SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: June – ‘Everybody Behaves Badly’ by Lesley M M Blume

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The making of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the outsize personalities who inspired it, and the vast changes it wrought on the literary world

In the summer of 1925, Ernest Hemingway and a clique of raucous companions traveled to Pamplona, Spain, for the town’s infamous running of the bulls. Then, over the next six weeks, he channeled that trip’s maelstrom of drunken brawls, sexual rivalry, midnight betrayals, and midday hangovers into his groundbreaking novel The Sun Also Rises. This revolutionary work redefined modern literature as much as it did his peers, who would forever after be called the Lost Generation. But the full story of Hemingway’s legendary rise has remained untold until now. 

Lesley Blume resurrects the explosive, restless landscape of 1920s Paris and Spain and reveals how Hemingway helped create his own legend. He made himself into a death-courting, bull-fighting aficionado; a hard-drinking, short-fused literary genius; and an expatriate bon vivant. Blume’s vivid account reveals the inner circle of the Lost Generation as we have never seen it before, and shows how it still influences what we read and how we think about youth, sex, love, and excess. 
Cover and blurb via amazon
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This month, Spain Book Review goes a tad off-road, with Everybody Behaves Badly. Not strictly about Spain or written in Spain, but since it’s about Ernest Hemingway getting his Spain on, I figured it works just fine. The book covers both Spain and Hemingway’s time in Paris. By 1921, Hemingway was already on his way to literary famousness, but was in need of the great American novel. So when handsome young Ernest headed to Spain with a troupe of friends in 1925, their trip would end in the genius that is The Sun Also Rises.
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The book starts out with the early years in Paris and how Hemingway felt the desire to add a novel to his career, since he had only published short stories at that point. Hemingway and his new wife Hadley go to Paris, as members of the lost generation, and the author goes into full detail of the lifestyle of a man in need of literary success. The book focuses heavily on details of Hemingway’s early life, telling both a story and writing a biography in one.
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Everyone knows the story of The Sun Also Rises (this link has my review if you don’t) – a group of friends go to Pamplona, enjoy some bullfighting and a random fishing trip, have affairs, drink waaaay too much and the whole escapade turns to hell. Everybody Behaves Badly is the real life excursion. Hemingway and wife Hadley went to Pamplona in 1923 and 1924, and in 1925, went with a group of friends – Harold Loeb, Duff Twysden, Bill Smith, Pat Guthrie and Donald Ogden Stewart. What unfolds is what Hemingway could later turn into his famous novel. Hemingway, now famous for womanising, was with his wife but was interested in Duff Twysden, as was writer Harold Loeb. And we all know how well romantic rivalry mixes with alcohol and bravado. The back story of the fateful 1925 trip is spelled out in great detail as the members of the lost generation explore sexual freedom and creative processes on what was supposed to be writing trip about bullfighting but ends up with jealousy and fist-fighting.
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The last portion of the book is dedicated to the editing and publishing of The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway’s life is really taking off, and his wife (and now young son) are not fitting in with his choices. Hemingway nicely starts an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer. Hemingway ruthless cut and edited his book to create a great piece of work, and decides to also edit out his own wife. Hemingway needed to get in with a new publisher, Scribner’s, a challenge in itself, all while working greats of the day, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, to create a book which has been in print for 90 years now.
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Hemingway’s life has been viewed from every angle, but this, while not all new info, tells the story of the pivotal time of Hemingway’s life. Much is made of his life during the Spanish Civil War, but this gives us a new insight to Hemingway in Paris, his early romantic life and his lifestyle in these early days. My dream Spanish road trip (a game played a few years back) was with Hemingway and Dalí, and reading this book made me even more convinced I made the right choices. My own bullfighting research trips don’t get this wild (thank God), and I’m glad to have read this behind-the-scenes moment in time. Perfect for lovers of Spain, the 1920’s, Hemingway, or like me, all three.

