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Pursuing Hemingway in Pamplona

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He's enshrined here. In more than one location you can find him in bronze. In this Spanish city and traditionally Catholic country, I'm not referring to the Crucifix, or even the co-patron San Fermin, but American author Ernest Hemingway.

Revered for his mastery of narrative prose that still influences American literature, in Pamplona he is recognized for putting this small area on the world map.

Located just 25 miles (41 km), from the French border in the heartland of Basque Country, Pamplona is the climax setting of Hemingway's first novel The Sun Also Rises. In it the main characters attend the annual San Fermines Festival, most widely known for its daily morning "Running of the Bulls," held annually July 6-14 and dating back to the 1300s as a combination of two medieval events.

Hemingway was notoriously an aficionado of bullfights, visiting Pamplona a total of 10 times throughout his life to attend the bullfights and Fiesta of San Fermines. (In fact, the word aficionado originates as the term for 19th century bullfighting devotees and in Hemingway's day was a title rarely given to American tourists.)

In the very beginning of the novel, in chapter two, Hemingway inserts his affection of bullfighting through Jake Barnes, a fictionalized character of himself. When the other main character, Robert Cohn, laments that he feels his life is not being enjoyed or lived out to the fullest Barnes responds, "Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters."

Furthermore, it was recorded that the week Hemingway took his own life in July 1961 his tickets to that year's bullfight in San Fermines lay on the kitchen table.

Today a bust of Hemingway sits outside the bullring in Pamplona, called the Plaza de Toros, with an inscription that reads in translation: Nobel Prize in Literature, Friend of this town and admirer of their Fiestas who knew how to describe and propagate the City of Pamplona, 1968.

If we follow Hemingway and the five main characters in the book to the middle "square" in Pamplona, it's called the Plaza del Castillo. In the middle of July this year, it was still baking hot.

In the Café Iruna, where characters Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn, Bill Gorton, Lady Brett Ashley, and Michael Campbell go to have a morning coffee, they've dedicated a whole corner of the restaurant to the author. It's called "El Rincon de Hemingway," and at the bar stands a life-sized full-body statue of him and several old black and white photos from his many visits to the city are hung around the walls.

While the square and Café Iruna are easy to find, just bringing the novel as your guide may be a bit confusing.

With a little background research you'll realize that Hemingway disguised some locations mentioned in the book by giving them new names, and a few places in particular have since been shut down.

In the southeast corner of the square the "Hotel Quintana," or what Hemingway names "Hotel Montoya" in the book, is nowhere to be found and instead many locals will point you to "Hotel la Perla" as Hemingway's homestead in the city. Although, if you go to the same location of the "Hotel Quintana" and what is now Café Tropicana, you will see that the exterior of the building is the same from Hemingway's time.

Next door to the Tropicana, the Bar Txotko still exists. Grab a beer and join the party because the bar is still hopping this time around during San Fermines, the crowds larger too, perhaps in both honor and thanks to the late author.

It's no wonder local businesses do all they can to incorporate his name; it's used as a marketing tool throughout the region. My favorite, the "Panuelico de Hemingway," a shop found on Estafeta Street, in English it means"the little handkerchief of Hemingway." The shop sells traditional red scarves and white clothing worn for the festival, and various San Fermines memorabilia.

If the parties worn you out, and there's no doubt it will, take a break and escape to the nearby San Sebastian, just like Lady Brett Ashley and Robert Cohn in the novel. The breathtakingly beautiful beach city is only an hour drive north from Pamplona and one you can find pictured on a postcard. The water is clear blue and waves are seemingly nonexistent. On a sunny day you'd think you discovered hidden paradise. But checking the weather before you go may be a smart idea, as it's known to rain the most in San Sebastian.

If the beach isn't for you, or in fact you had your sights set on fishing, drive northeast to Burguete, where Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton find catching trout comes easily in the nearby Irati River. Perhaps while you're there you'll meet some peregrinos on the Way of St. James. From Burguete, Jake Barnes says he can see the Monastery of Roncesvalles, it's the starting point for many pilgrims headed towards Galicia and houses over 100 a night in a large room full of bunk beds. The cost: only 5 Euros, but the place is restricted to pilgrims and lights out are at 10 pm.

Hemingway's Pamplona
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