Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reading Hemingway in Spain

Every respectable traveler and travel writer will take his turn at bad-mouthing tourists, especially tourists standing near fabulous cathedrals, palaces, or monuments in European cities with a Starbucks latte in one hand, a Lonely Planet guide in the other, and The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway in another. What? But is it a sin to read Hemingway on the road, as I am doing now with my class, ENGL 3325—Hemingway in Spain? (I also read On the Road on the road, picking up a copy in Stockholm on my first European tour in 1993, then passing it on to a close friend, after signing my name with a date on the title page, who I hoped would, in turn, pass it on to someone he met in Cairo or Damascus, and eventually, one day in the distant future, the book would return to me. So far, it has not.) So is it a sin?

In my class we’re reading Hemingway’s Spanish doings: The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls to be sure, along with Hemingway’s newspaper stories about Spain, especially the Spanish Civil War, and yes, Death in the Afternoon. In April, the whole cadre from Texas, myself included, will attend a bullfight (stay tuned). And what’s wrong with that? Would it be equally a sin to read Lorca in Spain, or read Kazantzakis in Greece, Hearn in Japan, McCarthy in Texas, Theroux anywhere? Well then, I’ve committed them all.

It seems to me one can learn a great deal about Spain from Hemingway—not the Spaniard’s idea of Spain, but the foreigner’s point of view, an American point of view, which I am, and my students are. Hemingway isn’t the only or the correct way of seeing; it’s just one way of seeing. Plus, we can pick-up useful language employable in many social situations.

Scenario: handsome Texan boy meets gorgeous Spanish girl. He says: "I love thee, little rabbit." She says: "Oh. Is that Shakespeare?" thinking it out of context. He says: "No, little rabbit, Hemingway."

Scenario: gorgeous Texan girl meets handsome Spanish guy. He says: "I think maybe you love me." She says: "Isn’t it pretty to think so."

Scenario: literature professor sees student from Hemingway class working on a paper at the Texas Tech Center in Seville. He says: "Buenas Dias. What are you working on?" She responds: "I am trying to write one true sentence."

So go ahead and read Hemingway in Spain, and worry not about the judgments of offended onlookers, who are obviously superior to you. You can´t do anything about that. It’s not the Hemingway that offends anyway, but that word, "tourist." Travelers fear it more than thieves, more than malaria, more than loneliness. Truth is, a "traveler" is just a tourist who’s been around the block, and getting around the block is usually a function of age, not intelligence, beauty, or athleticism. And if I were you, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to get there.


  1. That book! "On the Road", I had completely forgotten about it, could not remember what had come of it, if and when I had passed it on, to whom. A confession: I searched my library and found it there wedged between Joseph Kanon's "Los Alamos" and Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". (One of the few rows that remain in alphabetical.) Anyway, the inscriptions on the inside cover read:

    "Kurt Caswell, purchased Stockholm, Sweden, April 1993, read beyond Stockholm through Spain and Italy to Munchen where it met its terminus. Onto..."

    "Scott Dewing, read while passing through or living in: Paris, Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Amman, Aqaba, Nuweiba, and various parts of the Sinai. Finished September 21, 1993 in Cairo. Onto..."

    And I never passed it on. Everyone in Cairo was staying put, or like me, were just heading back to the States and not out "on the road" and into the unknown. Perhaps I should have just left the book with someone in Cairo, but I did not. Nobody seemed worthy of the duty. The book traveled with me back to Seattle and became forgotten in the pitch and yaw of starting a family and doing the many things one must do to keep them safe and fed. Where does 16 years go? Goes while getting around the block I suppose.

    So, it's time to dust this book off and pass it on to a younger set of hands heading out into the world for perhaps the first time; eager and anxious, happy and sad, bold and fearful, learning to navigate all those emotions that will hit them out "on the road", learning to be comfortable with not knowing what will happen next or where they will be or how they will get there, or to put it simply as you have: learning to get around the block.

    Thanks for this great posting Kurt and for the reminder of the now long-overdue fulfillment of my duty to pass on the book.

  2. "one true sentence..." I remember that line, I think.

    Do let us know how the bull fight goes.

  3. Sounds like a rough life over there. Shortly after 9/11 my father went on a traveling hiatus with no goodbye or plans. When I finally recieved a call to pick him up at the bus station a month after being gone, he told me he wished he had a shirt that said "I'm a tourist, not a terrorist." Glad I found your blog. Enjoy. Matt

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