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SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Death And The Sun: A Matador’s Season In The Heart Of Spain’ by Edward Lewine

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An immoral spectacle or a metaphor of life? Bullfighting never fails to provoke a reaction. In this unusual travel memoir, Edward Lewine embarks on an eye-opening journey around Spain to track a typical season for the country’s biggest bullfighter, Francisco Rivera Ordonez. Fighting bulls while fleeing celebrity, Spain’s most infamous matador lives both his public and his private life on the edge. The last in a distinguished bloodline, he is plagued by the legacies of his great-grandfather, the greatest matador of his day and revered by Hemingway, and by his late father, who was gored to death in the arena. With sixty-two fights and a hundred and twenty bulls to confront in the coming season, Francisco must also endure the aggressive attention of the paparazzi who pursue him for news of his colourful private life and breakdown of his marriage to a Spanish duchess. LEWINE witnesses at first hand the thrilling routine of a top bullfighter – the rituals, the risks, the stage fright – and assesses the significance of bullfighting in the context of Spanish identity. This national obsession encapsulates the uniqueness of Spanish culture.

Photo and blurb from Random House

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If you are not a fan of bullfighting, read my quick disclaimer or keep your opinions to yourself.

Edward Lewine’s book Death and the Sun is by no means new; published in 2005, I have read it several times, and have just finished reading it again while studying bullfighting. The book follows a make-or-break season for famous bullfighter Francisco Rivera Ordóñez, known as Fran. Fran comes from a famous line of bullfighters; his father was the famous Francisco Rivera Pérez, ‘Paquirri’, who died in the ring when Fran was 10. Along with his brother Cayetano, they would form another piece in a famous bullfighting family; their great-grandfather was Cayetano Ordóñez, who was a muse for Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, and his grandfather was Antonio Ordóñez, who featured in Ernest Hemingway’s The Dangerous Summer. It seems Fran was always destined to become a bullfighter, the son of the most famously killed bullfighter, and he and his brother, born to a tabloid queen, are no strangers to being dressed in the traje de luces, the suit of lights.

This book covers Fran and so much more. The author sheds light on bullfighting for anyone not terribly knowledgeable on the event, the history, the traditions, the animals. No detail or aspect is left untouched. Following Fran through a season, shows an eventful eight month period for the bullfighter; Fran has just announced his separation from his wife Eugenia Martínez de Irujo, 12th Duchess of Montoro, with whom he shares a very young daughter. The tabloids are loving the story; his mother, in an ever-pressing need to be heard, shares tales of the relationship, something which only serves to make Fran’s season more difficult.

Fran is at a crossroads; use his skills to become one of the greats or fade into obscurity, like so many before him. The author follows Fran through all stages; the fights, the reactions, the travelling, the entourages and their thoughts. A whole world of glamour, traditions, bright lights and heavy pressures swirls about Fran, the ring leader of the bullfighting circus. Fran is no stranger to anyone interested in fighting. He has been followed by multiple writers, but this is an all-new angle on the man behind the family name.

Rather than being a travel book on Spain, you see the country through bullfighting eyes. There is tradition and drama, formalities and losses, people crying the usual bullfighting clichés and the zest for the melodramatic. The book also touches on bullfighting as a whole – addressing many of the cries from those who hate the entire event. Man against death. The bull will always die, that is not in question – but would death of the man be suitable, a loss, or a disappointment? Of course not.

The sections of the history of bullfighting are excellent in their detail, the stories of the bull-breeding is concise and yet never dull, all details are acknowledged so the reader can feel part of the exclusive world. There can’t be guide in English as well-written or thought-provoking as this. How a bullfighter travels and what his team have to say, earn and like is there, laid out in perfect clarity.

Fran is a difficult person to see in the book. While the characters all attempt to make themselves known, Fran almost seems to be behind a curtain, not quite letting out who he really is. He paints the picture of a man surrounded yet somehow solo, heaving under a huge weight of expectation, and yet finding himself not living up to those expectations, real or perceived. Frustration is evident with bulls which fail to live up to what Fran needs in order to cement his name in the ring.

