Janet Christie's Mum's the Word - Catching up with Hemingway in Pamplona
Sitting at a cafe in the Plaza del Castillo, the main square in the northern Spanish town of Pamplona with friends, I’m listening to the morning peal of the church bell, wondering for whom it tolls, while we glug strong coffee and people watch as the town comes to life.
We’re at the legendary Café Iruña where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out when visiting to watch the bull running fiesta which inspired his book The Sun Also Rises. From the cafe I can see opposite our airbnb’s balcony overlooking the plaza, where I’ve left my paperback copy soaking up the rays. Reading fiction set in places I visit is my way of getting under the skin of a destination (such as Orkney) and rather than frying my eyes at a screen and amassing a frazzling must-do itinerary, I’ll go with Hemingway.
His book might be nearly 100 years old but the writer still haunts this joint; inside he leans over the bar, rendered in bronze, large as life and grinning for travellers taking selfies, while photos of him brandishing hunting rifles, all bristling alpha male and looking like trouble, adorn the walls.
But outside it’s peaceful, and as the church bells peal a man of a more gentle mettle strolls towards us with a wobbly kitten on a lead - sensible in a town awash with testosterone where bulls running the streets is a thing. Thankfully we’re not here for the San Fermin festival held in July, rather a local friend’s wedding, although the enthusiastic conga at the reception gave it a run for its money. A wedding in a vineyard where priceless works of art are on display throughout, gulp, but remarkably the only thing smashed was the guests.
As the kitten heads for the road, the man leans down and gently scoops it up. I’ll be trying this at home with the rascally kitten, Missy Elliott, who has started to shadow me whenever I leave the homestead. I’m sure Papa Hemingway would approve. He might have been a huntin’, shootin’ fishin’ and bullfightin’ kind of guy, but he was also big on cats (visiting his house outside Havana (read about my trip to Cuba) I found it awash with his felines’ descendants - gingers, with an extra toe, living a life of luxurious lethargy on his legacy). A cat lead with collar and bell? When I get home, Missy, it tolls for thee.