Hemingway’s Madrid, 50 years after his death

EL PAÍS visits some of the great writer's favorite haunts to mark the anniversary

"Yet when you get to know it [Madrid], it is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people, month in and month out the finest climate," wrote Ernest Hemingway in Death In The Afternoon . The Nobel Literature Prize winner visited Spain on several occasions, and in the 1920s he was here nine times with his family. During the Civil War, in 1937 and 1938, he returned to Madrid as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance, and was back again in the 1950s, attracted mostly by the bullfights, especially those featuring his friends Luis Miguel Dominguín and Antonio Ordóñez at Las Ventas.

Madrid's streets, parks and buildings were immortalized in his books. In his short story The Denunciation , Hemingway talks about Bar Chicote, on Gran Vía, as a symbol of the affection foreigners felt for Spain. This refuge of stars is also the setting for a scene from his play The Fifth Column . Some of the establishments that Hemingway frequented are still around, like Chicote, but others have met a sad fate.

"I'd better stick to writing," he said on trying to learn how to make paella
Hotel Florida was a favorite with correspondents and prostitutes

The Gaylord, one of the most important hotels in Madrid during the war, used to stand on Calle de Alfonso XI. Now there is a residential building in its place. Robert Jordan, the main character in For Whom The Bell Tolls , said it once: "Too good for a city under siege." To mark the 50th anniversary of the writer's death last Saturday, EL PAÍS reviewed some of the establishments from Hemingway's era:

- Restaurante Botín. (Cuchilleros, 17). Carlos González, the current owner of the oldest restaurant in the capital, asserts that Hemingway used to love roast suckling pig. The writer was a regular at Botín and a good friend of Emilio, Carlos' grandfather and the former owner. One day, Hemingway asked Emilio to teach him how to make paella, but after several failed attempts the author of The Old Man and the Sea declared: "I'd better stick to writing." The Sun Also Rises , the novel that made him world famous, ends with a scene in this restaurant.

- Restaurante El Callejón. (Calle de la Ternera, 6). This eatery, once located in an out-of-the-way alley in the Austrias part of town, fed Hemingway and his wife Mary during their visits in the 1950s. Hemingway wrote in one of his articles for Life magazine that El Callejón had "the best food in town."

- Hotel Gran Vía. (Gran Vía, 12). Located on the busiest artery in the city, the Gran Vía still stands, although these days it is called Tryp Gran Vía. A plaque on the façade boasts about its relationship with the writer, although Hemingway had some issues with the hotel. In The Night Before Battle he wrote: "The place always made me furious."

- Hotel Florida. (Plaza de Callao, 2). This hotel was not as fortunate as its neighbor, the Tryp Gran Vía. It was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a department store, but during the war it was a favorite spot for correspondents and prostitutes because it was one of the few inns with hot water in all of Madrid. It was then that Hemingway met the reporter Martha Gellhorn, with whom he fell deeply in love. The hotel was in the first line of fire, and because the air strikes made sleeping impossible, the journalists would walk down Gran Vía to Bar Chicote.

- Museo del Prado. (Paseo del Prado). Of all the things undertaken by the Spanish Republican government, what Hemingway was proudest of was the way they saved works of art during the war. The museum's main masterpieces - which the writer was passionate about - were taken to Valencia in 1936 to avoid the air raids that pounded the city until Nationalist forces took Madrid in 1939.

- Cervecería Alemana. (Plaza de Santa Ana, 6). It was one of his favorite bars. In an article for Life magazine titled A Dangerous Summer , Hemingway talked about it as a good place for beer and coffee. Just a few meters off the square, on Calle del Príncipe, there was a place called Bar Álvarez where the author liked to have a beer and a plate of shrimps, as reflected in Death in the Afternoon .

- The building in ruins. (Pintor Rosales, 14). On Paseo del Pintor Rosales, just across from Casa de Campo, there used to be a house in ruins. The staircase had been blown to smithereens and the elevator was a twisted hunk of metal in its shaft, yet the doors were perfectly preserved. It was so close to the front lines that one could have tossed a shingle from the balcony down into the Republican trenches below. This place symbolized the destruction and cruelty of battle, and Hemingway wrote a story about it called Landscape with Figures . When he participated in the filming of the anti-fascist propaganda production The Spanish Earth , he suggested shooting it there.

Hemingway chats will bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez.
Hemingway chats will bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez.
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