Fran’s personal life is in total disarray, but Fran barely mentions it. Maybe it was painful, perhaps he wanted to keep it quiet while his ex and his mother continued to talk to anyone who would listen. Maybe he just didn’t care; sometimes divorce is a weight lifted. But no doubt the author covered Fran as who he appeared to be – reticent, strong, quiet and perfect for the role the suit of lights expected from him. Who Fran is in private, perhaps no one will know for sure. This book is perfect for anyone interested in bullfighting, and anyone who wishes to learn needs to look no further than Death and the Sun. I am quick to toss a book that doesn’t catch me early on, yet I’ve read this four times. This is a book about souls who live in a world which divides opinion like nothing else.

The most special day of Francisco Rivera Ordóñez

Francisco Rivera Ordóñez source

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Into the Arena’ by Alexander Fiske-Harrison

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Alexander Fiske-Harrison spent a season studying and travelling with the matadors and breeders of famous “fighting bulls” of Spain (and France and Portugal. ) He ran with the bulls in Pamplona and found himself invited to join his new friends in the ring with 500lb training cows. This developed into a personal quest to understand the bullfight at its deepest levels, and he entered into months of damaging and dangerous training with one of the greatest matadors of all, Eduardo Dávila Miura, to prepare himself to experience the bullfight in its true essence: that of man against bull in a life or death struggle from which only one can emerge alive.

cover and blurb via amazon

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Every time I write something regarding bullfighting, I get plenty of hate mail, regardless of the content. Just the mere word ‘bullfighting’ sends people into a spin. There are those who constantly come on here and say I deserve to endure genital mutilation for my writing (which only makes you as grotesque as how you view bullfighting, so STFU). I find it interesting that no one who comes to my site to hound me has ever actually asked my personal view on bullfighting, and logic of abusers seems so ridiculous. When I wrote about rape or spousal abuse, no one asked me if I endorsed those subjects, so for that reason, I have decided to leave comments closed on this new post. Putting up with harassment is not a sign of strength. I shall not be passive, and I shall not be attacked either.

Into the Arena by Alexander Fiske-Harrison is a book I read a few years ago, but never reviewed. I decided to read it again recently, while doing some bullfighting research. I have been reminded how much I enjoyed this account on the subject.

It is argued that bullfighting, when done well, is a work of art, and a sin when done poorly. These two differences are a beautiful reflection of the arguments for and against the battle of death. The author shows how, after first seeing fights in 2000, until his full-fledged love affair with the art form years later, the only way to truly understand bullfighting is to be emerged in the world of the toreros. Bullfighting in the 21st century has triple the number of fights of the so-called golden-age of fighting in the 1930’s. Bullfighters earn enormous sums like football stars, marry beautiful girls and appear on magazine covers. Between the fights, the endorsements, and the celebrity caper, there is an industry worth over €2 billion a year. It would be easy to be swept away by the glamour aspect.

Fiske-Harrison is staunch defender of bullfighting. Some could say it could be a case of being caught in the bright lights of the toreros. Instead, the author turns to some of the greatest names of the current era – Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, a celebrity wherever he goes, and who speaks of the death in his life as part of a weekly routine.  José Tomás, ‘The Phenomenon’, some say the greatest performer of the age – who performs with great skill and nearly dies in the process. A horrific goring in Mexico shows the lengths the man will go to for what he believes is greatness. Then there is Juan José Padilla, known famously for being the torero who had his eye gored from his face. One famous fight shows Padilla fighting in the same event as Tomás, and nearly gets gravely injured due to vanity, wishing to be the most beloved of the night. Padilla is the epitome of those who live for the skill and thrill.

