At the end of the encierro in Pamplona the adrenalin’s edge softens and the sense of relief, satisfaction, fulfilment and even disappointment takes its place. At the same time, amid the Kaiku y cognacs, coffees and conversation, thoughts turn towards breakfast.
There was a time when groups of runners would take the short stroll down Plaza del Castillo, crossing Estafeta and up to Calle de la Merced where they would find a few spare benches outside La Raspa and sit down. The crowd would vary day to day but ultimately it would be a relaxed affair where a group of friends could eat a simple breakfast, share a few bottles of tinto with gaseosa and chat away in a mood of contented camaraderie. The odd jota would meanwhile float over from a nearby table. It was always the perfect way to ease into the day and to transition between the drama of the encierro and the rhythm of fiesta.
Now the tables are all reserved: booked up in advance for the “right people” and the impromptu breakfast has been replaced by a stage-managed event. The very concept of spontaneity has been sacrificed because the breakfast “event” is so popular that everyone wants to join in. Everyone wants a piece of the action and to be seen to be there. When the essence of a thing vanishes what is left is an artificial facsimile of the original.
We have seen it before in so many ways. If you have ever dreamed of visiting a famous monument or notoriously beautiful site then you will be aware that the truth does not match the dream. That amazing view across to Niagra Falls, across the Grand Canyon or up The Mall to Buckingham Palace is not something you can enjoy in the way you imagined. This is because of the sheer mass of humanity getting in the way of the view. The forest of selfie sticks, or ego poles as someone else has described them, has to be waded through and any photograph has to be captured in that split second when a group of Japanese tourists, British schoolchildren or American coach tour is not right in the optimal place.
Popular sites are popular for a reason – people believe they are worth seeing “in the flesh”. Their essence is something that is worth enjoying in person. Yet in doing so we end up killing them through popularity. Pumphrey described it as the “devil’s bargain”, and that experience is greatly diminished not just because it has to be shared with dozens of Antipodean backpackers but because that sense of intimacy, that personal connection, is compromised.
It is very easy to leap up and blame the very modern phenomenon of social media for much of this. After all the attitude that drives so many of us to share our lives with the rest of the world has found a natural home in the digital age. Not only that but there is an accompanying theme of the need to prove how amazing our lives are while sharing them with the world. As a result the selfie stick pervades and every visit to a famous monument or site has to be captured as evidence not only that we were there, but that we were having the most amazing time while we were at it.
Yet it wouldn’t be fair to blame this solely on the rise of social media. As long as humans have been able to travel for leisure and been able to share that experience so the complaints of over-crowding and spoiling have existed.
The famous European Grand Tour was an expected trip for wealthier members of British society, particularly between the 17th and 19th centuries. Yet even as far back as then there were complaints that the circuit was getting too crowded and too rowdy. As Professor Kathleen Burke writes; “The undisciplined and sometimes violent behaviour of young Englishmen was often commented upon; certainly, for the staff of British embassies abroad, the activities of English visitors, ‘each vying with the other who should be the wildest and most eccentric’, were a major preoccupation. ‘Even Russians were impressed by the cohorts of wild English youth they found in the cities of western Europe.’”
Hemingway too acknowledged the down side to the popularity of something so beloved. “Pamplona was rough, as always, overcrowded… I’ve written Pamplona once, and for keeps. It is all there, as it always was, except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there… four decades ago.”
Social media has merely exacerbated this and contributed to it on a global level. Take a trip to San Sebastián, home of the most wonderful pintxos and tapas, and you will see what popularity has done to this culture. The principle of tapas, how tapas traditionally works in Spanish towns and cities, has been erased. In its place there is a much more stage-managed, tourist-friendly version where the bars do not want people to pop in for a mini and a single pintxo. Now they hand you a plate and encourage you to stay long and spend deep in order to keep the cash registers ringing. (This is not to denigrate the gastronomy of San Sebastián, which is outstanding).
This is not how tapas works elsewhere, but San Sebastián has become popular on a mercurial scale. When this happens a critical mass is reached and something has to give. As Hassan Bougrine points out; “…the essence of the capitalist economy is the need to ‘make money’.” No wonder that tradition is distorted. Though perhaps some would say that it is actually more positive – an evolution that gives the customers what they want. Given that a high proportion of those present in the Basque city are foreign travellers, that evolution to ‘Tapas Tourism’ is not surprising.
The intense beauty of Cornish fishing villages is such an allure that those with enough income have been buying holiday homes there for many years. This has had such a negative impact on the communities, effectively destroying the villages outside the holiday seasons, that bans on purchasing second homes now exist in a number of Cornish locations.
The essence of a thing is so fragile, so precious and so difficult to grasp that when we reach for it, it vanishes. Like grasping a handful of sand on the beach, the tighter we hold on the less we are able to keep a grip on it and the sooner it slips through our fingers and is gone. We rarely aim to destroy the essence of a thing intentionally, we merely realise that it has happened almost by stealth and the truth of our impact has crept up on us, seemingly out of nowhere. Yet, destroy the essence of something we most certainly do.
With something fragile and something so desirable the answer, surely, is to handle with care. We want to reach out and grasp something that shines and yet, like ice crystals, the very touch itself can destroy the thing. In this case it must be wiser to enjoy a thing in the moment and be prepared to walk away, to change and to sacrifice the very thing we love so as not to destroy it. This is not easy for, in the moment, we are normally overtaken by the desire to sink ourselves into the experience. Similarly we often destroy one small cut at a time and may not recognise it until it is too late.
Surely as soon as we feel a thing we love is at risk of being stage-managed or that its essence has been compromised or killed by popularity we should be prepared to walk away. Perhaps we should even be prepared to walk away long before then. Take the post-encierro breakfast as an example. If we attend every single day are we expecting too much from it? Are we forcing the fun to fulfil an expectation or are we merely contributing to the destruction of its essence. Once something becomes routine it is no longer special.
That is not to say that such things should cease and many people find enjoyment in routine. Some would even claim that they are able to hold onto the essence of something even when it is a routine.
One of the most common complaints is that the encierro has been destroyed through being too popular. Complainants point to the crowded streets and the high proliferation of non-Spanish runners (estimated to be 45% in 2017) as contributing factors. Talk to any “old timer” and they will generally yearn for a time when the streets were quieter, when you had space to run and when you could actually see the bulls. The essence of the encierro has gone, replaced by backpackers, beginners and wishful thinking.
The evidence does not totally support this view.
The encierro has been popular for a very long time and crowding is most certainly not a modern phenomenon. Old black and white photographs and even film reels show crowded streets, a crowded Plaza de Toros, pile ups and packed barriers going back many decades – all seemingly without killing off the soul of the encierro.
Additionally, the modern crowding is not getting any worse according to figures released by the Ayuntamiento of Pamplona. An article published on sanfermin.com highlighted the fact that some years, such as 2012, saw over 20 thousand runners take part across the 8 days, while others much less. 2017 was estimated to have had around 16 thousand runners. Volumes also vary dramatically from day-to-day. It would appear that a patient and determined runner can find space on the right day if he bides his time and takes his chances.
So while it is true that we often smoother the thing we love and destroy its essence, sometimes the thing we love is not actually dead and we just need to look at it slightly differently. Perhaps, as in San Sebastián, we need to experience it differently and re-learn what the essence now is. Ultimately we need to acknowledge that the essence of a thing is fleeting, transient and that we should enjoy what we can of it while it lasts.
(Written with thanks and appreciation to AFH for his valuable contribution)
“A plague on eminence! I hardly dare cross the street any more without a convoy, and I am stared at wherever I go…”
It is a very human trait to want to be respected, to be highly knowledgeable and to elevate oneself, not only within a social circle, but far beyond. Some would argue that it is innate; linked to our evolution and the limbic system – that part of the brain that primarily integrates emotions, motivations and behaviours. Darwin maybe would have argued that it is actually in our genes as it ensures that the elevated ones are sure to get the girl, to get fed.
Thackeray derided he who would not strive for eminence as “a poor-spirited coward.” Washington Allston would seem to agree in saying: “I am inclined to think from my own experience that the difficulty to eminence lies not in the road, but in the timidity of the traveler.”
In this modern world the desire to attain these heights has a more immediate and less forgiving arena in the online space. The push for “likes” and the need for the most “followers” on a profile drives an online behaviour that appears to be a search for fame and influence. It is even possible to measure how much online influence a person has through their “Klout” score. And it is not simply about posting dreary nonsense in order to get clicks. Andrew Gill has pointed out that: “as social media is becoming more prevalent, and people and companies are using it to make purchasing and hiring decisions, the role of social eminence is becoming critical.”
Small wonder that everybody wants to rise; this is not just influence. In ‘Leviathan’ Hobbes wrote that: “Man strives for power after power and it ceases only in death.” What is power? Eminence! Or as Hobbes more correctly put it: “‘Natural power’ is the eminence of the faculties of body or mind, as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, nobility.”
Little wonder that we strive for eminence when, deep down, we believe it will give us power.
But remember that true eminence is not just about being well known. It is possible to become well known overnight; that is fame. It is also not just about having great knowledge. It is possible to attain great knowledge through the application of ones own appetite; that is being learned. True eminence is about being respected for ones knowledge and experience, being well known for it and, as a result, having influence.
Seeking to advance oneself is always a dangerous game. The temptation to cut corners, cheat a little or even to walk over the bodies of rivals to advance is never far away. Beware that a person is never too high to fall, but more than that, reputation is a valuable treasure that is easily lost. As Baltasar Gracian said: “A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.” Elevate, go and climb higher, but remember “The high road is always respected. Honesty and integrity are always rewarded.” (Scott Hamilton).
Additionally, Nicholas Chamfort pointed out that: “Eminence without merit earns deference without esteem.” Anyone seeking this level should expect to have a long wait and be prepared to put in the effort. But they also need to be careful. “Knowledge can be heady stuff, but easily leads to an excess of zeal – to illusions of grandeur and a desire to impress others and achieve eminence… Our search for knowledge should be ceaseless, which means that it is open-ended, never resting on laurels, degrees or past achievements.” So wrote Hugh Nibley, perhaps warning against hubris and its results.
In the world of fiesta and the encierro, there are plenty that seek an exalted position, despite there being few formal roles. The collective has no appointed leaders or positions of authority and yet many are drawn into the contest to become known, to become respected and to be seen as a figurehead for the masses in fiesta. Newcomers will attempt do demonstrate just how much they know about the history of fiesta. Perhaps they will even write a book, a blog or an article. Others will try to make their name in the encierro and gain respect through that route. Some will simply opt for longevity; returning to fiesta year after year until they naturally assume a position of respect.
