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Fisticuffs and Whisky PDF

By Miguel Ruiz Trigueros

Translated by Paul Whitelock

alt  The Olive Press,  5 March 2009


altThe source of the differences between Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles can be traced back to one afternoon in a Madrid hotel, slap bang in the middle of the Spanish Civil War.  he nationalist troops were laying siege to the city and the republicans were preparing to defend it. Bombs were falling on the Casa de Campo public park and a whiff of heroism pervaded the whole city. Hemingway was discussing with the Dutch film-maker Joris Ivens the details of their documentary ”Spanish Lands”. He had edited the script and needed a a voice to do the narration. Orson Welles was also in Madrid and Ivens suggested the film-maker as narrator. 
The meeting between the two Americans was telling. Welles started the hostilities by saying: “The narrative is too much of a hotchpotch. The phraseology is too heavy and pompous. If you were thinking of things like the looks on the faces of the men facing death, you should know that in the film those faces will without any doubt be much more expressive than those tired old words.  Wouldn’t it be better just to show them without an added commentary?” 
altHemingway exploded.  His comments  were also cutting. He knew that Welles had just directed the Mercury Theatre and contended that Welles’ voice was unsuitable, branding it as too velvety smooth to narrate a contest among men.  “You effeminate young whippersnappers from the theatre, what do you know about real war?  Your voice sounds like a cocksucker choking.” 
The remainder of this anecdote is foreseeable. Orson Welles made certain feminine gestures as he mocked Hemingway and ridiculed his maniliness.  Hemingway picked up a chair as a weapon, and so did Welles.  It was only the intervention of the horrified Joris Ivens that brought about a precarious ceasefire which was then ‘signed’ as generous glasses of whisky were drunk. 
The wound, however, was now an open sore.  (War, however, was now declared.)
This anecdote illustrates two different ways of understanding something that would end up bringing the two artists together. Both lovers of the world of bullfighting, each of them understood it in his own way; each of them drew his own conclusions.  Whenever Hemingway talked about his literature he said that the secret of his success lay in not knowing how to write. This statement may be an act of humility, but it is not true.  This “not knowing how to write” is the bursting forth of a new way of narrating a story; a style based on short and provocative sentences, as in journalism. 
In Hemingway’s work the important things are directness and efficiency, his writing is the same as the way the character of Maria speaks in "For Whom the Bell Tolls".  For example: “In the mountains there are only two directions, uphill and downhill”.  Hemingway hates “going around the houses”.  His view of the world of bullfighting is the same. He once said that he was going to Spain to see something ”simple and barbaric”.  For him the bullfight always represented the sanctification of masculinility.  He was interested in technique, the names of the different moves, he knew how to distinguish between the “passes” made by his friend Antonio Ordoñez.  On top of everything he was interested in the confrontation with death which is in no way ambiguous: a bare and simple fight. Hemingway is always faithful to himself. 
Welles, on the other hand, is a series of characters; he is Othello, he is Falstaff, he is the mysterious word of Citizen Kane; he moves in a Shakespearean universe which recognises ambiguity and nuance.  The world of bullfighting for him is ambiguous territitory.  Images of the bullfight recur in his work wrapped in a halo which is essentially sexual. The bull is masculine, the bullfighter often is not and therein lies the ambiguity of the bullfight.  Facing the manly bull with his two erect protuberances (his horns), the bullfighter represents a world which is not strictly manly. 
Once on his ranch in California he sought a bullfighter to teach Rita Hayworth how to make passes with the cape with a young calf.  It was not just chance that he was celebrating the emergence of the female bullfighter Conchita Cintrón.  That revealed his basic idea. If the bull is the representative of the masculine principle, then it can only be defeated by a woman. Faithful to this principle he described the female bullfighter as a “knight without armour” a phrase which itself is a monument to ambiguity.
Hemingway committed suicide in his house in Idaho. His death was the confirmation of the fact that with mountains you can only go up them or down them.   He was due to go down and decided to throw himself off.  There was no other way out; life doesn’t allow for “going around the houses”.
Orson Welles died of natural causes and decided that his ashes should rest in a well in Ronda. 
While Hemingway opted for a death which had something of the bullfighter in its free acceptance, Welles chose to make himself one with the land where bullfighting itself takes to the stage.
Let us end with another anecdote.  Once the scriptwriter Peter Viertel asked Welles in relation to The Sacred Beasts which of the two old men was most in love with bullfighting, Hemingway or himself?  “Both of us”, replied Welles provocatively.

altMiguel Ruíz Trigueros was born in Málaga en 1961. When he was very young his family moved to Latin America where Miguel studied at universities in San José, Mexico City and the USA. At that time he was spending a lot of time crossing the Atlantic from east to west. On this side of the ocean he writes regularly for the magazines "Tierra" in Málaga y "El Candil de Diogenes" in Ronda. He also travels frequently to South America on behalf of several NGOs (non-governmental organisations. Since 1997, he has lived permanently in Spain. Miguel Ruiz Trigueros is the author of the novels "Los bailarines de Kronvalda" 2003  and "La Noche de Arcilla" 2008. His third narrative work is due for publication in 2009.


This article was translated from the original Spanish by Paul Whitelock of A1 Translations.  They offer translation and interpreting in all major languages. A1 Translations can be contacted on 636 52 75 16 or by emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it