waves a red flag to ardent literary pilgrims and cooks in soft mockery with its buffalo mozzarella.

Gangs of young Spaniards, Australians, Englanders and others flock in on buses in a parade of bravado, combining surfing holidays in San Sebastian and crossborder Biarittz with the running of the bulls. As they get set for an eight-day street orgy of wine-bathing and over-consumption of sangria, some portly gents arrive as leisurely guests of the government of Navarra’s office of culture and tourism.

While the energetic young ones don Daz-whiteness T-shirt and trouser outfits and tie red cravats around their necks and feel part of a history bigger and even crazier than their over-enthusiastic selves, the old chaps are thoughtfully decapitating decent cigars and getting ready to roll on down to the unlikely talent show.

All the finalists grind down through the streets to the central plaza. They are now fully in character, all beards and bellies, and must perform for a while as the celebrated writer.

They charge past tattooed young hedonists on Interrail passes just finished their first-year exams. They cut through stunning Spanish youths who know this fiesta of bulls mauls the internet back into its box.

They nod to similar-aged locals whose ardour for San Fermin never flags but whose intensity of celebration now finds form in the preparation and consumption of excellent cod stew.

The product of the best bovine breeding, some of the international Hemingway doubles are veterans of qualifying heats elsewhere.

But the only heat here is the 36 degrees bombarding these greying men.

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