what i'm reading (and why): for whom the bell tolls

In anticipation of an upcoming trip to Spain, I'm re-reading For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway's novel based on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. I haven't read Hemingway since the 1980s, and I'm enjoying it much more than I expected to.

I had mis-remembered Hemingway as a harsher, more macho voice. Maybe it was his love of bullfighting and hunting, or his personal image as a tough guy, but I was expecting bellicosity and possibly sexism. I didn't find it. The voice is warm and generous, and he writes with great sensitivity and respect, and keen insight into human motivations.

The Spanish Civil War itself is about resistance to fascism, more a story of rebellion and revolution than armies and battlefields. (I imagine the anti-fascists are more properly called counter-revolutionaries, because Franco's military takeover was a revolution.) Hemingway was part of the famed Abraham Lincoln Brigades, Americans who fought for the Spanish Republic, to try to stop the fascist threat to Europe and the world. But while For Whom the Bell Tolls is obviously sympathetic to the anti-fascists, Hemingway is still clear-eyed and unromantic about them. You see personal failings and moral dilemmas, and the many compromises a movement faces while trying to live its politics.

I also had forgotten the simple power and beauty of Hemingway's writing. It is an absolute joy to read.

It's almost impossible for a contemporary reader to appreciate how different Hemingway was in his own time, and how influential. His writing might even seem ordinary now, but in its day, it swept out the old and ushered in the new. Think of Hemingway's writing next to, say, E. M. Forster or D. H. Lawrence. All three are roughly contemporaries, but Forster and Lawrence's writing belongs to an older school of thought and style. Forster sounds more like a Victorian, while Hemingway sounds like a modern man.

Also in anticipation of Barcelona, two people have recommended Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, a literary thriller that takes place in Barcelona (and is now waiting for me at the library!). And of course we will re-watch both "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and the 1994 film "Barcelona". We love Almodovar, and have seen most of his films, but maybe we will go back to valium in the gazpacho with "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown".

* * * *

I've wanted to go to Spain for many years, and this is our first major trip in a few years, as well. I'm very excited! Since I know this will be asked in comments, here's the plan.

We have a quick stop in London to see some friends, people we originally know from New York, one as far back as our Brooklyn days, who we haven't seen in a long time. After two days in London, we'll take the Eurostar train to Paris and spend two days there. On our last trip to Paris*, I vowed that whenever we were in Europe for any reason, we would go to Paris. That's a promise it will never hurt to keep.

From Paris we go to Barcelona. We'll have a good 4 or 5 days to explore Barcelona, then we'll pick up a car and do a lot of driving! The Alhambra, the great Mosque and Cathedral of Cordoba, Roman ruins, at least one pueblo blanco, the Bilbao Guggenheim and hopefully cave paintings in Basque Country, art in Madrid, and who knows what else. We have three weeks total, and about 2-1/2 weeks in Spain.

Even planning and thinking about travel makes me happy, brings a lift to my mood and my thoughts. Finishing school, good job prospects, and travel?? As George Costanza once said, I'm busting.

* Allan and I have been to Europe together in 1993 and 1998. I was in Europe pre-Allan, with my friend NN, in 1982 and 1985.

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