Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Last of the Spanish Civil War

Most foreign correspondents who reported. the Spanish Civil War from Madrid stayed at the Hotel Florida. The relatively new hotel. with a wedding-cake marble facade and two hundred rooms with private baths, a modern luxury, had opened in 1924 on the Gran Via at the Plaza de Callao, west of the City center. It was only a two-mile streetcar ride from the front lines in University City, but that was not its primary attraction to journalists. Its primary attraction was hot water. Such comfort, available hardly anywhere else in Madrid, came at a price: the Florida was directly in the line of fire from the nationalist artillery on Garabitas Hill in the Casa de Campo. Ernest Hemingway recalls people “paying a dollar a day for the best rooms on the front” of the hotel. “The smaller rooms in the back, on the side away from the shelling,” where Hemingway stayed, “were considerably more expensive.” 

The war mustered its own capricious economics. Herbert Matthews describes a lunch “graced with a bottle of white Tondonia, 1918,” because ordinary table wine had disappeared. The memory of that rare vintage was “one of the high spots of the war” for the New York Times correspondent. The vagaries of cigar stocks made up for the coarse food. “Cheap cigars disappeared early in January,” Matthews writes. “so we smoked Coronas, Hoyo de Montereys, Partagas, and even rarer brands. In fact, as time went on the cigars got better. . . . I write of that period feelingly, for I love cigars, and while they lasted Madrid was a smokers paradise.” But not much was dependable under wartime conditions. “One day the stores appear to be full of a commodity, and a few days later it has disappeared as if swept off the shelves by a giant broom. That happened to so many things-Scotch whisky, coffee, sherry, soap (we woke up one morning and there was not a piece of soap to be bought in the whole of Madrid). Matches vanished all the way back in December, and then all of a sudden it became impossible to buy flints to keep our lighters sparking.” 

Deprivations might be temporary or permanent. “One gets along somehow,” Matthews writes. “Things seemed natural under the siege that were doubtless rather extraordinary.” Among them was the fate of Madrid’s cats. Matthews’s wife was “impressed,” he says, perhaps Choosing the word carefully, “when I mentioned having eaten cat a few times during the winter for want of any other meat. It tastes a bit like rabbit and is rather agreeable on the whole. Certainly we weren’t feeling like martyrs when we ate it.” 

and on Hemingway:

It was there, in mid-March, that Spender met Hemingway. who was passing through by car on his way to Madrid. ln Alicante Hemingway had noticed families celebrating the Guadalajara victory even as they saw their sons off to war. “Coming into Valencia in the dark." he writes. “through miles of orange groves in bloom, the smell of orange blossoms, heavy and strong even through the dust of the road, made it seem to this half-asleep correspondent like a wedding. But, even half asleep, watching the lights out through the dust, you knew it wasn't an Italian wedding they were celebrating.” 

The novelist and war correspondent, thirty-seven years old, six feet tall and a solid two hundred pounds, seems to have impressed everyone in Spain who met him as massive. “A black-haired, bushy-mustached, hairy~handed giant,” Spender describes him, adding that in his behavior “he seemed at first to be acting the part of a Hemingway hero.” Spender wondered “how this man, whose art-concealed under its apparent huskiness a deliberation and delicacy like Turgenev, could show so little of his inner sensibility in his outward behavior.” 

He saw through Hemingway’s act on an afternoon walk. They stopped in at a bookstore. Spender wondered if he should buy Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma. “Hemingway said that he thought the account, at the beginning, of the hero, Fabrice, wandering lost in the middle of the Battle of Waterloo . . . is perhaps the best, though the most apparently casual, description of war in literature.” Hemingway went on to discuss Stendhal, impressing Spender with his insight. “He saw literature not just as ‘good writing,’ but as the unceasing interrelationships of the words on the page with the life within and beyond them-the battle, the landscape or the love affair.” 

