The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Hemingway in Ronda, Spain

By Kim Seong-kon

Published : Jan. 8, 2019 - 17:11

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Recently, I revisited the famous Spanish town of Ronda to follow the trail of the late American writer Ernest Hemingway, who celebrated his last birthday there. Ronda is famous because the old town was built on high, stiff cliffs that make for truly dazzling scenery. It also has the enchanting Mina Secreta Y Jardines del Rey Moro, where former US first lady Michelle Obama visited some time ago.

To me, however, Ronda is the city of Hemingway. The internationally-acclaimed writer loved virtually everything about Spain, including bullfighting, wine and street cafes. Hemingway especially liked bullfights because he admired the matador’s manhood and courage in confronting imminent death. One can find such a motif in his famous novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Since Ronda has the oldest bullring in Spain, called Plaza de Toros, built of stone in the 18th century, it seems quite appropriate that in front of the bullring stands a statue of Hemingway looking out over the arena of life and death.

Hemingway especially loved Ronda and stayed there for a while. In his short story “Death in the Afternoon” Hemingway wrote, “There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first bullfight in if you are only going to see one and that is Ronda. That is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is romantic background.” Indeed, one becomes mesmerized at the astonishing beauty and charmingly serene atmosphere of Ronda. It is a place you would definitely fall in love with at first sight.

In Ronda, you can find the famous Paseo de Hemingway, the path where the celebrated writer used to take a walk in solitude. I, too, walked down the dangerously bent path that Hemingway took along the precipice, contemplating the great writer who enjoyed walking precariously on the cliff between life and death. I also dropped by Cafe Hemingway and sipped a cup of cappuccino in the cozy coffee shop, reminiscing on Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which deals with the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. In 1937, Hemingway arrived in Spain as a war correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. During his stay in Spain, he saw the atrocities of the Civil War, which inspired him to write his celebrated novel.

During the Civil War, Hemingway took the side of the anti-fascist Republican guerillas who fought against Francisco Franco’s Nationalist Army. It was a complex war between the left and the right, between the common people and aristocrats, as well as between socialists and fascists. The anti-fascist Republican guerillas, who were allied with anarchists and communists, were backed by the Soviet Union, whereas Franco’s Nationalist Army was supported by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Catholics, too, supported Franco’s forces.

Historically, there are some resemblances between Spain and Korea. Both the Spanish Civil War and the Korean War, which was originally called the Korean Civil War, lasted for three years. Both wars broke out due to the clash between the left and the right. Each side was supported by strong nations such as the Soviet Union and the United States respectively. And both countries were under military dictatorship: Spain for 36 years and Korea for 32 years.

Nevertheless, there are differences. As democracy returned to Spain in 1977, an amnesty law was passed, and as a result, there were no political vendettas or persecutions against those who had worked for Franco. The Spanish people decided to forgive and forget. Indeed, it has been pointed out that there is no single museum in Spain dedicated to the Spanish Civil War, even though it is recorded in history books. Although the current leftist Spanish government recently decided to exhume the body of Franco, the purpose was not to desecrate Franco’s body for revenge, but to bury it in some other place that was more appropriate.

On the other hand, in Korea, no amnesty law was ever passed after the Korean War. Instead of deciding to forgive and forget and move on, the Korean people hopelessly regress to the past, calling for an endless cycle of political revenge. As a result, bigotry, hatred, and age-old grudges have always been rampant in Korean society. For example, the first military dictator was assassinated. His two successors, who were also ex-military generals, were sent to prison. Among the five civilian presidents after the military dictatorship officially ended in 1992, only two were safe; one committed suicide and the other two are in jail now.

We should put an end to the vicious cycle of political revenge and achieve reconciliation instead. In “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” after he chooses to die fighting for his beloved Spanish girlfriend and her people, the American protagonist Robert Jordan says, “The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” We should be able to say the same thing to Korea. 

Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting professor at the University of Malaga in Spain. He can be reached at -- Ed.