Barriers

Change

By Mat Dowsett

“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 High kerbstones and round cobbles have been replaced by flatter pedestrian areas and even the encierro route has changed significantly, the last time being in the 1920s.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.”

Sharing – Mat Dowsett

“You are what you share.”
Charles Leadbeater.

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.

Escudo de Larraga

Beyond the Walls , Organisation

By Matt Dowsett

Pamplona. Home of the running of the bulls and the fiesta to end all fiestas. San Fermín draws a varied and international following, but very few foreign visitors are aware that Pamplona is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fiestas and bulls. Across Spain and beyond there are many hundreds of fiestas and thousands of encierros every year. Within the old walls of Pamplona a local drama is played out on an international stage, but beyond the walls are the unseen and untold tales of the people, the bulls and the streets of these other fiestas.

You see it out of the corner of your eyes in fiesta. It doesn’t truly register because you are busy enjoying yourself and thinking of the encierros, the parades, the fireworks or simply where to go for your next drink. But it is there, in the background and hidden in plain sight.

The cogs turn, the engine throbs and the wheels move forward. Fiesta races on, but there has to be someone there to keep it working; someone to look after things and make sure it all runs smoothly.

We don’t want to admit it, because frankly the idea interrupts our fiesta mood, but quite a few people actually WORK in fiesta, do the crappy jobs in fiesta or have to spend time organising fiesta. There are plenty of elements of fiesta that are not much fun and thankfully they are generally done by someone else; bar workers, street cleaners, Police, medical staff, shop workers and event organisers. For them fiesta is not simply a party, it carries responsibility too.

Marisa, the Mayor (Alcaldesa) of Larraga from 2007 to 2011, was kind enough to give me an intimate peek behind the locked doors of the ayuntamiento. While nothing like the scale of San Fermín, the fiestas of San Miguel still hold all of the elements of a typical Navarran celebration and still need a lot of organisation.

Marisa explained that San Miguel was once 9 days in September but was reduced to 7 and moved to August in line with so many others of the region. Organising these fiestas is ultimately the responsibility of the Mayor who gets help from a consejal as well as a commission that meets to agree the events and to gather the opinions of local people who are paying for everything after all. Fiestas are funded through local taxation, an amount that varies depending on what events are wanted and also the economic situation. The downturn, for example, saw a reduction in events in many fiestas due to families being skint.

Planning normally takes 3 months in Larraga and while the core of the fiesta remains largely the same, there are still new or different elements every year.

Not surprisingly the most stressful element is the encierro. There are no corridas in Larraga but plenty of encierros and capeas. The last thing the Ayuntamiento wants is the bad news from some ignorant person getting on the front page of the Diario de Navarra for getting hurt in the encierro. Fortunately injuries from the vacas are rare. All the same a bare minimum of two ambulances must be present and paid for, sourced from different “empresas”. These are not state and there is actually a lot of competition and ultimately the choice will be determined by price. Minor injuries are dealt with onsite and more serious cases result in a ride to Pamplona, about 20 minutes away. Marisa told me that the encierro caused her the greatest worry as well as the fears for the families of anyone getting hurt. The Police, or more specifically the Alguacil, (Sheriff), is ultimately responsible for safety during encierros, cohetes and fireworks and can inflict fines on the town if it has not acted in a safe manner.

For Marisa in fiestas there was a lot of work; making sure everything was running smoothly and attending events with little time for family and friends. She admitted that she felt some dread as fiesta approached because of this. But similarly there were many good things, from lighting the cohete to start the fiestas, to giving the youngest babies and children their pañuelicos and the very moving day of the Patron Saint.

Despite an allegiance to a political party Marisa expressed her belief that politics and fiestas should be kept apart and that fiesta is for everyone. And like Pamplona on 15th July Marisa pointed out that in Larraga, when fiesta is over, life gets back to normal incredibly quickly, practically the next day.

Waiting Mat Dowsett

(English) Beyond the Walls – Waiting

By Matt Dowsett

Pamplona. Home of the running of the bulls and the fiesta to end all fiestas. San Fermín draws a varied and international following, but very few foreign visitors are aware that Pamplona is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fiestas and bulls. Across Spain and beyond there are many hundreds of fiestas and thousands of encierros every year. Within the old walls of Pamplona a local drama is played out on an international stage, but beyond the walls are the unseen and untold tales of the people, the bulls and the streets of these other fiestas.

May.
San Fermín is just a couple of months away and the wonderful fiestas of August in Navarra are less than a hundred days of waiting to endure before they are on us. The anticipation grows and starts to ache at us in a way that we haven’t known since the harsh cold of January when the fiestas and encierros seemed about as far away as they ever could be.

Now the ache comes from an urgency, an urgency to be back in amidst the music, the singing, the dancing, the hot sun, the alegría, the passion and the intensity. It is so close that you can almost touch it but it is cruelly far enough away to be frustrating.

Waiting is not only reserved for those days outside of fiesta, but also within fiesta. Notably we wait in the encierro.

Some of this waiting is harder than others. Waiting in the streets of Pamplona is hard. It is an anxious and noisy time where there appears to be no space whatsoever for solitude, for a moment of peace with yourself to collect your thoughts and make your own preparations. All around you many other people are going through their own routines in their tiny little spots but they all overlap and they all intrude on your own concentration. Pamplona before the encierro contributes to stress, it does not ease it. Contrast this with the photograph which is taken during an encierro in Sartaguda in Navarra. Notice the casual attitudes despite the danger of what may come up the street. Notice the relaxed anticipation – these are people who are nervous, but appear to have all the time in the world to prepare. I lean on the shoulder of my friend, comfortable in the moment and no doubt sharing a story or the promise of a beer when the encierro is finished. Perhaps we are talking about where we will eat later or perhaps we are talking about the possibilities of other encierros that day. This is waiting with a difference.

