On July 7 of this year, 2022, we celebrate the centenary of the Pamplona Bullring. That same day they meet 99 years and one day since Ernest Hemingway’s first visit. On July 6, 1923, Ernest Hemingway, accompanied by his wife, Hadley Richardson, arrived in our city from Paris. He was a young journalist, not yet 24 years old, who worked as a correspondent for the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star in the French capital.
The future Nobel Prize winner came to Pamplona to witness the bullfights, a spectacle that he had seen that spring in various Spanish bullrings, Madrid, Aranjuez, Seville, Ronda and Granada, and that had excited him. His Parisian friends, particularly Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, had recommended that he attend what had been described to him as one of the main bullfighting fairs. Man Ray, an American photographer with a studio in Montparnasse, tells in his memoirs that he lent him a camera and taught him how to handle it so that he could take pictures. Hadley was in the sixth month of pregnancy with what would be her first child, John Hadley Nicanor (this name in homage to the bullfighter Nicanor Villalta), and both thought that the contemplation of bullfights could have a beneficial prenatal influence on the courage of your son. In a letter sent to her friend Isabel Simmons, the writer says: “We are going to Pamplona, in Spain, for a week at its great bullfighting fair. I wish you could come. Bullfighting could have a strong prenatal influence, don’t you think?.
From the first moment Hemingway fell under the spell of the San Fermín festivities. “We arrived in Pamplona at night. The streets were packed with people dancing. The music vibrated and throbbed. They were launching fireworks from the main square. All the carnivals I had seen paled in comparison”, he would write in an article entitled “World Series Of Bull Fighting A Mad, Whirling Carnival” published in The Toronto Star Weekly and other Canadian newspapers on October 27, 1923, and later retitled “Pamplona in July” in the compilations of journalistic works of Hemingway.
From Paris they had written to reserve a room at the central Hotel La Perla, at number 1 Plaza de la Constitución (today Plaza del Castillo). Ernest and Hadley arrived by bus, after getting off the train that brought them from San Sebastián, to discover that there was no reservation and that the rooms offered by the owner were uncomfortable and expensive; “She told us with a few words in French and a lot of Basque-Spanish that she had to make the whole year’s money in the next ten days. That people would come and she would have to pay whatever she asked for”. After arguing for a while, he offered them a room at a more reasonable price in a private apartment at number 5 Hilarión Eslava Street, above the Manuel Negrillos drugstore and pharmacy, and they stayed there.
The couple spent their first night in Pamplona kept awake by the noise of drums and txistus and people dancing, and at dawn they heard a military band and saw that everyone was heading somewhere. Following the human stream and asking what was happening, they headed to the Plaza de Toros and witnessed their first running of the bulls. They got tickets for the five bullfights that year through the municipal archivist, Leandro Olivier Insausti, and years later, in Death in the afternoon (1932), the writer would remember the one on the 13th, with bulls from the Francisco Villar ranch. , “ideal bulls, as brave as I had ever seen before, fast, fierce and always on the attack”, for Maera, Olmos and Algabeño, as one of the best they had ever seen.
After the holidays and back in Paris, Hemingway writes an enthusiastic letter to his Chicago friend William D. Horne, a former companion as an ambulance driver in the First World War, telling him that the week they have spent in Pamplona has been the best has lived in a long time: “Hadley and I went to Pamplona, the capital of Navarra, and I just got back from the best week I’ve had since the war: the great Pamplona fair, five days of bullfighting, dancing all day and wonderful music all night with drums, bagpipes, chistus, between the drunken faces of Velázquez and faces of Goya and El Greco, all the men with blue shirts and red scarves spinning, jumping and dancing”.
Hemingway liked that “crazy and fast-paced carnival” that he would come back the next year, and the next, and the next, and try to convince all his friends to come along. In total, he would complete nine visits to the Sanfermines: 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1953 and 1959. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises/Fiesta (1926), would be born from his experiences in Pamplona, which would cement a brilliant literary career culminating in the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.
Therefore, the countdown to another centenary that we will celebrate next year of 2023, a century after the first visit of the person who would become the main propagator of the San Fermín festivities throughout the world. An occasion that well deserves Pamplona and Navarre institutions, public and private, to get their act together now, slowly but surely, to celebrate it properly.
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Hemingway: 99 years and one day