Spain, Hemingway, and the reader’s imagination

I spent last week making my way down the coast of Spain with my husband on a belated honeymoon.  We started in Barcelona, took a train to Valencia, rented a car and drove to Granada, and then spent one night in Malaga before flying back to Istanbul.

It was my first time visiting Spain and as we traveled around, I was surprised to realize just how much of my concept of the country came from reading Hemingway.  Everywhere we went, the scenery reminded me of his writings: as we ambled down Travessera de Dalt towards Parc Guell and I glimpsed low shrub-dotted mountains in the distance, I was in “Hills Like White Elephants”; drinking cava in a cafe, I became the old man in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”; seeing the bull fighting arena in Valencia, I suddenly was transported into The Sun Also Rises, and driving through rural, craggy landscape of Andalusia made me remember the bus full Spanish peasants in the same novel, squirting wine into their mouths from leather skeins.


Driving through Andalusia

This is probably not much of a fair association.  The associations aren’t necessarily even true, at least not directly– I don’t remember what the man was drinking in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” but it probably wasn’t cava, and I’m pretty sure the Spanish peasants in The Sun Also Rises were Basque, not Andalusian.  I’m also sure that there are many other writers who have written fiction set in Spain as well as, or better than, Hemingway.  (If he’s had this much of an impact on what I imagined Spain was like, I can only guess what will happen if I go to Paris.)

But, I started reading Hemingway for the first time in my early twenties, right when I was becoming more independent (and loving the feeling of doing so) and really catching the travel bug.  And despite all the controversy surrounding Hemingway, his writing really stuck to me and latched onto my imagination, and directly fed my burgeoning and ravenous travel bug.  In other words, it bolstered the part of my soul that was the neediest at the time and that has since become one of the more important parts of who I am.

I think my interest in seeing the world directly comes from reading so much as a child.  I still remember reading versions of the Arabian Tales as a kid and dreaming about Aladdin’s palaces, reading The Secret Garden and wishing I could see it in person, and so on and so forth with dozens of other stories that took place in various locales that were far away from my rural Virginia home.  (Although I’ll be honest: my current desire to see London comes from BBC shows, not books.)  The connection of those two loves– of reading, and of wanting to experience the world– continued into my teens and my adult years, and now, almost to my own surprise, I’m actually living all those things I daydreamed so long ago, or at least versions of them.  It’s a wonderful, addictive feeling.

Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.

-Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad


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