• Sage Webb

Death in the Afternoon and Life in the Evening

Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon sits in storage, with so many other books that can’t come on the boat. Boats don’t hold a lot, and the Bosun complains enough already about the size of the library currently aboard. If the book were here at my fingertips, though, I’d find a good quote to put in this post. Something from the ending ... about Spain and wine and dusty roads in the summer when it’s quite hot.

While the book may have lost followers with the passage of time (could a book about bullfighting, to-the-death bullfighting, even be a thing today?), it did two things for me last night:

  1. It stepped out of the shadows when a boat-people dinner broke into a boat-people discussion and a new friend spoke of a bullfight he’d seen outside Quito; and

  2. It reminded me—distilled for me once again the truth—that subcultures bring people of like minds together and hard.

While people on boats come from wealthy backgrounds and homeless backgrounds, private-school backgrounds and maybe-got-a-GED backgrounds, many ... likely a majority ... share some sort of feeling that the world they had before the boat didn’t quite work for them in some way, that poking around to see what’s on the other side of the horizon may prove preferable to the not-poking ... or the house/picket fence/two-dog garage. All subcultures have their thing: dancers and the need to express physically something deep and otherwise unsayable; climbers and the need to go all the way up there because it is there; yogis and the need to go far inside and be only right there right now. . . . We all have our thing, that we’ve found or that we seek. And the corner of the world in which this thing hides may tend, of course, to bring us closer to others who “suffer” with the same thing.

So boats may bring together the same people who wander into bullrings in Ecuador and who drive campers deep into the Rio Grande Valley to find bloodless bullfights where young women in impossibly-perfectly tailored garb fly over the horns of charging bulls in an effort to place roses on those bulls’ shoulders.

If you’re up for swathing yourself in synthetics to sit at a bucking boat wheel in 30-mph winds and pouring rain because it sounds fun, you might just say yes to “Hey, what are you doing this weekend? Want to go see a bloodless bullfight five hours from here in the middle of the part of Texas no one goes to?”

Hemingway, I fancy, knew these things. They’re hardly secret or revelatory. And it’s even less revelatory for me to say that he probably used those bullfights, not just to impress and horrify the ladies, but to find people who liked what he liked: pointless roadtrips, heavy drinking, and bad decision making ... oh, and that boat thing, too, with the fishing and Gulf Stream and dreams of just one perfect day set down from Heaven by a God who alone knows the absolute meaning of the blue that is just that blue because it sits over water just that deep.

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