San Fermín has come to an end once again with the usual catalogue of injuries and dead bulls. But the death of a seasoned runner, Daniel Jimeno Romero from near Madrid, exposes as a myth the oft-repeated claim in Spain that those most in danger of being gored are foreigners who don’t know the ropes. No doubt he will be viewed as the hero of an unfortunate tragedy in some quarters, but I struggle to think of a more pointless and easily avoidable death this year.
Warning: This video is not intended for entertainment purposes. If you are overly sensitive to animal cruelty (or human idiocy) then don’t watch it. But if you are thinking about attending San Fermín in the future, and therefore financially helping to prop up this barbaric medieval tradition, then you should be aware what you are letting yourself in for. The run looks stressful enough for the bulls who of course differ from the humans in that they do not choose to be there. These animals die by the sword in the bullring later in the day.
Daniel knew the risks, but this collective madness has grown internationally over the years, thanks in no small part to Ernest Hemingway. A visit to the Pamplona festival in the mid-20’s inspired his successful novel The Sun Also Rises (or Fiesta). I have a rather ambivalent view towards Hemingway. I greatly admire his clipped prose style, while rejecting the glorification of much of the content: the macho outlook with all the (big game) hunting and bullfighting is not to my taste. Some of the short stories are great. As are the novels A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea. Possibly my favourite work is his last book, the collection of Paris memoirs, A Moveable Feast.
Notably none of the aforementioned are about Spain. Yet, many readers would strongly associate him with the country due to his love of bullfighting and his Spanish Civil War adventures. Hemingway worked as a reporter in the conflict. But the resulting novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is probably one of the most overrated novels of all time. Although not lacking in description, it does not tell the reader much about Spain in those days, and by his own standards, it all seems rather contrived and superficial, perhaps reflecting the popular celebrity he had become by then. There have been some poor film versions of Hemingway works but it is almost as if FWTBT was written with mediocre Hollywood movie shallowness in mind.
Hemingway had been turned down by the US military due to poor eyesight. Perhaps he subsequently let his frustrations loose on animals. The fact is he never fired a shot in earnest (excuse the pun) at another man due to this defect. Having achieved celebrity status by the time has was reporting in Spain, Hemingway travelled around hoping to raise the spirits of Republican troops. On one occasion, he is said to have fired a few machine gun rounds into the distance resulting in a Republican unit being bombarded for days after Ernie had been driven safely away.*
Hemingway worked as an ambulance driver in Italy during the First World War. He was wounded on the Piave front and later fell in love with a nurse (Agnes von Kurowsky) while recuperating in Milan. These experiences formed the basis for A Farewell to Arms, which contains one of the best descriptions of the experience of being wounded that I have read. George Orwell would be another candidate for this award, and incidentally you get a much greater impression of Spain in the thirties from Homage to Catalonia than you ever will from FWTBT.
Despite his Spanish Republican sympathies, Hemingway was responsible for perpetuating some of the more conservative and negative aspects of Spanish culture. The video above is ample evidence that they remain popular to one degree or another in different parts of the country, but it is always worth pointing out that most people in Spain don’t like bullfighting or bullruns either. And in short, I wouldn’t look to Hemingway for the best literary representations of the country nor to Spanish topics for his best work.
*Related in Jason Guerney’s excellent memoir, Crusade in Spain.