What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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The Sun Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway

Field-Tested by Susan Kirby-Smith

in Pamplona, Spain

The things that happened could have only happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta. All during the fiesta you had the feeling, even when it was quiet, that you had to shout any remark to make it heard. It was the same feeling about any action. It was a fiesta and it went on for seven days.

I didn’t know anything about Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises before reading it — I had merely picked it up a few days before leaving for my mid-college, five week trip around Europe. I had known of the book since high school, but didn’t know what it was about — I just thought, “Might as well take a classic,” so it went with me.

Once in Europe, I stayed in Paris for a few days at a hostel, where I met a few people. Late one evening over drinks, a girl named Faith and I decided to go to the final two days of San Fermin, the two week festival celebrating the running of the bulls in Pamplona. I still hadn’t cracked The Sun Also Rises, but was planning to read it on the journey, which I did in part.

As we approached Pamplona, the train became more and more crowded and lively, fierce anticipation brewing in the air. After squeezing out of the train, we followed some other travelers and a Spanish man to his apartment, which we rented. We took a short rest and then went out to find the festival. I still had my book with me; I was reading during short intervals and becoming more and more amazed at how the book seemed to be either right at my heels or just ahead of me. In the book and in real life, the Pamplona bars were bustling and absolutely everyone, even people, working in the bank, were wearing the San Fermin uniform, all white with a red bandana. As in the world of Jake and Bret Ashley, festival-goers had driven over from Bayonne, Biarritz and San Sebastian. Like them, we drank Pastis and chatted for many hours. As in the book, a long, alcoholic and slightly treacherous day and night passed and then it was the last day of San Fermin, and the day that my friends would run with the bulls. They ran and, exhilarated, were interviewed for television in front of the statue of Hemingway, while Jake and I stood by, restless. Like Jake, “I was through with festivals for a while,” and was glad to believe when he said, “It would be quiet in San Sebastian,” where I then traveled to and went to sleep for 24 hours.

I highly recommend reading The Sun Also Rises while visiting Pamplona during the running of the bulls. When Hemingway’s details replicate themselves in real life, it is both spooky and rewarding and the exhaustion one feels is supremely authentic. Sometime during those 52 surreal hours I spent in Pamplona, I lost my book in the street before finishing it, which still seems to me uncannily appropriate.

Susan Kirby-Smith is a fiction writer and playwright who lives in Baton Rouge. She has work forthcoming in The Exquisite Corpse.

Buy The Sun Also Rises