Gaytano Antonio Ordóñez was born in Ronda on January 4th 1904.His family runs shoe-shop“La Palma”, the main reason why people start calling him “El Niño de la Palma”.
Soon he will spend all his free time around bull farms near Ronda, grabbing every occasion to rehearse with young bulls. At the age of 18 ,he gets a first opportunity to show his skills in a novillada (corrida with young bulls) in Algeciras. Curiously, this first official act was together with an Irish bullfighter, called “Trimbi”, who refused to kill the bulls. Only two years later ,El Niño de la Palma will triumph in Seville. Public and press go wild after his performance and local newspaper “La Union” titles: “The boy from Ronda shines out during this glorious debut in La Maestranza.”
Meanwhile , Hemingway lives in Paris ,where he associates with artists as James Joice, Dos Passos, Miro and Picasso. At that time, he works as a newspaper reporter for the “Toronto Star” and with his first savings, he buys a work of Miró which he will pay off in several times. Tipped by his ”Lost Generation” friends, he heads for the first time to Spain to see the bullfights. Impressed by what he sees in the arenas, his first article is entitled :”Bullfighting is not a sport, it’s a tragedy”. Hemingway is literally over flown by the spectacle and gets even more overwhelmed during his first visit at the “San Fermines” in Pamplona. He describes the “fiesta” as follows:
”For seven days ,the dancing, the noise and the drinks don’t cease, converting it in an unreal world. This is absolutely the funniest and most crazy experience to live.”
In 1924,together with his friends of Paris, he runs for the first time with the bulls through the narrow streets of Pamplona, not realising that, until today, thousands of foreigners would follow his example. The day after ,when a young Spaniard dies during these races, Hemingway and his continuously drunk friends are shocked. They realise that party and death, here, go strangely enough hand in hand .
A year later, back at the Pamplona arena, one afternoon, Ernest is blown away by the art and skills of that same “El Niño de la Palma”. That marvellous performance will be a definite inspiration for his world known novel :”The sun also rises”.
Both meet up that same day in a hotel and Hemingway decides to travel along with “El Niño” ,to assist his next fights in Madrid. In the novel, “El Niño”´s character is named Pedro Romero, lyrical described on experiences shared during this voyage. Romero actually was the first known bullfighter ,immortalised on various occasions by cult painter Goya at the end of the 18thcentury. Hemingway will write another ,more technical book about the bullfighting named :”Death in the afternoon”, also known as “The Bible” of the art of bullfighting. He describes, alphabetically ordered, in more than fifty pages, the wide terminology of the bullfight and everything around it. Let’s for example enter that alphabet by the letter c:
Cojo: lame ; a bull which comes into the ring lame may be retired
Cojones: testicles; a valorous bullfighter is said to be plentifully equipped with these. Those of the bull are called criadillas, cooked they are a great delicacy. During the killing of the fifth bull, the criadillas of the first bull were sometimes served in the royal box.
A turning point in the writer´s frequent visits to Spain arrives when Spanish civil war breaks out. As mentioned before, he will come up for the republican cause by collaborating on the “Spanish Earth” documental. His experiences lived during the civil war ,served as the main inspiration for his novel “For whom the bells toll”.
When it appears that Franco definitely will come into power Heminway states: ”I can’t stay in a country where all my friends are in jail” and in 1938 he moves to Cuba where he will later write “The old man and the sea” for which he obtained the noble price of literature.
In the early fifties, in order to stimulate Spain´s poor economy ,Franco signs with The United States several agreements for the installation of U.S. air bases on Spanish soil.
From then on, no visa was required anymore for U.S. travellers into Spain. Almost 15 years after his forged exile was this the moment Hemingway had desperately waited for. His novel “For whom the bell tolls” was still censored in Spain, but friends told him that as long as he would shut up about politics, there wouldn´t be any problem. Still a bit paranoid about possible problems at the boarder, Hemingway is recognized by the custom police who surprisingly are very helpful ,one even being a huge fan of his work. Passed the three checkpoints at the boarder, the writer delightedly adds: “We are finally back in Spain and it seems to good to be true”
Ernest had no intention of getting introduced again in the world of the bulls, as he considered this a more or less closed matter. He did fancy his new wife to see the spectacle of Pamplona ,so that is where they head for. What happened there, one afternoon on the Pamplona feria ,the writer will later describe : “It was a historic thing when we saw Antonio Ordoñez for the first time, the son of El Niño de la Palma. I could tell he was great from the first long slow pass he made with the cape. When the writer after the corrida is invited by Ordoñez in his hotel, he doubts on meeting Antonio because he fears getting completely involved again in the whole fiesta atmosphere,…but of course, never taking good advice from himself, Hemingway goes to see Antonio. Nearly entered the room ,Antonio asks him: “Tell me, am I as good as my father” The writer replies: ”No your father was very good, but you are better.” For Hemingway these moments definitely were like “reliving” the past, through the son of his “Pedro Romero” character from “The sun also rises”.
Throughout the fifties the novelist will become very close with Antonio, his wife Carmen and with Antonio’s brother in law and Picasso chap, bullfighter Luis Dominguin. At the well fortuned country estate of the Dominguin´ family, a man size statue of Miguel was installed and during one of his visits the writer concludes it had to be hard to compete your own bronze statue in your own side yard.
In 1959 both Ordoñez and Dominguin are at the peak of their respective careers and during the most important ferias, a mano to mano (only two bullfighters for six bulls) between them is set up. These glorious afternoons, with sold out arenas everywhere, are written down by Hemingway in “The Dangerous Summer” and published by the famous Life magazine. Ava Gardner, supposedly involved in a secret affair with Dominguin only raise more speculations to this summer of glamour. The actress was introduced to the world of bullfighting when she played the leading part in the screen-version of “The sun also rises”
Spanish and international press blamed Hemingway for his open support towards Ordoñez, something he will confirm later on. The writer explains that for him Ordoñez was simply a genius. Dominguin, he adds was a wonderful companion, somebody who told me some of the damnedest things I have ever heard, but unfortunately his style did not move me at all. The more neutral Spanish press described the art of Dominguin as a “seduction” and the art of Ordoñez as “love”. On this statement Ordoñez would comment later on: “To say so, one should analyse what is seduction and what is love. Love is easy to feel, seduction is difficult to realise. Reaching real love, needs an intense labour of seduction, a history… the union between both is the most beautiful in the art of bullfighting and in all relationships between two beings.
It was one of the last summers for the novelist because in 1961 he will shoot himself, just as his father had done before. Remarkable were the tickets, for the upcoming feria in Pamplona, that were found close to the body. Don Ernesto, alias “Papa” had symbolically reserved seats for eternity, being more then convinced that the fiesta should go on….
During an interview in the seventies ,Ordoñez would say: Hemingway had a tremendous sense of humanity and above all, he understood everything. The most absurd things, he would understand, he could perceive the circumstances of every act.
Once successful, we both had to face several times a classic Spanish matter: “Envy”
We had a little deal that while we both were alive, he would never fight a bull and I would never write a book and we frequently joked about that. To me, he is still alive today, I just tell myself that when I am in New York, he is in Kenya and when I go to Kenya ,he has just left to Paris,….we both travel but never coincidence.
When Ordoñez dies in 1998, his funeral is held in the arena of “his” Ronda. He had chosen his ashes to be buried under the gate from where the bull storms into the arena. His philosophy was that every bull would literally run over him at the start of each corrida,…another statement for eternity.