99 years and a day

On July 7 of this year 2022, we celebrate the centenary of the Pamplona bullring. On the same day they meet 99 years and a 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, who worked as a correspondent for the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star in the French capital.

San Fermín poster from 1923. FILE, ARCHIVE


The future Nobel laureate came to Pamplona to watch the bullfights, a spectacle he had seen that spring in various Spanish bullrings, Madrid, Aranjuez, Seville, Ronda and Granada, and which had thrilled him. His Parisian friends, notably Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, had recommended that he attend what was described to him as one of the main bullfighting fairs. Man Ray, an American photographer with a studio in Montparnasse, says in his memoirs that he lent him a camera and taught him how to handle it so he could take pictures. Hadley estaba en el sexto mes de embarazo del que sería su primer hijo, John Hadley Nicanor (this number en homenaje al bullfighter Nicanor Villalta), and ambos thought that the contemplation of the bullfights of bulls could have a beneficial prenatal influence in the valentía de his son. In a letter sent to his friend Isabel Simmons, the writer says: “We are going to Pamplona, ​​Spain, for a week to its big bullfighting fair. I wish you could come. Bullfighting could have a strong prenatal influence, don’t you think?.

Year 1923: Hemingway’s first article on Pamplona. FILE, ARCHIVE


From the first moment, Hemingway fell in love with the San Fermín festivities. “We arrived in Pamplona at night. The streets were crowded with people dancing. The music vibrated and throbbed. They were launching fireworks from the main square. All the carnivals I had seen paled in comparisonhe 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 newspaper compilations of Hemingway’s works.

Year 1923: Ernest and Hadley on their wedding day FILE, ARCHIVE


From Paris, they had written to reserve a room at the central La Perla hotel, at number 1 Plaza de la Constitución (now Plaza del Castillo). Ernest and Hadley arrived by bus, after getting off the train from San Sebastián, to find there were no reservations and the rooms offered by the landlord were uncomfortable and expensive; “She told us with a few words in French and a lot of Basque-Spanish that she had to earn the money for the whole year in the next ten days. That people would come and she would have to pay what she asked”. After chatting for a while, he offered them a more reasonably priced room in a private apartment at number 5 Hilarión Eslava Street, above the Pharmacy and Manuel Negrillos Pharmacy, and they stayed there.

Year 1923: Hemingway visits Madrid. FILE, ARCHIVE


The couple spent their first night in Pamplona, ​​kept awake by the sound of drums, txistus and people dancing, and at dawn they heard a military band and saw that everyone was heading somewhere. Following the human flow and asking what was going on, they headed to Plaza de Toros and witnessed their first bull run. They obtained tickets for the five bullfights of that year thanks to the municipal archivist, Leandro Olivier Insausti, and years later, in Death in the afternoon (1932), the writer will remember that of 13, with bulls from the Francisco Villar ranch. , “ideal bulls, as brave as I have ever seen before, fast, fierce and always on the attack”, for Maera, Olmos and Algabeño, as one of the best they have ever seen.

FILE, ARCHIVE Year 1923: Arena


After the holidays and back in Paris, Hemingway wrote an enthusiastic letter to his Chicago friend William D. Horne, a former World War I ambulance mate, telling him that the week they spent in Pamplona had been the best lived a long time: “Hadley and I went to Pamplona, ​​the capital of Navarre, and I’ve just come back from the best week I’ve had since the war: the big Pamplona fair, five days of bullfighting, dancing all day and wonderful music all night long with drums, bagpipes, chistus, between the drunken faces of Velázquez and the faces of Goya and El Greco, all the men with blue shirts and red scarves twirling, jumping and dancing”.

Year 1923: Procession of San Fermín. FILE, ARCHIVE


Hemingway liked it”crazy and fast carnival” that he would come back the next year, and the year after, and the year after, and try to convince all his friends to come with him. In total, he will make nine visits to the Sanfermines: 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1931, 1953 and 1959. His first novel, The Sun Also Rises/Fiesta (1926), will 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 from 2023, a century after the first visit of the man who was to become the main propagator of the San Fermín fiestas in the world. An occasion that well deserves that the institutions of Pamplona and Navarre, public and private, are now mobilizing, slowly but surely, to celebrate it as it should be.

Alvin Nguyen

"Amateur introvert. Pop culture trailblazer. Incurable bacon aficionado."

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