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Monday, 04 December 2006

Spain: Reading Hemingway in the Land of Contradiction - Page 2

Written by Evan Thoreau Heigert
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The train out of Barcelona leaves at a quarter to noon. On the wall of the station, the iron clock reads 11:23. I turn to the line of dusty travelers in front of me. This is going to be close. I reach the window

The mountains here are old and weathered and wear a dense veil of vegetation. We follow alpine streams through gracious valleys, both flowing headlong towards the Atlantic. This is the Basque Country – a chunk of earth so old, so mystical, that its inhabitants speak of it as the original Eden- and it very well could be.

houseThe Basque culture is one of the oldest surviving in the world, claiming direct descent from Cro-Magnon man. The Basque language of Euskera – curiously resembling more closely the ancient script of the Incas than present day Spanish – is the only remaining pre-Indo-European language on the continent. These are the people that survived the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors and French, even Franco’s fascist armies – and lived to relate the story in their own tongue.

We arrive in San Sebastián, Donostia in Basque, from above. The city lies along the slender strip of land between where the mountains end and the ocean begins. I can see the Parte Vieja, nestled on a stocky peninsula stretching out into azure waters. beachIt is there that the jewel of the city sparkles, la Bahía de la Concha, an emerald harbor outlined by one of the world’s most beautiful urban beaches. Far to the west the hot coal of the sun sizzles out in the waters of the Atlantic.

We descend into the valley and rumble through town. Long shadows stretch along exquisitely manicured boulevards where palm trees and fountains are as frequent as pedestrians. An idle river cuts through city center; baroque bridges stitch together the old and new town on either bank. This is not my preconception of Spain – dusty, hot, spicy. This is something closer to the old world of Northern Europe – serene, classical, elegant. At the station, I step out into a chilly July night. I wonder for a moment if we didn’t turn a course north to Geneva or Luzerne while I dozed.

The doubt is fleeting. I am soon overwhelmed by the smell of spicy grilled shrimp, the quirk chirp of Spanish, and a more guttural, ancient dialogue that must be Euskera. Outside the station I look around, unsure of where to find lodging. A man approaches in green slacks and a wool vest. Luckily, he speaks Spanish. A clean room at a good price is more than my weary feet and empty stomach ask. I accept.

He directs me to an aging grey Land Rover and I hoist my pack in. As we drive, the city glows in the color of the dying sun. Wide avenues are set against linden trees and flower gardens. The buildings of the new town stand proudly at the same height, composed of granite from nearby quarries. They retain a type of architecture wholly unto the region. Unlike the colorful clay abodes of southern Spain, the style here has a more reposed, classical mood, similar to cosmopolitan northern cities, but with a distinct Spanish flair. On iron balconies, open French Doors offer fluttering curtains to the light sea breeze.

Hemingway came here on summer weekends away from Paris in the 1920s. He came south for the bullfighting season but had to appease his young wife by splitting time between the rough, steaming towns of Pamplona and Zaragoza and the this fine old Dame by the sea. To my dismay, I notice we are not heading further into the city, but out of it. My host and I wrestle with the language barrier and I learn that his home sits atop one of the weathered green mountains that look down on the city. I am unsure, but he is kind and promises me “grandes riquezas de la belleza,” great wealth’s of beauty.

(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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