I was in Spain following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, researching a book called Hemingway’s Widow. When I got to Madrid I googled “Hemingway in Madrid” finding a story in the New York Times about the author’s visits to the places Hemingway frequented in Spain. He mentioned that he took a tour with the Wellington Society of Madrid, giving it lukewarm praise. I looked up the Society, finding a website that could only have been prepared by an eccentric. I wrote to the Chairman explaining I was tracing the footsteps of Mary.
His auto response said:
This is just to let you know that your message has actually made its way to my mailbox. And while my duties as Chairman keep me quite busy, rest assured that I will be sending a personal response shortly.
I could hardly wait, then he replied personally:
Good Morning Tim,
As an historian having lived in Madrid for 39 years, I know the city and its history well. I started doing research into Hemingway here about 15 years ago and now present an informative 4hrs walking tour with drinks in some of his favourite haunts. The third part of his stay here is with Mary in the mid to late 50s.
Normally I only offer my tours to 2 or more people at 85 euros, but as you are a fellow writer I will offer you this most singular 4 hours tour for 95 euros and we split the drinks……
We arranged to meet the next day in the Puerto del Sol.
At exactly 10:30 I walked onto the central plaza of Madrid, looking to the statue of Carlos III seated on his horse facing the red brick Post Office which dominates the square. I saw a man resembling the photo on the website for the Wellington Society of Madrid. He was grey-haired, about my age (in fact as it turned out, exactly my age) my height, my build, wearing a navy blazer, tan trousers and a large blue checked scarf around his neck. A thick biography of Picasso bulged from his jacket pocket. He held a binder of black and white photos he has collected over the last fifteen years. “Stephen?” I asked. He held out his hand saying “Tim?” I nodded, shaking his hand. Stephen was born in Yorkshire but was educated just outside London.
“When I am waiting for my touring clients I often stand here reading the dedication on the Carlos’ monument,” he said. “He was the best King these people ever had. He united the country and brought order to it. He built the post office behind us (which was used as the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior and State Security during the Franco era) and introduced a reasonably reliable postal service. If you look at the lettering carved in the concrete you will see the numbers have been changed on the date of his death. It used to read 1789 but now there is an eight carved over the “9” to make it 1788 which is the correct date. I brought the error to their attention fifteen years ago. They eventually changed it but gave me no credit because I am a foreigner.”
Thus began my tour with Stephen Drake-Jones, Chairman of the Wellington Society. He provided a short history of Spain—his specialty is the period covering Wellington’s involvement on the Iberian Peninsula— racing to get to the Civil War and Hemingway’s story. Pointing to the balcony of the Post Office he said: “that is where the Second Republic was born. The leaders came to that balcony to speak to the crowd below. They had a simple platform: get rid of the royal family; grant land tenure to farmers, allow women to wear trousers. They did not expect to win. They had no idea how to govern. They were opposed by the Church, the Military and the aristocracy. The generals began planning a coup. The fighting attracted international attention, the Germans and Italians lining up on Franco’s side, the Soviets on the Republican side. The International Brigade formed to support the Republican side, thousands of volunteers from France, America and England flooded the railway station. He showed photos of the smiling, optimistic members of the brigade. “That is what drew Hemingway. He did not want to miss the fight.”
As he elaborated on this outline we walked up the plaza. Stephen has an excellent memory for dates. “I can’t fix a car or repair a cooker, but I do have a head for facts and dates,” he said tapping his forehead. We reached the top of the square and stood outside Pharmacie Company. “The Company family has owned this store for years”, he said. It was here during the war. What do you think it would be like to be in Madrid when bombs were falling?” he asked rhetorically, producing a photo showing a bomb crater in the very spot we were standing. “The Franco forces were unable to capture Madrid so they placed it under siege for two and a half years. Then they invited the Germans to bomb it. Can you imagine? Bombing your own capital city?”