But this book doesn’t seek to raise the profiles or talk up the participants. This book also addresses the moral conundrum of the event. The hate of bullfighting can be as strong as the love, and the book does its best to counter some of the arguments – that the bulls are treated more humanely than your standard animal raised to become a steak (which I would agree with). Many who argue against bullfighting think little of the grotesque nature of the death of their dinner (or, like me, find steak-eating appalling). The book also discusses the economic and ecological benefits of bullfighting. While these arguments do have their merit, those opposed to the spectacle would no doubt be able to dismiss the claims.

Bullfighting is Spain’s ‘feast of art and danger’. That is mostly certainly true. The book takes a turn as Fiske-Harrison attempts to get into the ring himself, to learn the moves and nature of the animals. You can hate bullfighting all you like, but rarely does anyone have the courage to face one of these strong and aggressive animals. The animals are bred specifically for their speed and aggressive behaviour, and are fast learners. There will also be bulls who do not show the enthusiasm for death that the crowd would want (I’ve seen scared and disinterested bulls in the ring myself). The toreros have a great affinity for the graceful animals, but they must be killed. In the end, the audience is the beast while the man and animal square off for entertainment.

The world of bullfighting is a mixture of death and machismo – two things that can seem extremely unappealing. The author manages to sneak in and out of the world with great fluidity, makes up his own mind based on research and personal effort, and doesn’t waver from his personal opinion. While some see bullfighting as men with inflated egos killing animals to show off for a crowd, where the death of animals is both cruel and pointless, Fiske-Harrison attempts to portray the world of culture, tradition, respect and of bullfighting’s essence – the struggle of life and death. This is a great book told through one man’s perspective, but whether you enjoy the read may depend on your position on the subject.

Because the subject is so decisive, I will continue to both read and write about it, from both sides of the argument.  However, I’m not sure there is any piece of work that will ever sway a reader from their opinion. Some may get caught up the glamour and popularity, and many can respect the animals, but can readers endorse the kill? Who knows. You need to look past the kill to see the men and culture behind it, an action not everyone wants to try.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The New Spaniards’ by John Hooper

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Modern-day Spain is a country changing at bewildering speed. In less than half a century, a predominantly rural society has been transformed into a mainly urban one. A dictatorship has become a democracy. A once-repressed society is being spoken of as a future ‘Sweden of the Mediterranean.’ John Hooper’s outstanding portrayal of the new Spanish society explores the causes behind these changes, from crime to education, gambling to changing sexual mores. This new, up-to-date edition is the essential guide to understanding twenty-first-century Spain: a land of paradox, progress, and social change.

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The New Spaniards is a book which has sat on my to-read shelf for far too long. The second edition of this book got released in 2006, so by the time I pulled it from my shelf, I wondered if its information would be little irrelevant, given the changes to Spain in the past eight years. I could not have been more wrong.

So often mentioned in the same breath as Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett, the book which pulled me from my slumber about Spanish history, The New Spaniards is a must read. The author brings together over 400 pages, creating a solid, credible and easy to read review of Franco and modern life. One chapter in, what immediately becomes clear is the efficient and clean writing style Hopper has; while other books on the subject can feel academic and stiff, the prose is fresh and makes the reader comfortable among a detailed and insightful presentation.

The book starts with a section of the Franco reign, from the years of hunger, the economic boom, the mass migration of Spaniards both abroad and within their own nation, and effects of the reforms made during the dictatorship. The 1970′s, once Franco had gone and democracy set in, is covered with excellent detail, without any confusion on what was undoubtably a dizzying time of change in so many ways. Then-young king Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez are well discussed, along with the placement of the young and the old to form a peaceful democracy. The changes made by the Socialist government in the 1980′s are well touched upon, their effect on the economy and the high unemployment rate (easy to identify with today), along with the stark changes in the 1990′s by successive governments.

