It is a goal of mine to one day live, at least a year, minimum, in the Basque Country. Bridging the South-West of France with the North-West of Spain, bookended by the Atlantic and the Basque and Pyrenees Mountains, it is a land of milk and honey. The architecture of Bilbao, the lanes of San Sebastian and the castle ridden cliffs of Biarritz, these are only the tip of the iceberg in a region that boasts the highest density of Michelin Star restaurants per capita of anywhere in Europe. Wine and dine honey! Oh, and did I mention that there's surf? A trip here during Sept/Oct is certain to yield some serious juice and you'll get in before the thermometer plummets.
Hemingway hints at the wave potential when he takes a bodysurf in San Sebastian near the conclusion of the novel, to wash off the fiesta. Although, it isn't until the crew of the film adaptation arrived in Biarritz in 1956 to do location shots and brought boards that the Basque's love affair with the slide began.
Seeing as how Hemingway unknowingly kick started surfing in Europe off the back of this tale, this one was a given.
Fiesta or The Sun Also Rises, traverses a whole heap of themes; like the Lost Generations' wounds of WWI (physical and psychological), the break down of morality and the brutality of love. Hemingway comes out looking pretty poor in relation to race and gender in this one too, which has provided plenty of fodder for the critics. The irony is that all these heavy themes are wrapped up in a plot that is largely just one big booze-filled romp.
It kicks off in Paris, where all the Expats have had enough of being alcoholic writers. Thinking they're due a holiday they set out on a week long bender to San Fermin, otherwise known as The Running of the Bulls. They drink and fight and drink some more and Hemingway fawns over bullfighting (He later wrote a whole book on it called Death In The Afternoon). I wont spoil the ending of this one but it involves more drinking.
The classic thing for me about this novel is that it's a good old-fashioned Roman à clef, which is French for most of this stuff really happened and I've aired my friend's dirty laundry as fiction. All his literary friends back in Paris didn't have to guess too hard as to who everyone was in the scene.
Using his distinctive hard-boiled understatement, Hemingway creates characters that we've all probably travelled with at some stage, some never again, and takes you on a tour of one of the most culturally and geographically rich areas in the world. Just ask the Basque Separatists!
What isn't said in among the dialogue is where a lot of the genius is here and this book will be your buddy on the beach after perfect sand-bottom cylinders or a raucous night bouncing through the pinxtos bars of San Sebastian, hopped up on the local cider.
Good luck matching Pappa's understated prose when recounting this trip to your amigos.
“Even on a hot day San Sebastian has a certain early-morning quality. The trees seem as though their leaves were never quite dry. The streets feel as though they have just been sprinkled. It is always cool and shady on certain streets on the hottest day.”