Stephen found work as a window dresser in high end stores in London after graduation, finding it gave his artistic side an outlet. In 1974 he went to Belfast to dress windows. With the “troubles” in full bloom no window dressers wanted to go to Belfast. Stephan made good money—forty pounds per week salary plus one hundred pounds danger pay. In 1975 he travelled to Madrid to help his brother who was suffering from severe alcoholism. He stayed for forty years. While he has visited England annually he has no desire to live there again. “This is my home,” he said.
Stephen explained that his presentation was going to be out of order because we were visiting places out of order. Last year he took thirty students and several professors from Liverpool University on a Civil War Tour. It went so well sixty students and several more professors were booked to take his tour in June. He told me about the interviews and tours he has conducted for National Geographic and the New York Times. A CNN special on “Hemingway the War Correspondent” for which he was extensively interviewed last year has not yet been shown. He asked about the work I am doing on Hemingway’s fourth wife and widow, Mary Welsh, observing, “She was the best wife,” which happens to be my view too, but it is a view much out of fashion. I was pleased to hear him say it.
We were standing outside the Chamber of Deputies, Stephen produced a photo of the building with Civil Guards and soldiers standing in front of it. The Civil Guard’s job was to protect the Deputies inside, the soldiers job to protect the Civil Guards. He showed me the camera angles that CNN liked. Then he pointed to the steps where a Communist Deputy threatened the Leader of the Opposition, Sotello, who had just spoken passionately on behalf of the Generals. “You will never again speak in the Chamber,” she is alleged to have said though she later denied it. That night Sotello was shot three times in the back of the head. This led to retaliation. Several Republican Deputies were assassinated in the same manner, resulting in a civil war marked by vicious atrocities.
We crossed the street, walked down a road, came to the place Hemingway stayed when he first came to Madrid in 1925. We went inside. Stephen told me that many years ago he had asked an old man at the reception desk where Don Ernesto lived? He said: “107” and showed him the room. The old man later showed Stephen a registry entry which said “Don Ernesto Hemingway 107” next to the dates of his visit. Stephen produced photos of Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, seated at an outdoor restaurant in Pamplona, of Hemingway as a child with his mother, a photo of Hemingway’s father. Stephen said that Hemingway’s father supported him while he was in Madrid giving him enough money so that he could live but not enough to live very well. We were now on ground I am very familiar with, having read all the biographies. We had a spirited discussion about Hemingway, his hatred of his mother, the early days with Hadley, the breakdown of that marriage.
We walked into the Westin Palace Hotel (the Palace in Hem’s time). Stephen told about Hem’s trip there with Mary and A.E Hotchner, Hem’s young friend who later wrote a book about Hem called Papa Hemingway. Mary found it so detestable she sought, but failed to obtain, an injunction to prohibit its publication. We had a long discussion about Hotch and the breakdown of his relationship with Mary. As we chatted we looked at the spectacular domed dining room. Stephen said that Mary really liked the place—who wouldn’t we agreed.
Down a few streets we came upon an old sherry bar which Stephen thinks Hem could have frequented during the civil war days as it was a place where soldiers drank. Stephen chatted with the proprietor who was sweeping the floor. “A friend of mine,” he said which became a common refrain as barkeepers and waiters came forward to shake hands and welcome Stephen at many of our stops. This is the same sherry bar described in the New York Times story I found on Google. The story recounts how Stephen rebuked the reporter’s wife for picking up a sherry glass, not by the stem, which is proper, but by the glass. “If you did that during the war you would have been shot as a fifth columnist,” Stephen is reported to have said. “I did say it,” Stephen told me, “I did it very dramatically because she was constantly yawning in an exaggerated manner, acting bored. Her husband wasn’t much better. He was a very rude New Yorker.”
We walked to the Spanish Society of Arts and Letters. Nothing has changed since Hem was invited there to speak after he was allowed back into Spain in 1954. He had been declared persona non grata by Franco for his writings empathizing with the Republican cause. Stephen explained that Hem had to be very discreet as Franco’s spies were everywhere. There was no written record of the lifting of Hem’s status as persona non grata. He felt vulnerable.