Chapter 7 – Legacies, Memories and Phantoms – is an engrossing read, whether a reader understands Spain’s 20th century history or not. It explains how Francoism has not survived the passing of years, but a legacy has become ingrained in Spanish life. The pact of forgetting, which did not allow anyone to forgive or heal, is touched upon with honesty, as is Valle de los Caídos outside Madrid. Hooper’s accurate argument is that the omission of the civil war (and its mass graves) in school textbooks, because it is not old enough to be considered history, is an excuse wearing thin.

Part two sweeps in with a section on the churches’ role in Spain, along with the curious and absurd prudery of Franco and the changes to modern time, such with gay marriages. It makes an enlightening read for those less acquainted with subjects such as prostitution, abortion, contraception and gay rights in Spain. Another absorbing chapter is the death of machismo in Spain as women gain rights after being so deeply and cruelly oppressed under Franco. The fact Spanish women are still suffering sexism, like all nations, is also explained, with the all the relevant details to back up the claims. The role of family in Spanish life is given a thorough and honest portrayal, as are the changes in domestic violence and divorce laws which have changed the precious Spanish family for the better.

Part four sheds light on the autonomous regions of Spain, something not well understood by those not living in the country. The Basques, the Catalans and the Galicians are all opened up as Hooper shares their desire for self-governance, with all the information on the remarkably different laws and goals for their regions. (I wanted to wave the flag for the region of Valencia at this point, which has been trapped under their corrupt PP mayor for over 20 years). The book covers the how’s and why’s of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain, their individual paths to freedom, and what lies ahead for these proud places. I learned more about this process, despite having studied it in the past, a testament to the author’s respect for detail.

 This book covers so many subjects that it can dizzying when looking back over all that is covered – from Spanish gypsies, to the welfare system, to the ups and down of the education system, housing and the booms and busts suffered, to the legal system, the media, the arts, but Hooper guides readers through every subject with a smooth yet meticulous manner, opening up each of these fundamental subjects. For me, one of the final sections on changing traditions was especially fascinating. Bullfighting is covered in-depth with an unbiased yet accurate voice. I have read much about bullfighting, but it can be hard to find anything written that does not either lean heavily in favour or against the art form. Regardless of your opinions on the subject, any reader can gain from the information shared by the author.

While much as happened politically, socially and economically to Spain since this book was written, it still serves to provide a clean, realistic picture of Spain and why the nation sits in its current form. The book shows how the past has shaped the present, and can also show that what Spain is currently suffering is not unique. Each generation of Spaniard has seen suffering, but also moments of hope in the time since Franco died. If anyone wanted to learn from the past mistakes, the tips to succeed could well lie in the words of John Hooper.

This book got first published in 1986, rewritten in 1995 and revised in 2006, and could be easily overwhelming if it was not so well planned and laid out. I have yet to find a book that captures Spain’s identity as well as The New Spaniards. It should be handed out to each person who arrives in Spain and plans to make a life there.

My only gripe is that my paperback copy has a tiny font! While this has nothing to do with the quality of the author’s work, I had a headache the entire time. I can understand a publisher’s desire to make the text small, with so much to give to a reader, but it was difficult to read. Going to a Kindle version and sizing up the text is needed for everyone with delicate eyes.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Death in the Afternoon’ by Ernest Hemingway

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.”
– Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

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Photo by Joserra Lozano of Jose Maria Manzanares in Linares 28.08.13

(try telling me no one likes bullfighting anymore while looking at this!)

Welcome to the first in the series of Hemingway Tuesdays, where we work through Hemingway’s catalogue for those new to the man and his work. Today is the heavy classic Death in the Afternoon

Synopsis –

Still considered one of the best books ever written about bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon is an impassioned look at the sport by one of its true aficionados. It reflects Hemingway’s conviction that bullfighting was more than mere sport and reveals a rich source of inspiration for his art. The unrivaled drama of bullfighting, with its rigorous combination of athleticism and artistry, and its requisite display of grace under pressure, ignited Hemingway’s imagination. Here he describes and explains the technical aspects of this dangerous ritual and “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick”. Seen through his eyes, bullfighting becomes a richly choreographed ballet, with performers who range from awkward amateurs to masters of great elegance and cunning. A fascinating look at the history and grandeur of bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon is also a deeper contemplation of the nature of cowardice and bravery, sport and tragedy, and is enlivened throughout by Hemingway’s sharp commentary on life and literature.