Spender then made the mistake of quoting Shakespeare, which caused Hemingway’s curtain to drop again. “ ‘Why do you talk to me about Shakespeare? he asked with annoyance. ‘Don’t you realize I don’t read books?’ and he changed the conversation to-~was it boxing?” Walking again, Hemingway told Spender that he had come to Spain “to discover whether he had lost his nerve under conditions of warfare which had developed” since his experiences in the Great War- meaning presumably bombing and strafing, since not much else had changed. By then they were approaching a taverna. “We went inside and found some gipsy players. Hemingway seized a guitar and started singing Spanish songs. He had become the Hemingway character again.” Something in Spender evidently made Hemingway, a man afflicted with an abscess of hidden anxiety, at least intermittently comfortable. So did Spain itself, a country he loved, and covering the war, his métier. Whatever the reason, the two writers got along. One evening, after a visit to the Pasionaria Military Hospital, they sat together in a café having a cognac with a pretty young English nurse named Patience Darton. Spender’s lean good looks and Hemingway’s bulk dazzled her: 
Spender is tall--about 6' 2" and too “Great God” for words. He is perfectly sweet and very gentle and is torn in two between his pacifist nature--he couldn’t kill anyone and hates war-and his mind, which sees this war as the only hope for Europe against fascist domination. He’s got bright blue eyes, like a new kitten, with just the same groping expression of bewilderment against this bloody world. Hemingway is a great burly chap with a thick neck and a roll of flesh round the back of it. He is charming and humble- seems really so. He had a jaw wound in the Great War and has a hesitation in his speech. 
For amusement or flirtatiously, Hemingway fed Darton malarkey, his July 1918 war wounds, serious as they had been, were in the legs-shrapnel from an Austrian mortar round that killed the two Italian soldiers who happened to be standing between him and the explosion- and a little shrapnel in his scalp and hands, but no jaw wound. Charming he certainly was. “The thing you never get from his books,” Orson Welles would recall of him, “was his humor. . . . He was riotously funny.’ Hemingway was even humble sometimes in Spain, people who worked with him there remember. And competent on his visits to the trenches and near the front lines with Ivens, the documentarian - there’s a photograph of him helping a Spanish recruit clear a jammed rifle, his big hands expertly working the bolt. 

Darton was surprised and pleased that the two men listened to her opinions: 

We were talking about books and I said how much I wanted the Oxford Book of English Verse. They both agreed and Stephen said he wanted to read right thru the Bible. Hemingway said “Have you ever done that? It’s a hell of a good book--you find where all the others have pinched their titles from.” Spender said he’d lost his feeling of the necessity of keeping a moral standard, and civilization and culture. He says the best thing for the world-the only hope for the world--was to fight it with its own weapons. I said I couldn’t accept that, and they both agreed I was probably right. 

Another Wintringham visitor during his convalescence was ].B.S. Haldane, back in Spain between terms teaching at University College London, where he was a professor of biometry-that is, biostatistics. Darton heard long talks between the two men, sometimes punctuated with shouting. Haldane had advanced by then from investigating poison gas to studying the craft of digging refugios. Spain, a nation rich in minerals, was correspondingly rich in miners. The accumulation by February 1937 of a substantial number of antiaircraft guns that the Soviets had supplied put an end for a time to the terrible German and ltalian bombing raids of late 1936. Taking advantage of the reprieve, miners were digging and tunneling large-scale refugios in Madrid, Barcelona. and other republican-defended cities. Haldane studied them because he believed London would need such protection from terror bombing in the next world war. 

Spender’s former lover would spend time in a fetid military prison and acquire an ulcer from the stress, but the English poet saved him from a firing squad and eventually saw him sent home. Spender went home as well. 
 Hemingway, Ivens, and Franklin left for Madrid on 19 March, driven dangerously by a drunken four-foot-eleven chauffeur named Tomas; Hemingway wrote in one of his NANA dispatches that Tomas looked like “a particularly unattractive, very mature dwarf out of Velasquez put into a suit of blue dungarees.” They arrived in one piece in Madrid on 20 or 21 March, Hemingway checking in to Ivens’s hotel, the Florida. Franklin went to work hustling supplies. Hemingway and Ivens toured the Guadalajara and other battlefields, meeting and interviewing some of the victorious French and Italian IB troops and their leaders. Mussolini’s Roman legions, retreating from Guadalajara, weren’t feeling Victorious, if they were feeling at all. Hemingway wired a dispatch to NANA the next day that made vivid their loss: 

Along the roads were piled abandoned machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, light mortars, shells, and boxes of machine gun ammunition, and stranded trucks, light tanks and tractors were stalled by the side of the tree-lined route. Over the battlefield on the heights above Brihuega were scattered letters, papers, haversacks, mess kits, entrenching tools and everywhere the dead. 

Hot weather makes all dead look alike, but these Italian dead Lt)" with waxy grey faces in the cold rain looking very small and pitiful. They did not look like men, but where a shell burst had caught three, like curiously broken toys. One doll had lost its feet and lay with no expression on its waxy stubbled face. Another doll had lost half of its head. The third doll was simply broken as a bar of chocolate breaks in your pocket. 