We ran into Jim, one of Stephen’s oldest friends, who told us he had suffered a heart attack recently but felt as good as new though he had to take it easy. Later Stephen said to me:”Poor old Jim, he never did take good care of himself. I don’t think he does any exercise. Me, I’m on my feet walking four or five hours a day.”
We walked into Hem’s favourite restaurant, Cerveceria Alamana, taking his table in the window seat. A framed photo of Hem was hanging over Stephen’s head. “Don Ernesto, as he loved to be called, came here all the time. This is as close you will get to Hemingway.” He told me all the photos were about bull fighting, that Hemingway loved the place because it was filled with aficionados of the sport. “He wrote the appendix to Death in Afternoon in here,” Stephen said, explaining that Hem sat there, in my chair, asking the people for the Spanish words for the different moves in bull fighting, these forming his appendix of terms. Luis, the head waiter came, shaking Stephen’s hand and mine as I was introduced. Luis brought two glasses of white wine and bread with cheese. Stephen told the story of the picture of Hemingway
The old woman who owned the place had known Hemingway. She saw Stephen about the place, bringing in guests for years and years, finally declaring he should put up a picture. This was an honour since no pictures had been added since 1962. Stephen used the photo on the cover of Hotchner’s book and got a friend to frame it. “Don Ernesto Hemingway” it reads. On the day of the unveiling Stephen invited a few newspaper friends but fifty turned up. He had covered the photo with American and Spanish flags and asked Ramon, the son of Hemingway’s best journalist friend in Madrid, Peter Buckley, to unveil the photo. He resisted but Stephen said it was for his father. Ramon stood on a chair, unveiled the photo, pumped his fist in the air, proclaimed “Viva le Republic,” then “Viva Hemingway.” The crowd stood, roaring as they raised their fists: “Viva”. The hair on Stephen’s arms and neck stood up. Tears came to the eyes of Ramon.
“Only I can take down the picture,” Stephen said, turning to take it off the wall, handing it to me so I could look at it. Then he waved for Luis to take a photo of us sitting in Hemingway’s favourite seat holding the photo between us.
On the square outside we stopped at the statue of Frederico Garcia Lorca, the novelist and playwright who was assassinated by the Facists, in part Stephen said because of his writings, in part because he was gay.
Stephen talked of Hem’s love of bull fighting as we walked to the box office where Hem used to purchase tickets—where Stephen has a special arrangement which allows him to enter, sliding his money to the clerk for the tickets for “Mr. Smith.” This avoids having to wait for hours in the long queues. We stopped at Madrid’s finest pastry shop. Stephen could not positively assert Hem had visited, but he may have because it was close to the ticket booth and Hem loved sweets. The interior was in the same state it would have been in Hem’s day. The pretty lady behind the counter made a fuss over Stephen as she wrapped a meat pie for him.
We walked past the Museum of Ham to the bar Lataurina which is a shrine to bull fighting. A full-sized bull stands in the entrance. Around the walls, mounted heads of bulls, each inscribed with the date of their last fight. All of them died in Madrid. I said the bulls looked mean. Stephen said, “of course, these bulls were bred to fight. They are fierce, they like the smell of human blood on their horns.” We drank a red wine, shared a tapas, while Stephen pointed to photos and paintings on the walls to instruct me in the art of bull-fighting. The main rule is that the Matador must stand his ground, allowing the bull to pass as closely as possible. “If a Matador steps away from the bull the crowd will boo and throw programs. He may never work again. The whole point is the courage of the man against the courage of the bull.”
