In 1999 I turned 30. At the time I was under the influence of both Hemingway and V. S. Naipaul. 1999 also marked the centennial of Hemingway’s birth. So, with a little extra money I had managed to save by bar tending, I decided to travel to Spain with a backpack and a Eurorail ticket. It was the first time I would be traveling alone and after reading Naipaul and his theory that traveling alone can separate the traveler from the tourist, I wanted to experience the freedom of travel without having to take a traveling companion’s desires into consideration. I wanted to be anonymous.
Spain has always been a country of dreams for me. Hemingway is my first love, and I began to read him in my late teens, a time when a young man is impressionable and, in many ways, searching for something greater than the daily routine of school and adolescent angst. Don Quixote is my favorite book of all time and I also wanted to travel the fields of Spain in a sort of homage to that man from La Mancha and Hemingway. So, I made plans to fly into Madrid, take a train to Pamplona to run with the bulls at the Festival of San Fermin, and from there travel again by train to Barcelona, and finally make my way back to Madrid. At the time I was also planning a doctoral dissertation chapter on Paul Bowles, so I wanted to make my way to the south of Spain to catch a hydrofoil and travel to Tangier to try and meet Bowles.
For the 50 years that Paul Bowles lived in Tangier he never had a telephone. If one wanted to speak with him one would either have to write him a letter or travel to Tangier and simply knock on his door. Bowles was famous for answering his door to almost anyone and inviting them in. By 1999 Bowles had moved from his status as cult figure to something much more profound, an expatriate American author of Conradian proportions. I was excited to think that I could travel to Tangier to see him and perhaps interview him for the chapter I was working on.
Over the next several weeks I did research on the times and costs of traveling to Tangier from Spain. Although my planned itinerary did not take me to the south of Spain, I thought it too important to miss an opportunity like this. The purpose of the trip was two-fold: celebrate Hemingway’s centennial by running with the bulls and travel alone with a backpack through a country where I did not speak the language. If time allowed I would travel to Tangier to track down Paul Bowles and try to secure an interview. At the time Bowles was famous for allowing himself to be interviewed by almost anyone who would so up at his door. So what had I to loose?
In early July 1999 I left Philadelphia with my backpack and my Eurorail ticket for Spain. I was most excited by the prospect of traveling to Tangier. Bowles was my favorite living author and since Bernardo Bertolucci made his film of The Sheltering Sky, Bowles’s first and most well known novel, he (Bowles) had become more popular than ever. Bowles had made traveling cool by taking the more touristy aspects away and drawing out the more uncertain parts.
Once in Madrid I met my contact at my hotel. I checked in and she took me to the hotel bar for coffee and what turned out to be frank discussion of my trip. She suggested that I would need to spend much more money than I anticipated traveling to the south and then on to Tangier. Over the next hour or so we discussed possible ways that I might travel to Tangier from Spain. It soon became clear that I would have to spend much more money and extend my trip by several days to make this happen. As this was the first time I was traveling alone, I had not really prepared myself for the unforeseen problems that arise when one is traveling on one’s own. By the time we had finished our coffee it became clear to me that I would not be able to travel to Tangier on this trip unless I sacrificed Pamplona. For those who might not know, booking a hotel in Pamplona during the Festival of San Fermin must be done at least a year in advance. I did not know this at the time and was booked into a hotel in Olite, Spain, about an hour bus ride outside of Pamplona. The trip was turning into a series of difficult choices and I did not want to miss the running of the bulls since it was something I had wanted to do for so long. Therefore, I decided to put off travel to Tangier until the next year or so.
The entire time I traveled through Spain I kept thinking about Bowles and Tangier. I constantly went back and forth with myself about the possibility of traveling there. In the end the logistics just did not make it possible at that time. I had a wonderfully memorable trip to Spain (more on this in another post, but I will say it was the first time I got sick in a foreign country and it forced me to spend a very uncomfortable few days) searching out the sights and walking and taking the train. When I got home I was happy with the trip but disappointed that I could not travel to Tangier and try to meet Bowles.
Paul Bowles died months later in the Italian Hospital in Tangier in November. I never got to meet him.