Yet none of this is guaranteed to result in eminence. The person who returns time and again to Pamplona may be respected but could simply have lived the same fiesta thirty times over and never learned anything outside of the few bars and streets that they frequent. In the encierro the camera lies and a runner can make it look as though they have had an amazing run, eventually the truth will out. Not only that but respect in the encierro comes from proving oneself not just day after day, but year after year, as Nibley inferred.
Even after all of this, status in the encierro can lead to a false sense of importance. To be regarded as “divino” or divine carries a number of connotations; being so elevated as to be considered saintly, having reached a pinnacle of performance that leads to the runner being beyond reproach, but also a sarcastic or mocking term for a runner who believes themselves to be worthy of this status. To be divino is not necessarily something to aspire to. The divino who challenges the gods of the encierro can soon encounter nemesis in “valiente” form.
There is no shortage of fiesta attendees that are prepared to seek to be someone, to be known. AFH said: “I think the denial of the urge to eminence false, a pose, but its overindulgence ugly.” This implies a fine balance between feeding the desire for influence and not becoming a caricature. The question also has to be asked; “What good is power in fiesta? What does it serve and where does it lead?”
The search for eminence is at odds with the loose and chaotic nature of fiesta. In the maelstrom of Los Sanfermines, wielding power is contrary to the spontaneous, raw alegría. It inhibits it, it seeks to work against it in setting rules in an arena where the suspension of rules has long been celebrated as a cornerstone of fiesta.
And what are these cornerstones?
It could be argued that the key elements are faith, brotherhood, music, food and liberality. These do not leave much room for power to be assumed and employed, except perhaps in the world of faith. Look at the street during fiesta and you will see the evidence of the removal of controls: no or very few police or officials, the people spilling out onto the road, a huge and unmanageable mass allowed to be self-regulating, a 24-hour life, spontaneous bursts of music and dancing, a largesse that the city bathes in.
This is no place for power except that which is confined to pockets of friends or collections of the like-minded. It is a deluded kind of power as there is no real effect. The scale of San Fermín repels power leaving those who desire it to scratch out their exposure where they can: on snatched television interviews, holding court in a bar or restaurant, online activity and the written word that rapidly becomes litter, floating around the dirty streets.
Power and influence are fleeting. Everything passes and fades with time, and even the greatest leaders are only remembered in dusty history books. Shelley and his contemporary Horace Smith correctly observed that great empires fall into dust. In his poem, Ozymandias (written at the same time as the work of the same name by his friend, Shelley), Smith mused: “…what powerful but unrecorded race, once dwelt in that annihilated place.”
Some will tell you that the best parties in San Fermín are the exclusive ones, invitation only, in character-laden apartments of the old town and frequented by aficionados and their groupies every year on a certain day of fiesta. Actually the true joy of fiesta comes from diving into the swirling whirlpool of humanity and letting the flow take you with it. The white and red of Los Sanfermines may seem to some like an inhibiting uniform or a banal lack of individualism, but it is actually to be envied. The anonymous spirit can ignore all expectations and simply surrender to the flow. Power and influence come with shackles, while ignorance is bliss. How many long-term fiesta luminaries yearn to return to the fiestas of their youth? Not only to be young again, but to be free again – free of the responsibilities, burdens and expectations that come with age and influence. The faceless power of the collective alegría is stronger than the individual who has worked for 30 years to be respected on the street.
Up on the balcony of the Casa Consistorial at 11:55 on 6th July, a line of the powerful and influential stand in their pristine white clothes. In their hands a petite glass of cava. On the face of it they are the great and good of the city, the region, but in reality they carry only grey eminence. The masses do not care about them; in fact they regularly jeer at them, chant rude songs and even throw things at them. Up on the balcony it is all polite and careful conversation as they observe the seething mass below on the plaza. The crowd swirls and surges, the joy is about to explode into rapture while the eminent and influential look politely on.
“Isn’t it a marvellous view from up here,” observes one politician.
“Yes,” replies another, wistfully, “but I would rather be down there.”
“The art of pleasing is the art of deception”, Luc de Clapiers
I have in my possession a beautiful photograph, taken of me by my wife on a basic digital SLR, running an encierro in Navarra a few years ago. To me the image is so good that it would be very difficult to improve upon it. In the shot I am running down the street, head over my shoulder as the horns of the bulls get closer behind me giving a strong air of danger but also beauty.
The buildings of the town and the wooden barriers all help to frame the moment. There is nobody in the shot – a runner and the animals, an encierro. What makes it more dramatic is the fact that it is shot in black and white, making it atmospheric and moody. If I ran a million encierros I could barely hope for a better picture and even the great Jimmy Hollander has remarked at the quality of that photo.
In fact this is only a part of the story. The picture is not a lie, but is not wholly honest either, and while I love it I am also loathe to make too much of it knowing that it doesn’t convey the entirety of that moment in Funes, Navarra, almost a decade ago.
“Photography has always been capable of manipulation” wrote Joel Stenfield, and he was absolutely correct. There is no Photoshop trickery afoot here. There is no airbrushing out or pasting in. There is no manipulation of the colour, contrast or brightness. The original has been unaltered except for the fact that it has been cropped. This makes all the difference.
In the original, uncropped version, you can see that there are other runners to my left and right making it clear that I was not alone, not the only one in danger. The uncropped version also makes it clear that we were reaching the end of the run and the safety of the barriers was just a few dozen metres away. What is less evident is the actual distance that the bulls were behind us. The camera acts to foreshorten these distances meaning that they were not quite as close as the touching distance that the image suggests. That is not to say that they were not close, but we certainly had a little breathing space. But when it comes down to it, the uncropped version is not nearly as good as the modified one.
“Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts”, Garry Winogrand.
So the beautiful image, cropped from the original is a deception. There is no crime here, but certainly a deception.
There is nothing unusual in this. Since the dawn of photography and even earlier to the origins of portrait art, we humans have sought to frame our experiences and our image in the most flattering way possible. We always want the artist or photographer to “get our good side”. Nobody likes an unflattering picture and is very unlikely to give it any publicity. Take a stroll through social media and this becomes evident – image is everything. The pressure on people to crop their lives on social media in order to portray a perfect life is overwhelming.
This is no different in Pamplona where the encierro, photographed to within an inch of its life, becomes the ultimate stage for ego, and also deception. In the mid to late afternoon after the drama of the run has drifted away into the heat, the photo shops are a hive of activity. In amongst the tourists and curious observers looking at the pictures with wide-eyed wonder, there are also a number of runners desperately seeking that perfect or near-perfect picture proving their worth as a bull runner, proving their worth within this family of aficionados who carry the burden of expectation like a modern day Atlas. To run the encierro as anything other than a novice first-timer is to bear a portion of this expectation. It becomes a need to prove, a need to display evidence, a need to justify and a need to satisfy self-worth. To go to Pamplona, run all week and enjoy it is magnificent, but to come away without evidence of the triumphs is a disaster for many, despite the views of philosophers from Marcus Aurelius to Kipling.
Small wonder that deception creeps in; it has a natural home – a very understandable host to cling to.
Howard Jacobson wrote; “…anyone who cannot bear to look at the reflection of his conscience in the mirror of a crime, has only to smash the mirror to feel innocent.”
Borrowing from this quote we could also say that anybody who cannot bear to accept a bad run has only to change the story to feel better. In this way the second element of deception is employed – manipulating the mental picture rather than the physical one.
“The truth is what I say it is,” said Jacob Kerns and thus, after the encierro, we make our subtle changes; cropping the actual run here and there to cut out the undesirable parts, adding a bit of extra colour to make it more attractive, changing the lens from a fish-eye to a narrow focus. In this way we end up with a more comfortable version and picture that we are happier to share than discard. All the time we forget that there is no crime in having a bad run. We don’t need to reinvent everything. Not every experience has to be portrayed in a positive light.
But we are human.
So how often have we heard runners claim that a bull’s horn missed them by centimetres when, in reality, it was feet? How often have we heard runners claim that they were right in front of the bulls when they were further ahead or off to the side? Small wonder that Bar Txoko after the encierro is sometimes known as “Liar’s Corner”.
Ray Mouton, writing in his book “Pamplona”, expressed it as follows:
“It seems exaggerations are the rule, not the exception, among Americans in Pamplona. Many exaggerate the number of times they have been to Pamplona, the number of times they have run with the bulls, as well as bumps, bruises, knicks, scratches, and minor run-ins with a horn. A kind of inexplicable compulsion overcomes some Americans in Pamplona who seize upon fiesta as an opportunity for self-promotion, and writers often act as their shills, making them out to be what they a Hemingwayesque figure is. The tradition may have begun with Hemingway himself who exaggerated in the news dispatches he filed from Pamplona and in letters to friends like Ezra Pound.”
“The petty man is eager to make boasts, yet desires that others should believe in him. He enthusiastically engages in deception, yet wants others to have affection for him. He conducts himself like an animal, yet wants others to think well of him”, Xun Kuang.
Therefore it is not unusual to hear an encierro story that has been dramatically embellished. It is far from unusual to see that the words of a mozo do not match the images on television, online or in the newspapers. The deception can be incredibly subtle, innocent, or it can be a grotesque lie.
What is the issue here and does it matter? In short it is wrong, and it is cheap to make claims that are not true. In such a noble event as the encierro of Pamplona, runners should maintain their integrity. This is not only for themselves but for the reputation of the encierro as a whole and the community around it. When you lie about your achievements you may get temporary gratification, but no more than this – the rest will be devalued. Which is better, a good runner who exaggerates or an average runner who is honest about their limitations? Social media seems to favour the former, sadly.
“A journalist is supposed to present an unbiased portrait of an event, a view devoid of intimate emotions. This is impossible, of course. The framing of an image, by its very composition, represents a choice. The photographer chooses what to show and what to exclude”, Alexandra Kerry.
Should we not also be unbiased about our own claims?
Before we employ too much righteous indignation, ask who has not done this? Anyone? Ever? Who is not guilty of this even if in some small way? And what is so terrible about the use of slightly more descriptive language when talking about something that is visceral, intense and profoundly personal? Before we condemn let us first remember that it is human nature to exaggerate. Rufus Wainwright talked about making the mundane fabulous and Marina Tsvetaeva wrote:
“A deception that elevates us is dearer than a host of low truths.”