Hemingway was “greatly admired in Spain," the contemporary American journalist Virginia (Iowles observes, “and known to every! one as ‘I’op.‘ lie was a massive, ruddy-cheelml man who went around Madrid in a pair of filthy brown trousers and a torn blue shirt. ‘They’rc all I brought with me,’ he would mumhle apologetically. ‘liven the arm! chists are getting disdain ful.’ " When the front was quiet, (Iowles notes, Hemingway “used to prowl around trying to borrow cartridges to go out to the country and shoot rabbits”-----a sign, she implies, of his fascination with death. He was pot hunting at a time when the Madrilenos were near starving and the offerings were meager at Madrid’s restaurants. 

Not that Hemingway was ever short of supplies. Between his high Spanish reputation, which won him a government driver, an old taxi, and access to military gasoline, and Sidney Franklin’s gifts at scrounging, he always had food and drink on hand. “There was a tall wardrobe in Hem's room,” the American novelist Josephine Herbst remembers, “and it was filled with tasty items: ham, bacon, eggs, coffee, and even marmalade.” Certainly people wanted to be around him, exotic and famous as he was, but no one was unhappy to share his food and liquor as well. “There was a kind of splurging magnificence about Hemingway at the Florida,” Herbst writes, “a crackling generosity whose underside Was a kind of miserliness. He was stingy with his feelings to anyone who broke his code, even brutal, but it is only fair to say that Heming~ Way was never anything but faithful to the code he set up for himself. He could give an ambulance [to the cause] but would not be able to Stomach [someone] stealing jars of jam on the sly. It wasn’t soldierly.” 

One reason Hemingway was exuberant, Herbst believes, was “the Success of his love affair” with Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway’s new girlfriend and protégé was due to arrive any day from Paris. A twentya eight-year-old Missouri-born American journalist and friend of EL eanor Roosevelt, and already the author of two books, Gellhorn had 

encountered Hemingway early in January 1937 in Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West, Florida. The owner was one of Hemingway’s fishing bud

dies; Hemingway bicycled to the open-air bar afternoons after he'd Enished his day’s writing to have a drink and read his mail. (lellhom described him as she first saw him: “a large, dirty man in untidy, some, 

what soiled white shorts and shirt.” 

Like Hemingway, Gellhorn was the child of a physician. Her fathq‘ George, a German immigrant gynecologist, had died the previous Jan, nary 1936; she was visiting Key West with her brother Alfred and he. widowed mother. Hemingway took Alfred to be Gellhorn’s husband the two on their honeymoon, and decided he could separate her from her “young punk” within three days. She was taken but not smitten: staying on when her mother and brother returned to St. Louis; hang. ing out with Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, at their large, shaded Spanish colonial on Whitehead Street; writing to her mentor Eleanor Roosevelt that Hemingway was “an odd bird, very loveable and full of hre and a marvelous story teller.” Why Pauline put up with the intrusion into her household of a smart, good-looking young blond ingenue is anyone’s guess: probably because she had to. 

After Key West, Gellhorn had returned to St. Louis to continue struggling with a novel she was trying to write. On the way, Hemingway chased her to Miami for a steak dinner and flirtation, then pursued her by letter and by phone. They finally got together in New York at the end of February, shortly before he left for Spain. By then she had decided to go as well. A friendly editor at Collier} magazine, Charles Colebaugh, credentialed her as a special correspondent; Vogue paid her for a commissioned article, “Beauty Problems of the Middle-Aged Woman,” which she held her nose and wrote. “I am going to Spain with the boys,” she told a family friend. “I don’t know who the boys ambit! I am going with them.” 

Gellhorn crossed the border into Spain at Andorra, the Lilliputim principality, only fifteen miles wide, set between France and Spain in the eastern Pyrenees. “She had fifty dollars and spoke no Spanish.” writes her biographer, Caroline Moore-head. She boarded an unheated train to Barcelona, spent two days in the Catalan capital interviewing and observing, then caught a ride on a munitions truck to Valencia. There she connected with Sidney Franklin, who drove her up to Ma~ Arid in a car filled with “six Spanish barns, 10 kilos of coffee, 4 kilos of butter, 100 kilos of canned marmalade, and a IOU-kilo basket of oranges, grapefruit, and lemons.” Hemingway traveled in style. His new girlfriend, he had bragged to Ioris Ivens in Paris, had “legs that begin at her shoulders.” 
(An alternative and probably more reliable version of Gellhorn's arrival has her traveling from Valencia to Madrid in the backseat of a chauffeured government car along with the young Federated Press correspondent Ted Allen. “I absolutely flipped for her,” he told Gell’ horn’s biographer Bernice Kert--“the wonderful smile, the hair, the great figure.” According to Allen, Franklin sat in the front passenger seat looking over his shoulder disapprovingly, and it’s true that F rank! lin, an admirer of Pauline Hemingway, disliked Gellhorn.) 

