Author(s): Amanda Vaill
April, 1937. Eight months into Spain's Civil War, Madrid is a war zone. The streets and plazas of the capital are strewn with rubble; buildings gape, their facades torn away by shell fire. In the bombardment, the Hotel Florida, a ten-storey art-nouveau jewel box between the smart shops of the Gran Via, has become a haven for foreign journalists and writers.
This morning, 22 April, in the cold hour before dawn, two artillery shells smash into the hotel, sending its guest scurrying from their rooms. Among them, Antoine de St.-Exupery, the French aviator and writer, swathed in a bright blue satin dressing gown; Ernest Hemingway, who is in Spain to report on the war for the US press; ambitious young journalist Martha Gellhorn who has been carrying on a secret affair with Hemingway for several months; Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, young combat photographers, collaborators, rivals and lovers; and Arturo Barea, the Republican government's chief censor and Ilsa Kulcsar, his deputy and lover, fighting the very government that employs them to transmit the truth and keep the plight of Spain before the eyes of the world.
Caught up in what Cockburn called 'the decisive thing of the century', the men and women who passed through the Hotel Florida in these years lived as intensely as they had ever done. Their stories - love stories transfigured by the time and place in which they unfold - are full of doubt and danger. Some found love, some betrayal, and some learned the cost of the effort to tell the truth about what they witnessed.