What then is the solution? Do we try to change this or do we accept that humans will always employ deception and there is nothing we can do about it? Ultimately it is down to our own conscience as, when we deceive in the encierro, we are not making any financial gains and we are open to contradiction thanks to media coverage and many other witnesses. When it comes down to it we are only deceiving ourselves.
Meanwhile my own photograph remains in an album, rather than proudly on display.
“When looking back doesn’t interest you anymore, you’re doing something right.” Anon.
Around a decade ago there was a lot of dissatisfaction aimed at the moves to make the encierro safer around La Curva. The use of a coating on the street to give the bulls more grip was at the heart of this change. Whether or not it was the only factor, there was certainly something going on and morning after morning the bulls seemed to be going around La Curva cleaner than they ever had, the occasional exception noted. At the time I wrote a piece asking; “What future now for La Curva?” The famous “threading the needle” run from the doorways of Mercaderes and up onto Estafeta was gone, perhaps for good. The photographers massed on the barriers are still able to capture images fit for the newspapers, but the heyday of running the curve is gone.
This has caused a lot of heartache but also a lot of denial as runners cling on to the past and find themselves trying to reproduce it, but only end up standing the street as the arse-ends of cattle move swiftly away from them. There are runners who want a return to the old days and would rather the manada broke up on the walls of the famous curve, but it seems that the current state is here to stay, for a while at least.
Pamplona and the fiestas have been changing for as long as anyone can remember, and even longer than that. In some ways the changes are glacial – a small element here and there – a new feature, a new rule, a new bar, a new venue. Other changes are swift and sure but are absorbed into fiestas with barely a second glance. Remember when the bandstand was abandoned for the huge stage in the Plaza del Castillo?
Other changes feel more significant such as the bulls on La Curva or the red line down on Santo Domingo.
Over the years there have been some very dramatic changes. The txupinazo was nothing like the spectacle it is now and evolved through various stages, including a man letting off a rocket in the Plaza del Castillo surrounded by a small group of bemused children, eventually reaching the mass participation event it is now. The encierros have also moved hours not once but multiple times to reach the 8am start that is in place now. High kerbstones and round cobbles have been replaced by flatter pedestrian areas and even the encierro route has changed significantly, the last time being in the 1920s.
Some will argue, and with justification, that the changes are not always justified and are often for more sordid reasons. In Pamplona this will often come down to money and reputation. The Ayuntamiento does not want to have the stigma of deaths on its hands and so is likely to keep making changes to ensure the encierro is safer and safer – the cost of popularity. Other changes are to extract every last Euro from the pockets of the million people that turn up to party in the old city. It is certainly the case that not all changes are for the better, no matter how inevitable they are, and not all changes are done with an honest and transparent intent.
Many changes are received on a personal level. Old timers will particularly bemoan the loss of Casa Marceliano on the Calle Mercado off Santo Domingo. This bar and hostal has a kind of legendary status among the long-standing fiesta lovers as being a famous hangout, bed for the duration of fiestas, or perhaps just one night, and spiritual home of a number of fine American and Western bull runners until it was closed down in 1993 and absorbed into the council buildings. Old timers will wistfully talk about the good old days and the strong implication is that if you never drank in Marcelianos then your history is not worth considering. An elitism grows up around the past as a clique of the chosen ones looks down patronisingly at the newcomer wannabes. Yet all is in constant flux and the fashionable bars often fade out of favour as other places drift into the sphere of influence. It is not uncommon to see lone old timers sitting grimly outside Bar Windsor, gravely clinging onto the past.
It is understandable. Humans have a reluctance to change and to move on. There is a very natural desire to yearn for “the good old days”, but we do this with blinkers, ignoring or forgetting those parts of the past which, if we had to live with them again, we would find intolerable. John Green rightly said that “Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed.” Memory is selective and tends to favour the positives over the negatives. We view the past from our comfortable middle age, our affluent self-confident and our assumed wisdom, forgetting that 20, 30, 40 years ago we were not affluent, confident or wise. Sure, we were young, but we did not truly know what to do with it and now we are left mutter variations of the classic lines from Elizabeth Akers Allen; “Backward, turn backward, O Time in your flight, make me a child again just for tonight!”
Karen Ann Kennedy sums it up very nicely when she says:
“There is a difference between thinking about the past and living in it. Sometimes we live in the past because it’s familiar – we know what happened; there are no surprises.”
She goes on to say:
“Living in the past is a problem because it robs you of the opportunity to enjoy the present.”
I would go a step further when it comes to San Fermín. Living in the past only encourages a new generation to venerate something they never witnessed, to aspire to something that is long gone and to disown the present. In doing so this deprives us of the honest happiness of the future.
“Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse…” goes the French proverb, and it is true.
Whenever we are faced with change we go through a curve taking us from denial, to resistance, to acceptance and finally to moving on. How quickly we move through the change curve depends on many factors, not least how invested in the change we are personally. We can move through quickly, unconsciously even but if things go wrong or we hate the change then we can be stuck in different stages like an old timer, sitting alone outside a bar, still thinking that it’s 1969.
That’s not to say that there is no place for nostalgia and romance. These are a pair of benevolent old souls that visit us from time to time. We should always humour them, listen to them and smile at their stories, but then we should wave them farewell until they pass our way again.
San Fermín will go on changing and there may be some intolerable changes to absorb. Consider that in San Sebastian de los Reyes they have moved the encierro to 11am. Imagine that in Pamplona if you can. And, horror of horrors, one day we may have to face the ultimate change in the loss of the encierro totally. Younger and younger people will come to fiestas and they will care less and less for your history, your traditions, your stories and particularly the way you think fiesta ought to be enjoyed. What will you do? Will you stubbornly hide away under the shadow of huge parasol, mulling over the past, or will you embrace the change?
As Alan Watts said:
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
Dear Fiesteras and Fiesteros: This was written about two months ago, for the second of the second, yup, Escalera Day, but due to Mr. Testis being rather busy in his Bulldom, we’ve had to wait a while before it could be put onto the Sanfermin.com pages. However, with the arrival of the fourth of April and hence Escalera Day numero cuatro…here we go. Hey ho, let’s go and Ya Falta Menos!
It’s the second day of the second month as I write this and the Escalera to fiesta has well and truly begun, and at this time of the year up here in my tree-tower eyrie near the River Thames, with Hampton Court Palace but a mile away as the eagle flies, my thoughts turn as ever turn to Pamplona.
So although the countdown to San Fermin has already started, there’s still awhile to go of course which always makes me feel like I’m fiesta-floating, adrift on a sea of shifting calendar dates that slowly slide by with the tide…still heading towards land, (i.e: Pamplona) but with a fair bit of drifting to go before I make landfall. In July.
So I read, and I write, and I dream. Talking of reading, I love books. A few years ago, one of these articles was made up purely about Fiesta books. This one isn’t going to be like that, but I am going to mention a couple of books that you may like. I know I did. They are not particularly about Pamplona or San Fermin, but just have Spain as the common background, to give us that tantalising taste of the flavour of fiesta to come.
Winston Churchill said about books: ‘’If you cannot read all your books, fondle them, then peer into them, let them fall apart where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan, so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.’’
Personally, to take me away from everything, nothing beats a good book. They just work for me. If you should happen to get around to any of the ones mentioned, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
As so often with these Sanfermin.com scribbles, this one is going to be a bit of a mixed salad, and so I’m also going to write about a wee bit of rocket. No, not the lettuce, foodies, but the chupinazo, fiesteros. For those that don’t know yet, Fiesta begins at midday on July 6th with the Chupinazo, and the launching of the first – but only one of many – rockets from one of the town hall’s balconies. I’m just going to dip into the history of it a little bit…which will give me a chance to nip back into the past, too, which I always enjoy.
Then comes the book bit, but after that, something new that I’m really chuffed about, which I’ll return to occasionally, maybe even in every article I do for Kuku. I’ve given it the title ‘The Drifter,’ which, as will become clear when you read it is rather apt, as my first victim, sorry, guest, is the one and only, inimitable and inestimable, Rolf von Essen. Although his first San Fermin was in 1959, he was one of the group that also happened to hang around Torremolinos in the 60’s…
… Which is where the gang that appear in James Micheners’ book ‘The Drifters’ also first meet up. Which also happens to be the book that changed my life, as the first place that the characters in the story travel to after Torremolinos is Pamplona. In July. For Fiesta… And thus my life was altered for ever.
But first, a bit of rocketry.
ROCKET ENGINEERING – IT’S ALL PART OF FIESTA SCIENCE!
Okay, let’s get one thing straight. The phrase ‘it’s not rocket science’ is wrong. My brother Mike taught me it should be; ‘it’s not rocket engineering.’ Why? Because when we say ‘’it’s not rocket science’’ we mean that something isn’t difficult…like building a rocket obviously is. Ah ha! So there we are.
Here’s the pedantic point: Rocke engineering is the building of the rocket…a very tricky thing to get right…and rocket science is the actual getting it to where it’s going! (Quite a difficult thing too, probably, it has to be said…)
Thus is stands to my (fairly warped) reason… There are many, many things that make up fiesta – the chupinazo, the encierros, the corridas, the peñas, and a thousand and one other things…and all these are the cogs in the machine, the engineering, that make up, and get us to where we want to be…to the extraordinary, chaotic and organised anarchic science that is Fiesta! Although I’ve also often written…San Fermin…you just couldn’t make it up.
So, the Chupinazo. From the very beginning of the year, with the 1st of January and the first day of the Escalera, a small, invisible rocket goes off inside my head with a little bang… a rocket that goes off again on the 2nd of February, and then again on the 3rd of March, the bang each time increasing in volume until the 6th, when it’s very loud and I know that the next time I hear those rockets it’ll be midday on July 6th, and they won’t be imaginary ones in my head but real ones. Because that’s when Pamplona’s own version of the Big Bang erupts and the old world stops for nine days and nights, and the city slips off its cosmic axis and our universe goes spinning out of control as San Fermin and The Giants come out to play.
Just why do they launch a volley of rockets into the sky at midday on the 6th of July to herald the start of the world’s greatest fiesta? It might seem obvious in this day and age – ‘’oh, we have an event going on, let’s baptise it with a bang and make some noise’’ – but it wasn’t always thus.
No. But unsurprisingly for Pamplona and the inmates that live within…it all started with some locals.
We’re so used to some of the fiesta traditions we’ve grown to know and love that we can end up just taking them for granted and assuming things were for ever thus. Like the rockets launched off the town hall main balcony at midday on the 6th, for example. But actually, that act of fiesta only became an official part of the festivities in 1941.
