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Hemingway Adventure

Madrid, Spain (first day)

Madrid, Spain 
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Michael Palin - Hemingway AdventureHemingway was always more intrigued by bullfighting than bull-running. He was fascinated by matadors, whom he described memorably in Death in the Afternoon (1932) as 'affable, generous, courteous and well liked by all who are superior to them in station, and miserly slave drivers with those who must work for them'.

When he first visited Madrid in 1923 he was still starry-eyed and chose to stay at the Pensión Aguilar in Via San Jerónimo 'where the bullfighters live'.

We are quartered in the Hotel Suecia where the Hemingways took a suite on his last visit to Spain thirty-six years later. The hotel does not seem to know, or care, that he stayed here, which is quite refreshing in a way, if a little odd, as the cultural centre next door is running an exhibition called 'Hemingway y España', consisting mainly of photographs of Ernest on that trip in 1959.

The pictures are quite sad. His powerful build is much reduced and the white beard and wispy white hair make him look more like some venerable old prophet than a man only just out of his fifties.

A first visitor to Madrid could do worse than follow the Hemingway trail, not just because so much of it still exists, but
because he was a man of taste and did not waste his time on the second-rate.

Across the road from the hotel is the Prado, one of the world's greatest collection of paintings, where Hemingway caught up with his beloved Bruegels and Goyas and where I could spend an entire visit in front of Hieronymus Bosch's Garden Of Earthly Delights.

Then follow him, for refreshment, into the old quarter west of the Prado, where the narrow streets bear the names of writers like Cervantes and Lope de Vega and take a beer at the Cervecería Alemana, a 96-year-old bierkeller with Spanish tiling and an open unfussy interior, which was one of Hemingway's favourites. (If you feel oppressed by the presence of the Great Man, I recommend La Venencia just round the corner in the Calle Echegaray, of which there is no record of him ever entering. The speciality is sherry served from the cask and the peeling walls are stained a rich tobacco brown.)
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  • Series: Hemingway Adventure
  • Chapter: Madrid, Spain (first day)
  • Country/sea: Spain
  • Place: Madrid
  • Book page no: 108

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