If ever there was an author to take on bullfighting, it is Hemingway and his incredibly masculine style of writing. Beware, if you are new to Hemingway, this may not be the best book to start with; his style can take a little getting used to. If you have read The Sun Also Rises, you would already would know the man is possibly the greatest English writer on the subject of bullfighting. This book delves so deeply into the world of the corrida, that readers are only saved from the technical aspects of the art by the strong writing style. The fact that the book is 80 years old makes no difference; prepare to step to the barrier and see the art through the eyes of an expert.

It should be no surprise that Hemingway chose to write this work, as it serves to provide the backdrop to life’s most important element – life versus death. It also shows off Spain and its way of life, as it was 1931 (and also now to some degree). While many books  on Spain tend to talk of the people, the light, the food, the mysticism of the Iberian Peninsula, Hemingway does not do this; Spain isn’t held up as an idol. The author got the feeling that all of Spain could be seen in the bullring, the zest for life against the inevitable glory and defeat of death.

Many people call bullfighting a sport, but Hemingway correctly is firm in calling it an art, a decadent art. Hemingway goes as far to compare the greats of the time, like Belmonte and Joselito with other great Spanish artists such as Velasquez (though, these men all died differently. Velaquez died of illness, Belmonte committed suicide and Joselito died in the ring, so not all the comparisons worked out). Hemingway talks of the pose of the matador, the build of the bull, as if it were a work of art to be admired and studied. The book spares no details for readers, and doesn’t stop with giving readers simple answers and explanations, but digs into both the art and also the mind of those who produce the spectacles.

Hemingway is a true aficionado of bullfighting in every sense of the word. He certainly did his time at the barrier, understanding the feeling of the matador and the crowd. He laments that aficionados not want to see a great matador killed, but an average matador receives no such admiration. The way the bull is killed is under scrutiny from Hemingway as well. A matador can only be praised if he has killed the bull ‘honestly’ no easy or trick swipes with the sword can be taken. The matador must be so close, that when he trusts his sword into the bull, the final chance to be gored is there.

Bullfighting means death, and Hemingway tried to convey how Spaniards understand death better than other countries. A bull with always die in the ring. Even if the fight is a disaster, the animal will still be slaughtered. A matador will eventually die; surely his days are numbered, and he and the spectators alike are aware of this. Hemingway muses that it is better to die in the ring than to die old and forgotten, away from the spectacle and understanding of death and glory (something Belmonte said before he shot himself). Hemingway speaks of pride, which he said was often considered a sin, but it is pride that give a matador enjoyment in what he does in the ring. He waxes around how a matador feels Godlike in the ring, as they are dancing with death, attempting to argue its inevitably.

Anyone who has ever read Hemingway knows his style. It can be wistful and long-winded, or short and sharp, sometimes both on the same page. In this particular book, his hard style is not as energetic as other novels. If Hemingway’s writing is known for anything, it is three things – women, booze and sadness. He can ramble, he can jump around all over the place (as great minds tend to do). This book will not disappoint anyone, and you will feel like you’ve delved in the mind of Spain when you’ve finished this long but engaging book. Personally, action and conversation make a good book, and this book veers off course compared his other work, but anyone who wants to build knowledge of Hemingway must read this book. I must admit that my interest was held throughout Death in the Afternoon because of my passion for the subject matter, something that does not apply to everyone. 

Next week – For Whom the Bell Tolls, possibly one of the best novels ever written.

Want to recommend an author once we have finished Hemingway? Let me know.