My first visit to Spain was a memorable one. I was young and stationed at a former Gestapo headquarters in central France. My wife was only 23 and we were eager for experiences and we had quite a few. During our drive down from France we were stopped in a mountain pass by two bearded men in red berets and sheepskin coats. They could have been standing on the exact spot in For Whom The Bell Tolls where Jordan was supposed to blow up that bridge. The men took our passports and papers and scared us to death, but they did finally wave us on our way.
We later stayed in a small hotel in Barcelona near the Barrio Gatico. An eager bellboy showed us the hidden sights after dark. We saw wild-haired gypsy flamenco dancers fleecing Americans out of their paper money. And met a young American in a white suit who flirted with the dancers and said he was writing a novel in a rundown hotel nearby.
A few days later our airplane broke down at the end of the runway when we landed on Majorca. It had to be towed to the terminal by a brace of plow horses. Our taxi to the island pensione didn’t have brakes, and when we had to stop the driver jumped out and put his shoulder to the hood to halt the vehicle.
Our fellow guests at the hotel, a young white couple, spoke an alien tongue we could not decipher (turns out they ran a cattle ranch in South Africa and were conversing in Swahili.) When we went to the beach, dozens of menacing Guardia Civil soldiers in black patent leather hats and grey uniforms hovered over us with rifles and sub-machine guns (seems Franco feared heavy shipments of arms from Africa destined for rebel forces).
By the time we got to the bullfight itself we’d had more excitement than we could handle. But old Hemingway was right. The spectacle of a man in a gleaming suit of lights holding a raging thousand pound bull at bay with a tiny red cloth on a stick is indeed a moment to savor and appreciate.