Although there are slightly different versions, it seems that the first time rockets were launched at the beginning of fiesta it was down to a company called Oroquieta, who perhaps unofficially decided it would be a good idea to start San Fermin with a bang, and so they did…from the Plaza del Castillo.
This was done for many years from at least 1901, until with the arrival of the 2nd Republic, and a well known republican called Etxepare decided to make things more official and gave the act a name. (No where can I find out if this was ‘Chupinazo’ but hey, we’re getting there.) It was still being done in the Plaza del Castillo though, and carried on until the fiesta of 1936.
After that, the bleak clouds of Civil War came, Etxepare was shot, fiesta was suspended for a couple of years as the shadows enveloped, and blackness fell…and no doubt somewhere in that darkness, San Fermin cried. Light returned in one form or another and fiesta was back for 1939, when a councillor, Joaquin Ilundain, gave himself the honour of lighting the first rocket, still in the square I believe.
Then, along with a journalist, Jose Maria Perez Salazar, they promoted the idea of making the whole thing more organised and become an official part of the ceremonies…and so it came to pass that in 1941 the rocket was launched, for the first time, from the balcony of the town hall…and the Chupinazo as we know it was born. And that, chicas and chicos, is how it has been done ever since.
There was only one year it wasn’t launched from the Ayuntamiento in the Plaza Consistorial, and that was in 1952, when the old building was being renovated. For that year the Chupinazo was launched from the balcony of the temporary town hall buildings they were using, located in the Plaza del Vinculo, (then called the Plaza de la República Argentina) which is just off the Paseo de Sarasate, near the big old Correos, the main post office.
And a fitting place it was, too, actually, because way back when, between 1849 and 1852, that very place happened to be where a temporary bull ring was erected while the ‘new’ one, (1852-1921) was being constructed. What goes around can so often come around again and once more, sometimes you just couldn’t script it.
A BOOK OR THREE
I’ve done the occasional book review before but these aren’t reviews, I’m just going to mention briefly three books that I think are worth a read. None of them are particularly Pamplona related, they just have an Iberian flavour to them to tickle your fiesta taste buds.
In the ‘definitely worth a read’ category are two books by Mark Oldfield, but the great thing here is there is going to be a third, as they are part of a soon to be completed trilogy. As always, whether I know the author or not, (and I know Mark) I will be honest in what I say. Happily, with Mark’s books…I love ‘em!
‘The Sentinel’ was the first, published in 2012, followed by ‘The Exile’ in 2015. The books sprawl through Spain’s recent history, from 1936 and the Spanish Civil War, to the mid –fifties and Franco’s dictatorship, and then present day Spain.
There are two main protagonists, Comandante Leopold Guzman, head of Franco’s secret police in the 1950’s and easily one of the most evil, heartless and cruel baddies ever invented, and forensic investigator Ana Maria Galíndez, of the present day Guardia Civil
The Sentinel begins the story, interweaving the three separate timelines effortlessly and intriguingly, without ever getting so complicated that one literally loses the plot. In this short space I can’t begin to describe what goes on, suffice to say the dictatorial days of Spain under Franco are truly brought to life, while all the time keeping the page-turning suspense and the ‘what’s-going-to-happen-next‘ feeling going…it’s a real humdinger of a book
In ‘The Exile’ our evil anti-hero, Guzmán, is transferred to San Sebastian and the Basque Country, where the story carries on, and where the mysteries pile up, and Guzman’s past begins to catch up with him. Now, I’ve obviously never been to the Basque Country in the 1950’s, but the beautiful city of San Sebastian and the gorgeous surrounding countryside are brought vividly to life – or should that be death – by Oldfield’s atmospheric encapsulation of a ‘foreign’ city (it’s Basque, after all) and the surrounds under Franco’s oppressive occupation and bloody jackboot.
Regarding ‘Sentinel’ The Guardian said, ‘Polished and impressive.’ The Literary Review wrote, ’Remarkably accomplished. An atmospheric picture of a country still scarred by its past.’ The Daily Mail: ‘A sprawling, striking debut, superbly told, with a fine villain at its heart. This is a remarkable thriller.’
About ‘Exile’ The New York Journal of Books said’ ‘Powerful, hypnotic…filled with the horror of conflict, treachery, and intrigue.’ Well done Mark, (who, by the way, has been to San Fermin about 14 times over the last 40 years) those are two cracking novels and I honestly can’t wait for the final book in the series.
The third book is by that well known Sanferminero and internationally renowned photographer, Jim Hollander. Amongst certain fans of fiesta his door-stopping tome, ‘Run To The Sun’ is a classic, (and well worth the aircraft ‘excess baggage’ weight fee you may have to pay!) but it’s not that one I’m here to write about as I’ve written about it a couple of times before.
Nope, it’s his latest one, ‘From Pizarra to Pamplona.’ This is a delightful book that, although only published last year, was actually ‘written’ in 1973. The words are from a diary the then 23 year old Jim kept, and the photos are those that he took along the way. Oh, ‘the way?’
Well, it’s in the title, of course, but ‘the way’ was a 1000km horse ride the Hollander family undertook from Pizarra, near Malaga on the southern coast, to Pamplona, fabled capital of Navarra, over the course of several weeks. I first read it just before last year’s Fiesta, and again just recently. While none of us can write like Shakespeare or Cervantes of course, it’s a remarkably well written and smoothly flowing diary that paints a wonderful picture of the adventure, just as sure as his photographs do.
It’s a gentle, leisurely, clip-clopping hoof through a Spain that was about to change forever, due to the death of the dictator a couple of years later and the arrival of the country into the European Union just over a decade after that. I wrote this somewhere else, but I love the bit near the end of the journey – but not the end of the book – where he writes: ‘Before arriving in Tudela we cross into the Province of Navarra – BIG SMILES!’
Whether you’re stuck in a northern hemisphere winter and want a slice of sizzling Spanish sun, or are a southern hemisphere dweller yearning for some memories of the Land of Fiesta, and Siesta, and so much more…this is a great, not so much ‘off-the-wall’ but from-the-saddle wee travel book and I love it. And always, always…the Land of The Big Smile awaits.
In a previous life I was a courier, driving around the UK in a small van. When I was stuck in London or the Home Counties I used to listen on local BBC London Radio to a chap called Robert Elms. He has a great show, (he also happens to be a fluent Spanish speaker and is a bullfight aficionado, but that’s just coincidence, and I believe a couple of you out there know him) and once a week he has a slot called ‘Listed Londoner.’
A guest, always someone who has ‘done’ something, is invited on to the show, who lives, or has lived, in the city, whether born there or not, and is asked a series of questions, the ‘list’ about London. Well, with apologies to señor Olmos, I’ve borrowed the idea and transferred it to Pamplona, Navarra, Fiestaland.
(As an aside, I’m writing this bit on Monday 6th Feb while listening to the Robert Elms Show and his Listed Londoner today is a lady called Jumoke’ Fashola. And I like the fella even more now, as he’s just said – and all my friends who know what a techno-numpty I am will understand this – that he doesn’t have a mobile phone. Top man!)
Back to Pamplona. I’ve chosen Rolf von Essen to be Driftero Numero Uno for many reasons, but they’re all encompassed by one thing: of all the foreign fiesta-folk I know, he has been going the longest. So it’s because he knows a lot, has done a lot, has massive enthusiasm for all things Iberian and taurine related…and because he’s a mate.
He hasn’t been able to make it back for the last couple of years due to his keeping the nurses busy in his native Sweden, but boy does he have some stories to tell about his travels and experiences over his 50 years plus being immersed in the Iberian and taurine world.
Remember, too, that this part of the piece is just one short snippet of his life concentrated on Pamplona. Those of us who have seen a few of his other stories on social media have read a smidgen more of his adventures, and the following comprises just a mere fraction of that smidgen that makes up the Pamplona portion of his life.
So, hey ho, let’s go. I’ve written it and said it before, and whether one likes the phrase or not – there are certain folk who I think of as Pamplona Royalty, and Rolf is certainly one of them. And so, señoras y señores, indeed damas y caballeros, and perhaps, as I regard some Sanfermineros as Pamplona Royalty, duquesas y duques, it’s time for my very first ‘Fiesta Drifter.’
And for the very last time shall he be known as Rolf von Essen, because from now on he will be known by one or two of his many nom-de-plumes, nom-de-guerre’s, nom-de corrida’s and indeed, noms-known-by-the-authorities…
Take it away, Rey Rolfo…
RODOLFO VON ESSEN – El Niño de la Caseta.
Okay folks, here’s the first paragraph that Rolf sent me about himself, which I hope will encourage you to click on the link after it, to read more about how he fell in love with the bulls, the bullfight, ‘el mundo taurine’ and hence, of course…’el arte.’
ROLF: Foreign Languages, I speak 8. I have lived under 4 wars: The Finnish Winter War, WWII, the Katanga War (the Congo), and the drug related and guerrilla controlled war condition in Colombia in the 1980’s. The guerrillas used to partly finance their operation by the kidnappings of foreigners against ransom. It happened to several of my colleagues, some of them never returned.
My first registered reminiscence of bullfighting dates from August 29th or 30th, 1947, when a Stockholm newspaper… (Tim: click here for the story in full, folks.)
Tim 1: What are your five favourite books to do with what I call ‘Fiestaland.’ (Spain, Iberia, Navarra, etc.) Perhaps a taurine book, a fiesta book, a fictional book, a factual book, any other relevant and related book…the choice is yours to mix and match as you please! Rolf 1: Five favourite books: 1: LOS TOROS by José María Cossío. 30 volumes. 2: IBERIA by James A. Michener. 3: ‘The Drifters’ by James A. Michener. 4: ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway. 5: ‘Death in the Afternoon’ by Ernest Hemingway. 6: BRAVE EMPLOYMENT by Walter Johnston. Tim – That’s six books Rolf! And apart from the Cossio 30 volumes, I’ve got the others of course!)
Tim 2: Favourite Pamplona or San Fermin book. (Okay Rolf…books!): Rolf 2: The Drifters by James A. Michener. 2: Las Bodas de Pamela by Hans ‘To-To’ Tovoté. 3: PAMPLONA by Ray Mouton
Tim 3: Favourite Fictional Sanferminero: Rolf 3: Harvey Holt, “The Tech Rep”, from The Drifters. Tim – Ha! Had to be. A great choice.)
Tim 4: Favourite fiesta/taurine film or documentary: Rolf 4: Blood and Sand (1941) directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth, Anthony Quinn.
Tim 5: Favourite Spanish music/band/singer. Rolf 5: Manolo Escobar, El Camarón de La Isla and Raimundo Lanas.