Stephen divorced his fourth wife five years ago, he is still bitter about it. She began having an affair with a rich, blind man in Ipswich. When Stephen discovered the deception he told her she should leave in peace, while he went to visit his grandchildren. On his return to his place in Madrid he discovered she had “purloined” everything of value from his home. “She did not even leave a spoon to stir my tea—or a cup either,” he said. “She even took the bloody cutting boards.” The blind man paid to have all his things removed to London. “She took things that were of personal importance to me. I had a five volume, first edition set of Arthur Conon Doyle. She knew volumes two to four were valuable because she was with me when I bought them in London. Which volumes did she take? Two to four.” Stephen was so distressed after she left that he fell apart until he discovered his therapy—writing a novel about his wife and the blind man in a Dickensian voice. He has changed all the names, except that of his wife. When his daughter read parts to her husband he thought it was written by Dickens. “No,” she said, “it was written by my Pa.” Stephen’s therapy is now quite advanced and he is working on the third book in his series. He asked if I would read it. “Of course,” I said.
We left, walked down a street past the former emergency hospital to which the injured body of one of the deputies was taken after he was shot. Stephen showed photos of the facade of the hospital which remains unchanged. We went inside the building, which has been converted to a youth centre, to the ancient elevator. Stephan pushed a button, the elevator descended. “This is the elevator which carried his body to the emergency room where he was pronounced dead. This is the place the Civil War started,” Stephen said. “Research, research, that is how I found this place.”
Stephan promised to show me a shrine to Hemingway. We walked down a narrow street to a Cuban bar-restaurant Cuando Sali De Cuba. The barman welcomed Stephan warmly, a pretty girl stuck her head through the serving window to the kitchen and greeted him happily. “I love you darling,” Stephen said. “We must have a glass of red wine in our hands and a tapas in our stomach before we enter the shrine,” he said. We sat, shared a tapas, sipped the strong red. He told me that this was a one fork (i.e. not very good) restaurant in Hem’s day but that he liked to come here in the company of Hotchner. He said I should re-read Hotch for the passages describing this place, and I shall. Having finished the tapas we carried our drinks into the small dining room. The walls are covered with photos of Hemingway from various stages in his life. I had seen some of them before but many were new to me. Sitting on a shelf in a corner is a bronze bust of Hemingway which was donated by Tony Curtis who was a great fan.Photos of Curtis unveiling the bust are displayed next to it. We looked at a photo of Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway, Stephen saying, “ She was very good looking don’t you think?” I agreed but said: “Their sex was lousy, Martha has written about how little she liked sex generally, and with Hem in particular, because his personal hygiene was so poor.” I was onto an aspect of Hemingway’s life that Stephan knew little about and he was fascinated as I filled him in. “You really are just like me,” he said.
He left me to browse in the shrine while he went to put his leg up. We had been walking for three hours and his calf was bothering him. We chatted about Mary. Stephen said she far preferred the Palace Hotel to this place.
We walked to the final spot on our tour, the Hotel Florida, where Hem stayed with Gelhorn during the Civil War. The Hotel has been replaced with a department story, Cort d’Inglese (English style) which Stephen said is like a Marks and Spencers. Pointing to the top balcony he said the store is the same height as the Hotel Florida. We are going up there to see what Hemingway saw. That is where he did his reporting on the Civil war. He didn’t stray far from that balcony. He could see the front line from there.” We walked through the cosmetics department, boarded an elevator, got off at the top floor which displays liquors and houses a large bar. We walked out onto the balcony but Stephen stayed back by the entrance. “I have vertigo,” he said. I looked over the city while Stephen pointed out where the front line had been. I took a few photos. We retired inside to the bar where the barman enthusiastically pumped Stephen’s hand, and mine. He brought us two red wines, bread with cheese. Stephen asked if I had enjoyed the tour. I told him it was wonderful to talk to someone who was so knowledgeable about the man I have been studying for two years. Stephen said he had enjoyed it as well, handing over his book of photos. “You can copy these,” he said “Why don’t we meet at the same place on Puerto del Sol at 1PM on Saturday so you can return them.” We chatted about life, finished our wine, walked outside, shook hands. Stephan disappeared to find a cab to go to a lunch with some old colleagues from the university.