It's unsettling to have a severed, still-warm bull's ear hurtling toward you -- something I discovered firsthand -- but being the target of a projectile body part during a Spanish bullfight is considered an honor. I learned this cultural tidbit from reading Ernest Hemingway. My journey with the writer began many years ago with a poster, a $3 thrift store find that, at first glance, didn't seem to have anything to do with Hemingway.
I was 15 years old when I bought a bullfight advertisement that depicted, in broad brush strokes, a matador and bull forever frozen in the honeyed afternoon light of Sept. 26, 1984. For years, I studied the poster in the confines of my teenage bedroom, enthralled for reasons I didn't fully understand. I was a vegetarian enamored with the ritualistic killing of bulls in a country I had never visited.
Hemingway was a bullfight enthusiast for much of his life. His time in Spain resulted in some of his greatest writing. "The Sun Also Rises" (1926) was inspired by a trip taken at the urging of Gertrude Stein, and "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1940) is based on the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), which Hemingway covered as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. References to bullfighting and matadors, also known as toreros, can be found in almost all of his Spain-based work.