Tim 6: Favourite San Fermin real life foreigner of film, music, writing, etc. Rolf 6: Orson Welles.
Tim 7: Favourite torero(s) and favourite plaza de toros, including the present day and the past. Rolf 7: Favourite toreros of the present day: Morante de La Puebla, Talavante, and Andrés Roca Rey. Favourite plaza present day: La Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla. Bullfighter of the past: Antonio Ordóñez Araujo. Plaza of the past: La Monumental de Barcelona.
Tim 8: Favourite bar in Pamplona. Rolf 8: Bar Fitero, calle Estafeta.
Tim 9: Favourite restaurant: Rolf 9: In the past: Hartza (Cuesta de Labrit.) Las Pocholas (El Rey Noble) when it was on Paseo Sarasate. Casa Mauleón. Casa Marceliano. Otano. Aralar. Amostegui. Present day: Europa, Bar Savoy, San Ignacio.
Tim 10: Favourite trip within Spain. (And a ‘Tim’ note: Please, please read Rolf’s full account of this trip in the extra ‘link’ below!). Rolf 10: El tren Correo, the mail train, Barcelona-Pamplona on July 5th. I am now speaking 1960’s. This was a complete adventure. One could NOT call somewhere and have a ticket reserved, NO, one had to get it in person from the taquilla at the station and not until the very day of departure!
Tim: As mentioned above, folks, please read the full story on the link below. Have you ever had to get out and PUSH the train that was taking you to Pamplona? Rolf has, I kid you not…read on folkshere!)
Tim 11: Invent a pintxo and a brand new fiesta cocktail! Rolf 11: Pintxo: Fresh duck liver, sautéd in water, butter and Oloroso sherry, spiced with black pepper from mill, junipers, sea salt, on toasted white bread. (Superb, Rolf!) Drink: 10 cl Underberg, a dash of Tabasco, 2 cl Vodka, tomato juice. Shaken, not stirred, served in highball, on the rocks. Kills ANY hangover. The Red Shit of the 22nd century!
(Probably horses, too …) Tim: Then I’ll try it on a horse first, Rolf…
Tim 12: Spiritual home in Pamplona. (Mine is the grass and gutter opposite Txoko…my first fiesta home!): Rolf 12: Down by the River Arga, camping with the gitanos.
Tim 13: Favourite building in Pamplona. (Could be that bar/restaurant again) Rolf 13: La Casa Consistorial.
Tim 14: Best view in Pamplona: Rolf 14: From the wall, approximately halfway between the Caballo Blanco and the area where the Lost Peña Vodka Party is held. Tim – Si, tio Rolfo, I’m with you there.)
Tim 15: Favourite open space. Rolf 15: Plaza de Los Fueros. Tim: When I asked Rolf ‘why’ there, this is what he wrote.) Rolf: Por las cojonudas actuaciones de los Dantzaris una vez por feria. What they perform are the timeless, ancient, Navarran – AND Basque – almost acrobatic dances! If one looks at the bodies of the guys, one understands that there is a LOT of physical exercise behind their Arte! – Amazingly, although I’ve seen this sort of thing elsewhere of course, I have never popped up to the Pl. de Los Fueros during Fiesta to see them…but rest assured Uncle Rolf…now I shall!)
Tim 16: If you could travel through time to Pamplona’s past…what era or year would you travel to? Rolf 16: The middle of the 1920’s, when Hemingway got to know it! Tim – Si señor! And I’ve already been there, once-upon-a-time…)
Tim 17: Most interesting or favourite shop? Rolf 17: The little shop on C/del Pozo Blanco, to the right of Rest. Amostegui, where one can buy all sizes and fashions of txapelas and the original hand made alpargatas and also fajas. Tim – You dedicated follower of fashion, you…)
Tim 18: Favourite Pamplona landmark? Rolf 18: When arriving by car, on the old two lane road from Donostia, the road goes up hill after the railway station and in a curve you see a bit of the old wall that hasn’t been removed – then you know that after the next curve on top of the hill, you will have arrived – YOU ARE IN PAMPLONA! Tim – Yes! I’ve actually written about arriving in Pamplona, driving along that road before…and when I cross under, and through, the ‘Portal Nuevo’…that’s it…I’m in!)
Tim 19: ‘One more thing…’ (Write anything that springs to mind…if anything does!
Tim: 20: ‘Not a lot of people know that!’ (Similar to above, I’m just experimenting with this last bit, to give ‘the guest’ a chance to write something in his/her own voice.) Rolf – 19 and 20: ‘One More Thing.’ Scenario: THE FISH JACKET. I wake up, having slept on my arms on a café table (THE TRADITIONAL WEE NAP, FOR CHRISSAKE!). It’s bloody hot, the sun shines awkwardly into my eyes and I try remember who I am and what I am doing on a café table. My black jacket is on the floor between my feet, my travelling bag, by my side, there are some people at my table, I can’t see a thing because of the sun and a MAGNIFICENT hangover, when I recoil for some strange, pink object approaching my face and I hear a deep, male, bass voice say: “THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED, BUDDY”, and, finally, I see a hand holding a glass with some pink liquid and ice cubes. I grab, trembling, the glass and taste the contents – aaaaaaaaaaaaah, sweet, cold and good, I empty it in 2-3 gulps and sit up in my chair, ready to take in the new day! Tim: If you want some more, with a fiesta cocktail of Welles, Hemingway, Gardener, Ordóñez, Carney…and of course…fish!…then read on here.
Tim 21:‘A secret.’ (Yup, again, similar to the first two…still just experimenting…) Rolf 21: A secret. A VERY hot afternoon in 1962, my future wife and I are sitting at the terrace of Bar Eslava at the Plaza del Castillo. That summer temperature reached 40° Celsius during 2-3 afternoons. Anyway, back to the Eslava. I saw some other guys taking off their shirts, and so did I. Wonderful relief in the heat! Tim: There’s more, including how to win a free day’s (and night, the full 24 hours!) accommodation during Fiesta. Just click here.)
Tim 22: Favourite Spanish expression, motto, phrase, words of wisdom…or even what you’d like on your Pamplona Plaque!
Rolf 22: ‘¡Los Años No Perdonan!’ Tim: I had this down as ‘The passing years don’t forgive!’ or, as in ‘getting on a bit’ ‘Time Will Tell!’ But no! Rolf told me it means… GETTING OLD SUCKS!)Rolf: On my tombstone I would like the old family joke (in German):
VON ESSEN GEBOREN, VON TRINKEN GESTORBEN!
Tim: And finally, but briefly… A San Ferscene-ario: What would be your perfect 24 Hours of Fiesta, starting any time of the day or night, but ending 24 hours later. Rolf: My favourite 24 hrs of Fiesta start at 07.00, when I go to the REDIN to have coffee and Patxarán watching the encierro on their TV. At 08.15 to the Txoko for Kaikú y coñac with the ‘guys’. At 09.00 to La Raspa on C/Merced for el almuerzo de los corredores and improvised jotas from whoever appears of the joteros.
At 12.00 Paseo de Sarasate for a concert of jotas. 14.00 El vermú at the Fitero. 14.30 el apartado. 15.30-17.30 lunch at the Europa. 17.40 quick drink at the Windsor. 18.00 to the bullring. 18.30-21.00 bullfight. 21.30 Al Capone. 23.00 dinner at the Savoy. 01.00 Windsor. 03.00-06.30 all the bars on C/Jarauta. 06.30 catching up with La Pamplonesa at la Plaza Consistorial. 06.30-07.00 Dancing along the streets with the band to the music of their Dianas. My 24 hours are complete.
Tim: And probably, Rolf, 24 of the most perfect but exhausting hours of fiesta anyone could have. Fantástico!
Muchas gracias eta mil esker Rolfo, maestro, torero, fiestero y golfo. What I love about this is that I’ve learnt a lot about some books, films, music and just general ‘stuff’ that I never knew about…and hopefully, as I choose more ‘Fiesta Drifters’ I’ll learn a whole fiesta-full more! Plus, I just love hearing other people’s Sanfer-stories… and Rolf has over half a century’s worth of them.
So that, folks, brings a fitting end to this first ever Fiesta Drifter. Again, my humble thanks and huge gratitude have to go to Rolf, who through a fair amount of difficulty and hassle, along with having to deal with my computing numbnuttery, managed to put together a wonderful drift through a life of Fiesta.
As I mentioned, there is so, so much more to read, really this morsel is just one pintxo on a bar top laden with a multi-coloured rainbow platter of them. Please, please dip in and click on the links to read more about some great adventures Rolfo El Golfo had along the way.
Next time, the Fiesta Drifter might well be Joe Distler… though if he reads what I’ve written above, he might just change his mind…
And finally, in place of the occasional video I sometimes use to end these pieces, a photo from Rolf’s collection. For those of us that know, the three figures are fairly ease to name…but where in Pamplona are they? And no, after three guesses I still didn’t get it… Sanfermineros… ¡Ya falta menos!
A few years ago I went alone to Navarra in September to photograph the fiestas and to run a few encierros while I was there. Staying on the edge of Pamplona my morning drive daily took me south and west to Peralta, Olite and other typical Navarran towns where the fiestas come later in the summer. It was a colourful but sober week as I took hundreds upon hundreds of photographs. Later I realised that, despite being there, enjoying my time and occasionally meeting friends, I was not truly in fiestas but was on the periphery. I was an outsider looking in, poking my lens towards a familiar world but staying right on the threshold. Even when I put the camera down to have a drink or to run I was conscious of being alone, being on a schedule and being being restricted. I came back from Navarra with some beautiful photographs and some nice memories but with a sense of having been on assignment rather than on holiday.
On one of the mornings in Peralta I had a very scary but ultimately rewarding encierro – full pelt with nowhere to go and the horns of a toro closing in very fast as I timed my exit to perfection and breathed sighs that were both relief and exhilaration. It had been my best run of the week, the summer and probably much longer. In that post-run turmoil of emotions and memories I wanted what most runners want; I wanted to share it. It is a very human thing – we like to break things down and analyse them, to get perspectives, to relive and re-enact. I didn’t want to share to boast about the run, I just wanted to go through the process. But I was alone. So I shared my encierro with a caña and a coffee in a little bar and later, when the adrenalin had worn off and my need to share was gone, I drove off to the next fiesta feeling that, somehow, the experience was missing something. I felt as Charlotte Bront? did when she wrote; “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.”
The very notion of sharing almost hints at its own reward. Any modest event can be heightened by the multiplication factor of others having gone through the same thing. Mass participation events always seem to generate an incredible vibe or movement that far outstrips the quality contained therein, such to the point that people just want to be able to say that they were there.
