Statue of Hemingway near the bullring in Pamplona (Public domain photograph from Wikipedia Commons)
In the summer of 2023, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway's first visit to Pamplona for the Fiesta of San Fermín and its famous running of the bulls, a mock trial was organized by the Navarre Writers Association. Hemingway, who had visited the city and its fiesta a total of nine times, was accused of being the catalyst behind the commercialization and overcrowding at the San Fermín. Although the trial was held amid an air of humor, the question of whether or not Hemingway had negatively affected the city and its festival by popularizing them in his writing was taken seriously.
Author Miguel Izu defended Hemingway, concluding it was an exaggeration that Hemingway was to blame for the hordes of tourists, and that most visitors created few problems while greatly contributing to the local economy. But fellow author Idoia Saralegui criticized Hemingway for making the festival commonplace, adding "many more people come because he put it in his book." In the end, Hemingway was exonerated. The opinion of the court was that he had not degraded the festival but had instead made a positive impact by "propagating global knowledge of the fiestas" and contributing to "the tourist development of the city."1
Ironically, even as the trial date approached to determine whether Hemingway had degraded the festival, it was announced by Spain's state-owned television network, RTVE, that an AI generated "Ernest Hemingway" would be a guest of honor during the 2023 San Fermín broadcast as a correspondent from the past, giving color-commentary and comparing events of the 1923 festival to those of 2023.
When the Nobel Prize winner was conjured to life on live television, the AI version of Hemingway expressed amazement at the "avalanche" of automobiles crowding the streets of Pamplona, compared to 1923, and noted that the crowd was clad in "more casual and comfortable clothes." He also took a swipe at the proliferation of mobile devices, saying that all the cell phones were "like an extension of the hand."2 But as for the festival itself, he stated that "the hustle and bustle and joy of the Sanfermines continues to resonate in my soul." One hundred years later, a resurrected Hemingway thus expressed the same passion about the place as had the real Hemingway.3
Pamplona and the San Fermín have also become a life-long passion for Ernest’s grandson John Hemingway, and were subjects of his 2019 novel Bacchanalia: a Pamplona Story. In describing Pamplona, John expresses an excitement echoing that of his grandfather: “Frank was there again in the place that he loved perhaps more than any other, in the town that had first seduced him and then had saved him from himself.” John has run in the encierro numerous times and his deep familiarity in running with the bulls emerges throughout, including one section in which he describes a character being so close to the bulls he could “smell the caked shit on their tails.”4
John winkingly alludes several times to his famous grandfather in the novel, commenting in one passage that while Ernest likely came back to the fiestas for the drinking, camaraderie, and exciting personal encounters, “word has it that he never ran with the bulls.” In another passage, two of John’s characters visit the statue of Hemingway near the bullring where one explains that it is rumoured if you sprinkle patxaran (a local liquor made from blackthorn berries) on his beard, you can make a wish and “Hemingway will make it come true.”5
Sharing in the legacy of his grandfather’s love for Pamplona, John wrote for CNN in 2014 of his own experiences, saying, “I don’t think that anyone can prepare you for Pamplona. From the moment of the Chupinazo at twelve noon on the 6th of July to the closing ceremonies at midnight on the 14th there is no other celebration like it in the world.”6
Hemingway, John. Bacchanalia: a Pamplona Story (Montreal: Coolbrook Avenue Press, 2019).
---. “‘Furious energy’ Hemingway took from the bulls,” CNN.com (July 7, 2014) https://www.cnn.com/2014/07/07/opinion/pamplona-bulls-hemingway/index.html.
---. “John Hemingway on Strange Tribe.” OneTruePodcast (April 10, 2023) https://www.hemingwaysociety.org/node/1072.
Izu, Miguel. “An Amazing Review About Hemingway En Los Sanfermines.” THR Blog, The Hemingway Foundation and Society, July 14, 2023,https://www.hemingwaysociety.org/amazing-review-about-hemingway-en-los-sanfermines
“‘Juicio’ a Ernest Hemingway en la peña Anaitasuna sobre su papel en las fiestas,” Noticias de Navarra (June 8, 2023) https://www.noticiasdenavarra.com/pamplona/2023/06/08/juicio-ernest-hemingway-pena-anaitasuna-6907732.html.
Sharon Hamilton is a member of the Hemingway Society Board. She has blogged previously for the Hemingway Society about visiting Hemingway and Hadley’s Chicago Apartment and about Hemingway’s New Orleans.
John Hargrove is a Michigan-based writer and Hemingway researcher; he is also the founder of "Ernest Hemingway: The True Gen," an online community of Hemingway researchers and aficionados hosted on social media.
1 “‘Juicio’ a Ernest Hemingway en la peña Anaitasuna sobre su papel en las fiestas,” Noticias de Navarra (June 8, 2023) https://www.noticiasdenavarra.com/pamplona/2023/06/08/juicio-ernest-hemingway-pena-anaitasuna-6907732.html
2 RTVE Play San Fermín 2023 https://www.rtve.es/play/videos/sanfermines/san-fermin-hemingway-corresponsal-pasado-tercer-encierro/6931218/
4 Hemingway, John. Bacchanalia: a Pamplona Story (Montreal: Coolbrook Avenue Press, 2019), pp. 11, 54.
5 Hemingway, John. Bacchanalia: a Pamplona Story (Montreal: Coolbrook Avenue Press, 2019), pp. 27, 69.
6 Hemingway, John. “‘Furious energy’ Hemingway took from the bulls,” CNN.com (July 7, 2014) https://www.cnn.com/2014/07/07/opinion/pamplona-bulls-hemingway/index.html.