Ernest Hemingway and the Accidental Massacre at the Albuquerque Zoo

Camels, a hot air balloon race, Hemingway at the zoo, Germans.

My arrival by camel
Camel. Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

I arrived at Albuquerque by camel. The camels were thirsty. They drank water at the Rio Grande.

“Gracias,” the camels said.

“De nada,” I said.

I then drank from the Rio Grande. The water was cool and smooth. It slid down my throat like mercury. The sun set behind us as we made our way past the adobe roofs of the squat ranches, the gravel driveways, the jagged antennas that lined 10th street. I stopped at the Blue Hotel for a drink.

“You can’t tie them up here,” the maitre d’ said.

“My camels?”

“That’s right.”

“I don’t much care for that policy.”

“I don’t much care for camels.”

“Well, all right.”

The maitre d’ waggled his mustache, a simpering, effeminate waggle. I could punch him, I thought. I didn’t.

I steered my camels through the porte cochere at an Inn for Express Holidays. The bellhop was happy to help tend to the camels as I watered myself at the bar. Three hours later, I was drunk. The streets were empty. It turned out that Albuquerque retired to bed earlier than even I had prescribed myself during my long stints at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. No later than midnight, I had prescribed. I had seen what late nights and whisky had done to my friend Scott. I had no interest in going mad. I had a balloon race to win the next day.

The morning came quickly. I staggered towards the door. I threatened to punch my coffee when it burned my tongue. It cooled down. Across the street was an odd, concrete structure with an amphitheater like the ruins one sees in Greece. This was not Greece. No Sophocles had ever been performed here.

Albuquerque Civic Plaza. Photo credit: Teofilo
“I suspected Germans.”

I whipped my camels into a gallop down a road of yellow and white and blue houses otherwise identical. I slowed the camels to a trot in front of a house crossed with yellow banners. The banners read “Caution”. I became cautious. Germans could be anywhere. I read what looked to be silver handwriting on the back of an automobile. It read Pontiac Aztek. I dismounted, crossed out the “k”, wrote a “c”, and remounted. Why the automobile was here, 2,000 miles north of Aztec country, was troubling. I suspected Germans.

The balloon fiesta!
Hot Air Balloons. Photo credit: JadeXJustice

I continued northward, choking on the dust. The mountains breached in the distance. Finally, I reached the battlefield that had been cordoned off for the balloon Fiesta!. Balloon jockeys in tight white pants swung their legs over the baskets, straddled the baskets, finally brought their other legs over. A comrade from the War had prepared my balloon. I shook his hand and mounted the basket of my balloon. The gun fired. It was not Germans. It was the start of the race. We opened our burners and ascended from earth.

Red monoliths of stone floated underbasket, the red of blood. The air was cool and smooth. It tasted of ice. It was pleasant. Then my burner flamed out. My balloon started going down. The Germans had succeeded. I hated them, that crafty, efficient breed. I threw off all the ballasts I could. The balloon continued to careen towards the earth. Death was certain.

“Not on my watch,” I shouted.

The balloon crashed into the side of a mesa. The nylon balloon sac collapsed onto me. I dug my way out of the sac. My legs were intact. My ears were ringing. The sky was blue as my mother’s eyes. I hobbled the final ten miles to the finish line. I only placed third. A little girl named Amberley handed me a bouquet of flowers.

“Eat it,” she said.

“Eat the flowers?”

“No, it’s cotton candy.”

Cotton candy. Photo credit: rmmarak

I tried it. The flowers were sweet.

“They’re sweet.”


I didn’t know what language she was speaking but suspected German.

A clean, poorly lit place

I dined that night at a clean but poorly lit Mediterranean restaurant named Anatolia Doner Kabob. I had been to Anatolia during the War and spoke with the proprietor. We spoke of God and the War and the price of rice. He had a favorable outlook on all 3. Despite this, we became good friends. I returned to the Inn of Express Holidays where a crate of elk meat awaited me. I tipped the bellhop handsomely for his role in watering my camels. I drank a substantial volume of whisky that night.

The hunt in the Albuquerque game reserve
Elephants. Photo credit: Nick J. Webb

The next day was my last in Albuquerque. I was to go big-game hunting with an old friend, Bill. I passed the same adobe-roofed hutches I had passed on the way into town. A woman hanging laundry on a line squinted into the sun as I passed. I waved and lamented the lack of time. At the gates of the game reserve, I halted my camels. My friend was not in sight. He had not shown up by 15 past the hour. I smelled the elephant dung and proceeded on the hunt without Bill.

I had never seen such a concentration of big game animals in all my travels. Not even in the Green Hills of Africa. Tanzania to be exact. My first trophy was a black rhinoceros. I snapped a photo and left it in the field as a token of my appreciation to the locals. I considered that the natives, descendants of the ancient Apaches and Navajos and Zunis, may have unique sacrificial offering rituals. I next moved to the zebras. My first shot sailed wide. The explosion of the gunpowder spooked the zebras, whipping them into a frenzy. I took aim at a gelding with stripes the color of a monk’s habit. I pulled the trigger and the animal dropped. A woman shrieked nearby, shielding her son’s face.

“It’s okay. You have noting to fear. I’m not with the Germans,” I assured her.

She ran towards a herd of giraffes. The zebra was too large to take with me, so I snapped a photo and followed my nose towards the elephants. I can detect their dung from a mile away. My camels snorted anxiously as we approached.

“Stop. We’re fine,” I calmed the camels.

“Elephants do not forget,” one of the camels replied.

“They have nothing of us to remember,” I told him.

“You weren’t at Danny’s the night we went elephant tipping.”

I agreed to keep our distance. As good of a shot as I am, this did not present an issue. I sighted the tallest bull, breathed in, released, and pulled the trigger. The elephants scattered, but the bull was mine. I ended his short, happy life, snapped a picture, and returned to camp to write 3 pages before dinner.

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