Not that there is anything wrong with solitude. Thoreau said; “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” The truth and purity of an experience holds its integrity far longer if not shared – it is less likely to be tainted by exaggeration, embellishment or downright dishonesty. This is because our experiences are both fragile and fleeting. From their birth they instantly growing, distorting and gradually moving away from us as we try hard to hold onto them, keep them fresh and not lose their value. We share them to try to maintain or even increase their value – ultimately to keep them alive.
In our world of social media, instant data and the associated hunger to expand our personal brand, it is easy to share. Experiences fly around the globe in an instant, shrinking that world and allowing us to share on a phenomenal scale. And my, but we do like to share! We share updates of our every movement, our meals and every “funny” video uploaded to YouTube. We share philosophies, challenges and political viewpoints. We share our love, our hate and our indifference. The world is in a sharing boom, yet trawl through all of that data and what is its value? When you look back at the volume of content you have shared over the last 10 years or so, just how much of it is still alive for you in the same way? How much of it would you share all over again?
“Visibility without Value is Vanity.” Bernard Kelvin Clive.
I have shared a picture on social media a handful of times. It is a picture of me with two other friends on the opening day of fiestas in Tafalla, Navarra. We are wearing the traditional fiestas clothes, clutching drinks and singing our heads off. It is a wonderful image of a wonderful memory of a wonderful moment for me and I have obviously found it worth sharing more than once. Yet, the value is not in the sharing online as those who were not there cannot add to its value and those who were, already appreciate the value. What keeps that moment alive is the memory of the day itself and the warmth of the friendship that exists.
“Even though friends say they are interested in your life, they never really want to talk about you as much as you want them to,” said Charise Mericle Harper, and this hints at the belief that sharing can be a law of diminishing returns – the true intrinsic value is only represented by the picture. Look at the works of the surrealist artist Rene’ Magritte – he challenged us to look at things and to assess what they truly are, what they truly mean, what they truly represent and ultimately if they are worth what we think they are.
Something shared stays alive in its purest form for only a short time and what follows is that desire to keep it alive. Truly we don’t do that online but in our hearts. A couple of years ago our small group was in Buñuel in southern Navarra. We were running a few modest encierros. One of my dearest friends, and one I go back to my first year in Pamplona with, was with me and we were running in a quiet section of the streets. The dice roll fell favourably, the Gods of the encierro smiled on us and we ran up the street almost side by side, the pack of horns closing steadily, but almost benignly and we stepped out of the way calmly and together as the herd shot up towards the church of Santa Ana.
It was a moment we shared. We turned to each other and smiled with the mutual happiness and mutual understanding of a nice run that had gone well. “That’s why we do this,” I said to my friend, “that’s what it’s all about.”
We didn’t need to go over the run in detail. The value was much more philosophical than that. It was a nice run and we had shared it in the moment. No amount of analysis would improve it. Racking up hundreds of “likes” on Facebook would not give it extra value. Holding it in our hearts with a smile would be enough to sustain it.
There have been so many other trivial, short-lived, personal and fleeting moments, whimsical moments even, that I have shared in the 15 years of fiestas of Navarra, Spain and beyond. Imagine a time running down the street with a friend and singing the lyrics of a Rolling Stones song at each other. How do you share such a thing beyond the pair of you without somehow diminishing the true value? How do you explain the laughter gained from a comment in the moment, an atmosphere, a sudden piece of music, an amusing incident? Sharing is voluntarily given but also voluntarily received and while we can dictate the medium in which we launch our content, we cannot dictate how it will be interpreted. As Antonio Porchia said; “I know what I have given you…I do not know what you have received.” Often our good intentions will simply be met with ambivalence or worse, utter contempt. That is often the price of sharing. Sometimes the old ribald comment of “you had to be there,” is absolutely correct, so why try to breathe artificial life into something that has none?
I am with Jose Panate-Aceves and John Hayes with their; “Discover the fulfilment of intimate relationships with flesh-and-blood neighbours and teammates in a concrete place and time, and we escape the pressure of mainstream media to channel intimacy only as a virtual embrace.”
Somewhere in between the loneliness of solitude and the loneliness that drives over-exposure to the world through social media is where the true value of sharing sits. Only we can decide where that actually is, but perhaps the final judge is in reflection. Ultimately there is a beautiful joy in having shared something wonderful, but not over-shared it.
San Fermin. Two of the greatest words in language.
‘’And so have ended the Fiestas of San Fermin…’’ Some of the most melancholy words…but so they sang, and we sang too, with the closing ‘Pobre-De-Mi’ ceremony, as this year’s Fiesta faded explosively away – only in Pamplona can something fade away ‘explosively!’ – and thus the unbridled anticipation of July 5th gave way to the exhausted calm of July 15th.
And personally, due to circumstances, I have not had such a San Fermin in a feria long time, (gawd-awful pun…sorry!) Actually, not so much as ‘in a very long time’, but ever, in a way, as something special happened which I’ll come back to at the end of this piece, as it involves me and I usually prefer not to be the centre of attention but to participate, and be involved in, and then be swamped and finally submergedby fiesta.
Writing about myself is just not my thing, (although I have to occasionally) especially when it comes to writing such things as these Sanfermin.com articles, as I would rather write about other people and events than myself. I honestly like neither the ‘me’ in ‘media,’ or indeed the ‘i.’ Which leaves us with just the ‘da’ and I have no idea what that might mean. Hey ho, la-di-da…
But first things first. Along with the melancholy of saying goodbye to fiesta, we also had the sadness of saying adios, (hopefully, actually, just ‘hasta luego’) at a special Mass, to three true Sanfermineros who left us over the year. More of which below. And then, at the end of August, came the shocking and incomprehensible news of the oh-so-sudden and unexpected passing of that great running man, Julen Madina.
Some events are just unthinkable in their shocking “I just can’t believe it” suddenness, and Julen’s death was one of those. I didn’t know him too well but had a wonderful chat with him at Bar Txoko this year after one of the runs, and all I can say is he was on top form, with his personality, charm and charisma shining through. He was more interested in me than talking about himself. I may write more about him another time, but I did do a piece on him for these pages, after I’d had a long telephone conversation with him a couple of years ago, and, for those who are interested, you can read it here.
However, some words have to be said, and I shall leave them to his great friend Joe Distler. These words are not something Joe wrote after deep thought, for some newspaper or magazine, rather they were straight from the heart and direct off the cuff comments to me in a private email after Julen’s death. So with his direct permission…take it away, Joe.
‘As for Julen I have been in a state of total depression since he died. We had run together for over 40 years since we were practically kids. He was one of the first Spanish runners to recognize us as equals. This means nothing to young runners today but for years the Spanish, except for Atanasio, looked down on us. Miguel Angel Eguiluz, Chema Esparza, Jokin Zuasti, Javier Solano (yes, he was a good runner before becoming the voice of encierro,) Antonio Campeon and Julen came up to me one day before the run and one after another wished me “suerte”. It was like receiving the Academy Award. Hard to realize how important that was to us as foreign runners.
Then I was the first foreigner ever invited to the Runners’ Breakfast at Casa Paco on the 14th, followed by Jim Hollander and now we outnumber the Spaniards.
Over the years the friendships we have made with our Spanish bull running friends in Pamplona have become an important part of our lives. There is a mutual respect and understanding of living all the traditions of the encierro and sharing great moments both in the streets and elsewhere. All of us who run will cherish Julen as one of the great Maestros of all time and a run will not go by when we won’t think of him.
If Julen had died on the horns of a bull I would have been sad but not destroyed as we all know what dangers lies in running. But for a powerful force like him to go the way he did is debilitating. I had spoken to him three days before he died, talking about his recovery from being gored a few weeks before. He and his new Lady were planning on visiting me in my home in La Villajoyosa.
I am weak even writing this as I am so affected by his death.
Con un abrazo, Joseph.
And now, after that truly moving tribute, back to the article. Normally, as I said, I try not to stand out, so let’s start with a wee message to one very important person, who, as I said at one point pre-fiesta at a rather surprise event I was invited to participate in, “wasn’t exactly here, but is around here.” I’d arrived in town for one night on Friday 1st July, and the city’s band, La Pamplonesa, were having a pre-fiesta concert in front of the town hall that evening, to be followed by some local singing and dancing with Navarran jotas.
A little clip of La Pamplonesa, Friday 1st July 2016. The whole concert’s at the end, for those like me who love ‘em!
It was a proper concert too, with a big stage for the band, (it’s a big band.) Along with Director J. Vicent Egea, there are 46 musicians. That makes them bigger than The Rolling Stones! Hundreds of chairs were laid out for people to sit on with many others standing around or dancing, all enjoying the music. Little did I know that it had been arranged that I be invited onto the stage (see? Pamplona – they grab you and make you a part of them) to say a few words to everyone, between the end of the band playing the concert and the start of the jotas.
This was all down to being chosen by Kukuxumusu to be awarded their ‘Guiri del Año’ – Foreigner of the Year – prize. (More of which later, due to the previously mentioned unease with ’me, centre of attention, media stuff, etc.’) Gracias Manuman, for arranging that little bit of public speaking…you may be a cross-dressing six and a half foot tall blue bull sometimes but you’re also a cabron! So beware, Mr. Testis, because my revenge will be sweet… If you ever see me with a large pair of scissors, you’d better start running ‘cos I’m going to de-cojon you.
Oh, by the way, I’d also like to say thanks to Laly Jausoro and Jacobo Roura Formoso. Laly had something to do with all concert stuff and my culo being dragged up on stage to make my wee speech, (and she was the singer during the folk lore part of the concert) and she helped me just feel at ease, while Jacobo, with his calm presence and reassuring sense of ‘it’ll be alright on the night,’ (plus the supply of the odd beer or two!) helped settle any nerves I had left. Osasuna, guiriak!
However, “unaccustomed as I am to public speaking” etc, but having been in town at that stage for several hours I was by then fortified by some of the local medicine, (hic) so it all went okay. Even the song I attempted to sing. I kid you not… Well, they didn’t lynch me. But then, they couldn’t catch me… In all seriousness actually, folks, never in my wildest imaginings could I ever have dreamt that I’d be standing on a stage in front of Pamplona’s iconic Town Hall, before Fiesta, making a speech to hundreds of people after La Pamplonesa had played, and with some Navarran folklore singers and dancers. I have been in Dreamland and it is beautiful.