Taking a room down the hall from her lover, Gellhorn joined the crowd at the Hotel Florida. Among the F lorida’s habitués Hemingway mentions Herbert Matthews, Sefton Delmer, Virginia Cowles, Ioris lvens, Ivens’s cinematographer Johnny Ferno, and others, including “the greatest and most varied collection of ladies of the evening I have ever seen.” Besides the journalists at the hotel there were pilots and their patrons, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, André Malraux, and the Argentinian diplomat Ramon Lavalle. 

Hemingway left John Dos Passos off his list, though they had been good friends earlier and colleagues in the production of The Spanish Earth. Their friendship ended that spring in contention over the fate of José Robles, Dos Passos’s longtime friend and translator and a Spanish army aide to General Vladimir Gorev, the head of the Soviet military Secret police in Spain. Robles had been mysteriously executed sometime in March by what Dos Passos would later call “Russian secret agents.“ They did so, Dos Passos would report in 1939, because they “felt that Robles knew too much about the relations between the Spanish war ministry and the Kremlin and was not, from their very special point of view, politically reliable.” Hemingway dismissed Rohles's deathmkI Dos Passos found his callousness unforgivable. 

Hemingway’s experiences at the Hotel Florida gave him mated,” {0: his fiction as well as his journalism. One night in the Florida elevatnrh, encountered a drunken three-musketeer trio of two American comfart pilots and a Spaniard aFrank Tinker, Harold “Whitey” Dahl, and 1“,, ”Chang” Sellés, whose mother was Japanese despite his Chinese nick. name. Dahl, moving a haul of champagne to their seventh floor room, while Tinker and Sellés finished checking in, managed to get stuck in the elevator. “After about two minutes of this,” Tinker recalls, “a huge fellow with a mustache came along and wanted to go up on the elevator, too, but as he saw Whitey was already on the inside he waited awhile, expecting him to go either up or down. When Whitey failed to do either, the large stranger opened the door and asked him, in Spanish, what the hell he thought he was doing. Whitey, not understanding him, asked, in English, why in hell he hadn’t opened the door instead of standing there with his mouth full of teeth.” In “perfectly good American” Hemingway countered that “people shouldn’t get into strange elevators unless they were sure they could get out of them.” The encounter ended as Hemingway’s encounters often did, with drinks in the writer’s rooms, 112 and 113, at the back of the third floor at what Hemingway believed 

to be a dead angle from the nationalist artillery on Garabitas Hill. 

Hemingway folded the fighter-pilot trio into his ménage, particularly Tinker, who came from DeWitt, Arkansas, near Hemingway’s wife Pauline’s family seat in Piggott. “It turned out,” write the Arkansas pilot’s biographers, “that [Hemingway] and Tinker had fished many of the same creeks and streams, hunted the same territory, and knew most of the same hangouts and local characters.” 

In Hemingway’s 1938 short story “Night Before Battle,” Whitey Dahl becomes Baldy, “a man with a white curly sheep’s wool jacket, the wool worn inside, a pink bald head, and a pink, angry face,” and the ele vator incident enlarges into a comic scene edged with fear and the threat of violence. Baldy is drunk and belligerent, drowning the shock of the day’s mission: he’s shot down a Iunkers JSZ, after which its Fiat escorts shot the tail off his fighter, forcing him to bail out over the Iarama and free-fall six thousand feet before opening his parachute. 

Virginia Cowles sums up the Hotel Florida crowd in a memoir: 

I don’t suppose any hotel in the world has ever attracted a more diverse assembly of foreigners. They came from all parts of the globe and their backgrounds read like a series of improbable adventure stories. There were idealists and mercenaries; scoundrels and martyrs; adventurers and embusqués [deserters]; fanatics, traitors, and plain down-and-outs. They were like an odd assortment of beads strung together on a common thread of war. Any evening you could find them in the Florida; Dutch photographers, American airmen, German refugees, English 
ambulance drivers, Spanish picadors and Communists of every breed and nationality. 

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