HEMINGWAY’S HAUNTS IN A MADRID GRIPPED BY THE CIVIL WAR

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Museo Chicote, Hemingway’s favorite watering hole when he was a war correspondent.
The Art Deco interior hasn’t changed since the Museo’s inauguration in 1931 as
Madrid’s first cocktail bar. (Photo by Suzan Hagstrom with inset
of Hemingway, by Lloyd Arnold, posing for the dust jacket
of
For Whom the Bell Tolls first edition, PD)

 

by Suzy Hagstrom

Even in death, Ernest Hemingway remains larger than life – enough so that a walking tour in Madrid is available to visitors with an interest in the American writer who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954.

Cerveceria Alemana, one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts /©Suzan Hagstrom

As a journalist* of course I wanted to walk in Hemingway’s footsteps even though I felt the legendary writer’s shoes were too big to fill.

Because many of his clients are Americans and he wanted to diversify his array of tours, British expatriate Stephen Drake-Jones began offering “Hemingway’s Madrid” in 2007. A longtime expert in Spain’s War of Independence from France in the early 1800s, Drake-Jones spent a year researching Hemingway´s life and literary works linked to Spain.

The four-hour walkabout includes stops at hotels, bars, shops and other haunts of Hemingway, who preferred to be called “Don Ernesto” in Spain. Hemingway was infamous as well as famous in his own lifetime for various reasons, and the tour reflects the different hats he wore in Spain.

“Don Ernesto” with actress Lauren Bacall in Spain, circa 1956-1959. Source: John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives and Records Administration, PD

Not only was Hemingway a journalist and novelist, but he also was a war correspondent, an “aficionado” of bullfighting and a “foodie.” The gifted writer, who struggled with manic depression and a history of suicide in his family, drank too much and cheated on his wives.

Drake-Jones begins the walk at Cerveceria Alemana, Hemingway’s favorite bar during the 1950s when he returned to Spain to work on bullfighting projects. By then, some Spanish intellectuals mocked Hemingway for fancying himself an expert on Spanish culture just because he had run with the bulls in Pamplona during the 1920s.

A seemingly unlikely but important stop on Drake-Jones’s route is the El Corte Ingles department store at Plaza del Callao. It occupies the site of the former Hotel Florida, where Hemingway lived and wrote news reports about the Spanish Civil War, which raged from 1936 to 1939.

Hotel Florida circa 1925-1936/Kallmeyer y Gautier. Source: Memorias de Madrid, PD

Journalists from around the world stayed at Hotel Florida, including American Martha Gellhorn, who became Hemingway’s lover and third wife. The suite they shared on the fifth floor served as a salon attracting writers, artists, combatants and intellectuals, including American poet Langston Hughes. Incidentally, today’s El Corte Ingles sells home goods, including mattresses and bed linens, on the fifth floor.

View from El Corte Ingles’ rooftop restauant which includes famous landmarks and a Civil War battleground/©Suzan Hagstrom

The store’s rooftop restaurant and bar feature a view of such famous landmarks as the Opera House and the Royal Palace. Beyond the buildings is the Civil War battlefield where fascist soldiers mobilized and lobbed mortars and shells at Madrid.

Embedded with the Spanish government’s soldiers, Hemingway traveled to different cities and battlefields to chronicle the war. He often returned with ham, cheese, butter, marmalade, coffee, oranges and other delicacies that he shared with his many visitors.

Hostal Aguilar. Left: Room 129, a room Hemingway occupied, now renovated. Right: the hostel’s reception hall/©Jack Wright

While proceeding from one stop to another, Drake-Jones talks about walking in Hemingway’s footsteps. This is particularly poignant at Hostal Aguilar, where Hemingway stayed with his first wife Hadley Richardson in 1925. The wooden steps of the hotel´s interior staircase are concave from the many decades of guests trudging up and down.

At the Antigua Pasteleria del Pozo  the foodie gets to taste the rich flavor of Madrid’s history. (Photo: the confectionery’s typical minced-meat pies/Tamerlan, CC BY3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

For each of the Hemingway haunts, Drake-Jones has identified at least two eyewitness accounts of the writer´s presence. Other stops feature small family businesses that have operated in Madrid for more than 100 years giving visitors a literal as well as figurative flavor of the city’s rich history and culture. One can only speculate whether Hemingway bought wine and whiskey at Licores Cabello, which is remarkably close to Antigua Pasteleria del Pozo, where he reportedly bought pastries.

Cover of For Whom the Bell Tolls, first edition. (Source:www.abebooks.com.uk, Fair use via Wikipedia)

While walking, Drake-Jones describes Hemingway’s novels that are set in Spain — The Sun Also Rises, Death in the Afternoon, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Like other literary scholars, Drake-Jones identifies the real people Hemingway knew who served as these novels’ main characters.

Tailoring his presentation to the interests and experience of his clients, Drake-Jones informed me that Robert Jordan, the war hero in For Whom the Bell Tolls, was likely inspired by Robert Hale Merriman, a graduate student of my alma mater, the University of California Berkeley. Merriman commanded the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of volunteer soldiers from the United States who defended Spain’s democratic government during the Spanish Civil War.

Both Hemingway and Merriman believed that if fascists succeeded in defeating democracy in Spain, they would take over Europe, which is what happened during World War II.

Telefonica: from here Hemingway and his colleagues filed their stories. (Photo: ©Suzan Hagstrom)

Noteworthy to journalists such as myself is Madrid’s Telefonica, Europe’s tallest skyscraper when it opened in 1930. It was here Hemingway, John Dos Passos and other reporters transmitted their news stories about the Spanish Civil War.

Near the end of the walkabout, Drake-Jones encourages people to continue exploring on their own. Museo Chicote, Hemingway’s favorite watering hole when he was a war correspondent, opens in the late afternoon and evening. The Art Deco interior hasn’t changed since 1931  when Museo Chicote debuted as Madrid’s first cocktail bar.

Hemingway’s favorite corner in the Museo Chicote/©Suzan Hagstrom

Photographs of famous customers, including singer Frank Sinatra, actress Sofia Loren and surrealist painter Salvador Dali, adorn the walls.

After pointing to the corner where Hemingway liked to sit and imbibe, Ruben Gomez, the bar’s manager and receptionist, graciously invited me to take photographs and wander about.

I did just that, spending more time walking in Hemingway’s footsteps.

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*Hagstrom is a journalist and a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of California Berkeley. She is the author of “Sara’s Children; The Destruction of Chmielnik,” a World War II history text documenting the survival of five siblings in Nazi Germany’s death camps.
Hagstrom’s connection to Spain extends beyond her studies there during 1974-1975, the final year of fascism and dictator Francisco Franco. Her late father, Robert Painter Hagstrom, was assigned to Rota Naval Air Base near Cadiz in 1953 when he served in the U.S. Air Force. According to family lore, one of Suzy Hagstrom’s great-great grandmothers was from Valencia Spain. But Suzy must find the documents to prove it!