Oh, and did I write earlier ‘a wee message to one very important person?’ Wrong. To THE most important person. And luckily, at the end of my little speech (again – ‘cos I just like saying it – on stage, with the lit up Town Hall behind me…wonderful, I never could have imagined I’d be doing something like that in my beloved Pamplona,) I did actually remember to mention the fella.
Okay, I know, it’s me…but I have to. What a pleasure and an honour.
So to mi amigo Fermin, my friend, our friend: Please keep giving us your fiesta, San Fermin, please keep trying to protect us with your cloak, oh Holy Man, and please keep covering the town with your alegria, your happiness, you magic man. Some people say you never existed, some say that even if you did, you’re dead now…but I believe differently.
For exist you did and dead you are not. For I have seen the ghosts of fiestas past dancing up on the hill by the Church of San Fermin de Aldapa, (I have you know, folks, and I can prove it, for I see them often.) And, amigos, I have no doubt that our fabled saint is among them. After all, why wouldn’t he be dancing at his own party? Just come along with me during fiesta one darkness hour and I’ll show you some middle-of-the-night ghostly magic.
Sentimental poppycock perhaps? No. Not so much sentimentality as just San Fermintality and friendly fiesta sorcery.
So to my friend and our friend, like I said up on that stage a few days before Fiesta: to a man who isn’t exactly here but is around here ¡Viva San Fermin! Gora.
Now, onwards with the scribblings. From glorious ghosts of the past to friendly phantoms of the present.
NOEL CHANDLER, DAVE PIERCE AND RAFAEL TORRES ARBIZU.
Sadly, Fiesta began once again began with a Memorial Mass on July 5th dedicated to a few people, but I shall concern myself here with just three of them. Those three were of course true Sanfermineros. I wrote ‘Fiesta began…on July 5th’ as I always think of the 5th as ‘San Fermin Eve’ and literally, ‘the advance party.’
Los tres: the Gentleman that was Noel Chandler, the Joker that was Big Dave Pierce, and the Runner who was Rafael ‘El Gitano’ Torres, from Pamplona. I’ve already written about Noel and Big Dave before, over this past fiesta year, during their gentle dance from this Earth to that Fabled Fiesta in the Sky, so I won’t repeat myself again, suffice to say you can read about them both here, and here.
But while we’re here I must just say something about Rafa Torres. I never knew him but I did know of him, of course, as he was one of that group of runners who I aspired to be like when I first went in 1984. From the 1960’s to the ‘90’s he was a true bull runner, and he was from that evocative era when just about everyone ran in red and white, as you can see from the wonderful photo below. He’s the chap citing the bull with his faja, the red sash.
Just for the record, the Mass was presided over by Father Felix Garcia de Eulate, but I’d like to also make a special mention of Fermin Baron, known as Pitu to his friends and to many of us as Fer Min Txo, who spoke beautifully and movingly about Noel, ‘The Welsh Lion.’
From the very start, where he began with, “The enormous heart of the old Welsh lion, spent from so much living, has finally stopped beating…” to the very end, ‘’There’s nothing more to say, only that we love you very much, Mister Chandler…always. See you soon, my friend. Safe journey…” he caught the mood wonderfully and emotionally, while not forgetting the other two, either. Fantastico, Fer Min Txo.
Finally, once again one has to thank that dynamic fiesta duo Bunny, and JJ (he’s nicknamed ‘Dance-Dance’ although for the life of me I can’t imagine why,) Centurion, as during a trip to Pamplona for last New Year’s Eve, they asked the previous Pastor at the church, Padre Santos Villanueva, to schedule a mass for Noel. Then when Big Dave died this year he was naturally added, and Joe Distler asked for Rafa to be included too. Such is the wonderful big Pamplona family we are so lucky to be a part of.
And so before fiesta had even begun three more, and then after it, four, of Fiesta’s great Sanfermineros joined the ever growing table where those mythical fiesteros sit. I’d love to have seen the look on Bomber’s face as Noel arrived, running like in the old days, but with glass in hand…and not a drop spilt. While Big Dave would be making them all laugh… A Lifetime of Fiesta Well Lived, Caballeros, with, now, Canito up there to take the photos. ‘Adios,’ caballeros? I doubt that, only hasta luego…
FRANSISCO CANO LORENZA – ‘CANITO’
I know, I know, this is becoming a parade of the passed, but I have to mention just one more man. To quote the online version of the ‘El Mundo’ newspaper, of Wednesday 27th July, ‘The mythical photographer Fransisco Cano Lorenzo, at 103 years of age, has died in the early hours of this Wednesday.’ Yup, 103 years old…and over 70 of them photographing the world of the bullfight. No, I’m not really an aficionado and I didn’t know him but I’d like to mention him.
I saw him in Pamplona, of course, but never dared speak to him…after all, what do you say to a man who knows the taurine world inside out, and photographed Hemingway, Orson Welles, Sophia Loren and, according to him, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world,’ Ava Gardner? “Hola, señor, my name’s…aw, forget it…”
He lived an extraordinary life immersed in the world of toreros, toros and corridas, and although I’m not qualified to go into it, I wanted to write just a little about him. To remember a man who contributed much not just to fiesta, but to so much more in the wider taurine world…and also, for those who had never heard of him but are interested in these things, well, they now have another name and piece of history they can look into.
Too many families and friends have lost too many special Sanfermineros this past year (the fabulous El Guti died, too, and you can read his about his unique fiesta contribution here. Fiesta and el mundo taurino have lost some extraordinary folk, but such is life, sadly. To you who gave so much during Fiesta, gracias. I wonder, how does Paradise photograph, Mr. Cano? I’ll bet with all the beauty of Earth, plus with some colours unknown to us that you’ll capture magically on film.
And so to those mozos and maestros Rafael, Big Dave, Noel and Julen…may you not only Rest In Peace when you so desire…but Run In Paradise too when the mood takes you. Our beloved City Without Equal will miss you forever.
THE HEMINGWAY FIESTA HOUSE
Here’s one of those interesting (to me) snippets of fiesta history that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, and now seems about the right time to pop into the past after the above catalogue of present day San Fermin sadness.
Before the 1959 fiesta, due to a slight mix up, Hemingway and part of his entourage had nowhere to stay. I’ve read many reasons why, in various books by a wife, an editor and even a daughter-in-law, about what might have gone wrong, but suffice to say San Fermin was approaching and they were homeless for fiesta.
In the book ‘How It Was’ by Hemingway’s fourth, and last wife, Mary, she makes no mention of any accommodation problem, just that when she and Annie Davis, (the wife of Bill, Americans who lived in Malaga) arrived in Pamplona they failed to find the house that had been rented for them, and so had to go on to the square to find everyone first. They were at a bar, of course…
In ‘Papa Hemingway’ by his then editor, A.E. Hotchner, he puts the blame onto Juanito Quintana, whose job it was apparently to secure bullfight tickets and hotel rooms, but had managed to get neither. Whether this is true or not, who knows, but Hemingway was not angry at all with his old friend, who he’d originally met on his first visits to Pamplona in the 1920’s. As I’ve noticed a couple of mistakes in Hotchner’s book, I’d like to think that blaming Quintana is one too. But…
… In ‘Running With The Bulls’ by Valerie Hemingway, (she later married one of his sons, Gregory) there is a clue that maybe Quintana was in charge of organising a few things. Valerie Danby-Smith, as she was then, was a young Irish journalist working in Madrid in 1959, and who that May had managed to get an interview with Hemingway. He invited her to join his crowd and come to San Fermin, even asking Quintana to get extra corrida tickets and a room for her.
She still wasn’t sure about going, but one mid-June day as she was walking past her former residence, the concierge ran out, informing her that a letter and a package had arrived for her. It was from Quintana, saying that he’d made a reservation for her in Pamplona, and that if she couldn’t come, could she let him know by June the 15th? It was now June 16th.
That decided it for her, fate took over, and she was now a part of the Hemingway cuadrilla, his ‘party’ or ‘gang.’ In a nice touch, the package that Quintana sent her contained a copy of Inge Morath’s book, ‘Guerra a la Tristesse,’ a book on bull-fighting. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked what I’ve heard about Quintana, and that little kind act just adds to my admiration. Apparently Ernest had asked Quintana to send it to her, so she could learn a little about fiesta, and whatever the truth about any mix-ups with the accommodation, he got the book to Miss Danby-Smith.
So no mention there either of any mix up, but it does seem Quintana had been asked to arrange some things and why not, as he was an old friend of Ernest’s and a native of Pamplona. Whatever the truth, pre-fiesta the Hemingways, and their friends, Bill and Annie Davis, the American couple at whose house near Malaga they were based at that summer, were heading to Pamplona via some other bullfights but would apparently be homeless when they got there.
However, a small house was found for them quite quickly, and so just before fiesta the Hemingways’ and the Davis’s soon found themselves ensconced in the aptly numbered and named, 7, San Fermin Street. I doubt even Ernest himself could have made that up. And from now on the story gets a lot clearer, thanks to an article written by A. Ollo, that appeared in the special fiesta supplement from the Diario de Navarra newspaper of July 5th, 2009.
Inside the Casa de Fiesta
Whatever the mix up in accommodation, the house for that San Fermin nearly sixty sunlit summer’s ago was owned by a friend of Quintana’s, Jose Arrieta Lara, who lived there with his wife Patrocinio Mendizabal, and their four daughters. The newspaper article makes no mention of any problems that the Hemingways may have had with accommodation, or any failure on Quintana’s part, only that Ernest’s old friend wanted to surprise him.
The article goes on to say that Quintana was helped by one Rosalia Guerendain Larrayoz, part owner of a rather well known Pamplona restaurant that Hemingway frequented. Did I say ‘part owned?’ Yup, the other part owners being her eight, yes eight sisters, and whose collective nickname was ‘The Darlings’ which thus gave the restaurant it’s unofficial name.
Properly called ‘Hostal del Rey Noble’ it was more widely known by the nickname given to those nine sisters: ’Las Pocholas.’ Yup, ‘The Darlings.’ And with that house, so close to the bullring and by Half Moon Park, (surprisingly, still a little secret unknown by many foreigners, it seems to me) well, he must surely have provided that surprise. And as for the address, drunk or not…how could anyone forget that?
The only slight problem was one of space, as Hemingway also wanted a writing room, but with some rearranging of rooms, beds and mattresses, etc, a bit of furniture borrowed from relatives and making use of the dining room and basement, the Pamplona family managed to remain in their house while the Hemingways and their friends Bill and Annie Davis were all put up to everyone’s satisfaction.
So a bit crowded it may have been but everyone seems to have been happy and Hemingway got his writing room, too. Quintana supplied ice every day for the great man’s drinks as there was no fridge, and breakfast was included in the price but apparently Hemingway never took it. He was always first out of the house, either to go to Bar Choko, (as it was spelt then) or to watch the encierro…and sometimes no doubt both.
I haven’t seen that wee house on any of the official Hemingway tours, although I could be mistaken, but every time I pass the house I say a little thank you to him. The magnificent bust of Hemingway in front of the bull ring is great and imposing and is where many folk obviously go to pay homage, or just to give a nod and a wink, or raise a glass to say ‘salud’…but my little spot is an almost forgotten house where, for all his many faults, a great man, who essentially brought us all here to this magical town, was, even though he didn’t know it then, to spend his final ever San Fermin. Muchas gracias, y salud, Don Ernesto.
Okay…it’s Guiri of the Year time…
As many people know, for many years now, (this year was the thirteenth,) Those Magnificent Madmen and their Kukuxumusu Machine have chosen someone to be rewarded as their Foreigner of the Year. There is no real criteria to be given it, you just have to go to Fiesta, love Fiesta, or just have some connection with it…really, it is just Kukuxumusu’s choice.
Now, for those who don’t believe, as I’ve mentioned and written often enough practically since I started writing these articles, that ‘being the centre of attention isn’t really my thing,’ let me tell you that’s the truth. It’s one of the reasons I had asked not to be chosen as the GdelA for several years now when the subject was brought up. But this year, for reasons too unimportant to go into here, when I was offered it…well… I had to accept.
Despite my natural shyness and media-phobia…actually, it’s not a ‘phobia’ it’s just that I think there’s too much of it and too many people seem to want to be seen, or known, or famous or just be some kind of ‘celebrity.’ There are a few reasons why I said yes, but the main one was just to say thanks to all the inmates at the Kukusylum who have been so nice to me over the years, from every shop worker all the way to the (big blue) boss, Mr. Testis. But especially to those who didn’t just encourage me to write articles for Sanfermin.com, (thank you Koldo) but those who have had to put up with my ugly mug showing itself all the time on the premises.
Thanks especially have to go to Manu who has had to deal with me and my computing neanderthalismic numbnutting nutjobbing numptyism (yes, these are all real words, all taken from the Libyan – Basque Dictionary that I’m currently compiling.) He has been a patient and kind fella these last few years putting my articles together from the jumbled jigsaw of scribblings and shots (and awful if artful alliteration) I send him…but best of all he has become a fantastic friend.
Now, without going into the politics of things, and the why’s, why nots and wotnots, there were, as many of you know, two Guiris of the Year this fiesta, awarded by two different companies. Basically, Kukuxumusu were taken over, some people left, but one of the original three who founded the company, Mikel Urmeneta, the comic, cartoon, and design genius, has started a new one, Katuki Saguyaki, and he wanted to also continue with the award and keep the original name ‘Foreigner of the Year’ too, but use it with his new company.
Yup, one guiri was a popular foreign Sanferminero who has being going for decades, is well known in Pamplona and indeed around the world for his work, (indeed, his ‘art’, for that is what it is) due to just how good it, and he, is…and the other was Jim Hollander. Just kidding folks…and sorry Jim!
Jim Hollander thoroughly deserved his award…(congratulations again, fella!) as he really is well known in Pamplona, had a photo of his chosen for the feria poster in 2002, and apart from being involved in a couple of other books, has also had a couple of his own published, including that classic Pamplona photo-book (but read the words from the various contributors too, they’re superb) ‘Run to the Sun’ and the most recent, ‘From Pizarra to Pamplona,’ which I read pre-fest and brought with me to fiesta to ask Jim to sign for me. Which he did, along with a lovely inscription.
Jim Hollander is a Sanferminero through and through, a true aficionado to hoof, along with being a world respected and renowned international photographer. Not bad, eh? And thus it goes without saying, but a richly deserved Guiri of the Year also. So, two Foreigners of the Year. I hope in our different ways we complimented each other.
Oh…and me? Oh…dear. I’ve written a few articles from things I’ve read, robbed and plagiarised, and self-published a couple of wee tales but that’s about it. Oh, there is one more thing though…I do love, love, LOVE Pamplona very, very much. I love its people, its saint and its fiesta to the moon and back…and that was enough for me to be awarded Kukuxumusu Guiri of the Year. Or it could have just been for my staggering good looks.
And do you know what? It was an honour, a pleasure and just a bullring shaped (all round) great fun-filled fiesta thing to be awarded and be involved with. Yes, even the media stuff was a hoot, although some folk who saw my ugly mug must have wondered what the heck El Hombre Elefante had to do with fiesta…anyway…I’m sorry you may have had to contend with my unedifying visage on the tele, (jeez, I’ve actually been told that I don’t even have a face for radio!) or in the papers here and there, but remember, it’s always glass half-full time for me, fiesteros…so it was only for a smidgen of those 204 glorious hours of fiesta.
So once more my thanks to Kukuxumusu, and especially Manu, for choosing me as their Guiri del Año. Hope the cheque didn’t bounce, fellas. Thanks for a great Guiri Day Lunch at the Nainere on Saturday 9th where there were about 50 people attending and I met many other previous GdelA’s, some of whom I knew, and some I didn’t, but where it was obvious that to actually win the thing you have to be slightly off your rocker.
Ah, yes, being ‘off ones rocker’ reminds me to thank my personal invitees who ditched whatever they really wanted to do and came along in support. At least, I hope it was in support, ‘cos I actually think they came not just a free lunch but loads of free alcohol, too. Heck, why do you think I showed up?! Salud, Sanfermineros, I truly appreciated it.
Before I go, a couple of other things happened that made it a truly unique fiesta. I might even include a photo or two… (Look, as I’m talking about me for once I might as well take advantage and dilute a couple of pictures that I’m in with the friends about to be mentioned below.) Back in ’84 when I arrived for my first ever fiesta, little knowing it would be the beginning of a life-long love affair, one of the people I met on the patch of grass opposite Bar Txoko, where the gang I fell in with basically lived for the whole of fiesta was also there for his first year.
His name was Ike del Rosario (it still is) and he’s from California. He remains a great mate and one of my favourite people on the planet, but after the first ten years or so he hasn’t been able to make it back due to, well, life. He made it for New Year’s Eve once, (where he dressed up as Elvis…think ‘Filipino Elvis!’) and I think one more fiesta around 15 years ago. Actually, 1999 rings a bell.
Anyway, before fiesta the gang were in San Sebastian, and imagine my surprise and deep joy when, around midnight, in Constitution Square in the Old Town…there was Ike. Unbelievable. A couple of people knew but had kept it a secret but I had no idea. It all added to the magic of this year’s fiesta.
There was even more to come as there were two more folk there who hadn’t been for I think over twenty years, although everyone had known they were coming for months…James and Maryann from Brisbane. (Although I’d seem them in Australia since.) I first met James in Pamplona in 1986, in the gutter, basically, and thirty years later…
And as if with those three things couldn’t get better, well, they could. An old friend from England who had never been and who was now married and living in America came over, too. So to Tim Pollard, (and son Fergus who he came with) it was great to see you after so long and thanks for also being one of those who just made this year’s San Fermin extra special. And with one Mark Williams returning after nearly thirty years, and the ever present Alan Huggett, that meant four Reigate Hillbillies were in Pamplona for the first time. Happy Daze…
To everyone who had the good grace and just all round sense of fun to say congratulations or ‘felicidades’ to me for being Kuku’s Guiri of the Year…thank you. Just like the unknown folk from Pamplona who stopped me in the street to say something nice, or even to take a ‘selfie’ with me…you ‘got’ it. Thank you. (I know, I know…people wanted a selfie with me, for fiesta’s sake!) I was hailed by complete strangers who laughed with me, joked with me and drank with me. Like I said, Pamplona really does slip off it’s axis… What fun.
‘Cos that’s all it is about, being Foreigner of the year…a bit of publicity for the company, of course…but a whole lot of fun for the victim…me! And I have my ‘trophy’ proudly placed in the living room, and I’m going to keep my special kuku-tiara on until next year’s Guiri Day Lunch…when, even though they will have chosen the 2017 GdelA in June, I shall proudly, and officially, relinquish my crown, and pass it on to whoever is lucky enough to be the next San Fer King or San Fer Queen.
Well, we are just about there, chicos. That’s nearly the end of this, and it’s certainly enough of me. The next puli, (for that is what these articles are called) will be back to the happy normal – almost nothing about me but mostly loads about everything else.
In certain photos the streets of Pamplona appear to be lined with gold, but of course the Fiesta of San Fermin can’t be all silver linings. Fiesta may seem like a fairy tale sometimes but it is real life too, after all. But during what was, in one small way, ‘my year’ I felt like I was treading on cobbles made of gold lined by pavements edged with silver.
Pamplona, I love you. You’re a dreamland, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, heaven on earth, and as a city you’re the genie out of the bottle, with dancing giants, magic people and running bulls. Pamplona and Fiesta is a magical, mythical marvel and inhabited by some of the best people on the planet and I’m a lucky lad and we’re a lucky bunch.
This video of the entire La Pamplonesa pre-fiesta concert in front of the Town Hall is for everyone, but especially for the maestro, mozo, borracho and golfo and all round huevo bueno and mi amigo, Rolf von Essen.
A Civilised Journey to the Heart of the San Ferdream
Well, it’s nearly upon us, Sanfermineros, so ¡ya falta menos! to the lot of yuz, and welcome to one more of Pinks’s Pulitzeros, (prize winning writing it ain’t!) and probably the last one before fiesta, to hoof, as Mr. Testis and The Lokos de Kukuxumusu are getting a bit busy now that the Escalera has hit the 6th of the 6th, and the countdown to Fiesta is truly upon us and about to send our planet spinning off its axis.
The Dutchies have that famous song, ‘When it’s spring again, I’ll sing again, tulips from Amsterdam…’ Well, up here in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Land of Middle Earth on the Mountains of Mordor where I sit upon the Throne of Pinks, writing this, it’s March and the third countdown of the Escalera to Fiesta is upon us, the 3rd of the 3rd, and that cloven hooved, stampeding Game of Horns is rapidly approaching, as it were. As Bogart might have said in that long lost famous film, ‘Caballo Blanco’…
Noel Chandler passed away just a few days ago as I write this, on Wednesday 14th October. Whether one likes the term or not, there are certain people connected to Pamplona that I have always thought of as ‘Pamplona Royalty,’ be they locals or foreigners, and he was certainly one of those.