But often that waiting is not so relaxed, and in many locations the seriousness and popularity of the encierro takes us back to a much more watchful and nervous state.
We wait. Waiting is painful. We suffer for it.

Our suffering is special. The pain we feel is worse than anybody else, but the sunrise we see is more beautiful than anybody else. We are like the moon; one side forever in darkness, invisible as it should be. But remember the dark moon draws the tides also. Our time will come.

Beyond the Walls, Alegría by Mat Dowsett

Pamplona. Home of the running of the bulls and the fiesta to end all fiestas. San Fermín draws a varied and international following, but very few foreign visitors are aware that Pamplona is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fiestas and bulls. Across Spain and beyond there are many hundreds of fiestas and thousands of encierros every year. Within the old walls of Pamplona a local drama is played out on an international stage, but beyond the walls are the unseen and untold tales of the people, the bulls and the streets of these other fiestas.

“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” Emily Dickinson.
A single and unifying element of the fiestas of Navarra is to be found in the interaction of people and streets when the txupinzo has taken place. The anticipation of those days of joy, the pent-up emotions and overwhelming sense of goodwill suddenly comes pouring out in a wave of happiness and mutual celebration. This is alegría.

Alegría is a simple and uncomplicated feeling that can be overwhelming or can actually be very childlike. Alegría is very personal, but some might compare it to a form of enlightenment; when the mind and body become at ease, at one with their environment and when all cares and concerns melt away into the trivial echoes of somewhere else.
On the streets of a Navarran town in fiestas the collective spirit, the unity and the humanity brought together is accompanied by music, dancing, food and drink. It is difficult in these times not to feel the sense of joy, very much like Christmas morning. This feeds the soul.
To celebrate is to live, and to celebrate with friends is to live many times over. When the feeling of alegría is shared then it becomes memorable.

Here, in the photograph, is a personal moment of alegría. This is the Navarran city of Tafalla less than an hour after the txupinazo on the 14th August in a year not too long ago. The scene is very familiar as friends, in the spirit of the moment, sing along with each other with shared happiness and in the knowledge that the fiesta is stretching out in front of them like a lush, green plain.

This is our fiesta, our alegría.

Más allá de las paredes – Ego, por Mat Dowsett

Versión traducida al castellano, aquí.

“The strongest poison ever known came from Caesar’s laurel crown.” William Blake.

“When someone sings his own praises, he always gets the tune too high.” Mary H Waldrip.

“I don’t believe in elitism, I don’t think the audience is this dumb person lower than me. I am the audience.” Quentin Tarantino.

Every year during San Fermín it seems that one particular toy, trinket or gadget is more popular than the rest. They become fashionable and take off like no others. A few years ago this ‘honour’ went to the loud-hailers (or megaphones) that became so irritating they were eventually banned.

These loudhailers were unique. What they did was quite remarkable as they allowed the individual to lift their voice above the rest of the crowd; to be heard, to be able to express themselves. It was truly liberating…in theory. In truth the outcome was that everybody had a lot to say and none of it was worth listening to.

The modern technological world of data, social media and smartphones has allowed our voices to be heard on a wider scale and to a greater audience. A runner can tweet his last thoughts at 07:59, record his bull-running experience on a Go-Pro, then upload the video via YouTube and Facebook to a global audience by 08:05.

Suddenly our society seems to demand that we become stars of our own reality show. Suddenly we all need to be heroes, we all need to be famous, we all need to be known. The encierros have fallen victim to this same narcissism such that everybody wants to write a book about their encierros, be in their own film and to become part of the encierro cult of celebrity.

Whatever happened to running for the sheer hell of it? Didn’t Helen Keller say “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”?

Nietzsche would sympathise. As human beings we yearn for meaning. Our existential minds function on a risk/reward balance and so if a runner takes the risk he damn well wants the reward in return. He wants recognition. He wants affirmation and he wants to be admired by all his peers. This is natural and understandable but should runners embrace this or even heavily promote it, or should they minimise it and step away from it in favour of something more humble, something more personally intimate and, at the end of the day, something more enlightened?

What many runners forget is that the encierro is not a competition. There are no trophies, awards, points, leagues or championships. To attribute some kind of classification or hierarchy becomes both arbitrary and artificial. Remember that a first-time runner with no experience has just as much right to be on the streets as a seasoned runner of many years. As long as they follow the rules they take their own chances and the true contest is with themselves and themselves alone. Instead the running community has evolved and has made the mistake of turning people it admires into heroes and heroes into gods.

Now runners aspire to a number of things; to be part of a perceived ‘elite’, to run without a break for decades, to get that perfect photograph of the perfect run, to be in the newspapers or pinpointed on TV and be called out as a great runner. All of these things are a part of the process of moving away from the encierro as being personal and individual. Instead this is a move to a different set of egotistical motives where the encierro itself becomes secondary to the celebrity that comes with it.

When we deify people they become infallible and we close our minds to the reality of the world around us and them. We then aspire to be like these people but do so with these closed minds. It is an illusion and one that leads us down a road towards the celebration of ego and not the celebration of the soul. It is not alegría.

Similarly, when we choose to declare ourselves to be members of an elite, when we make our films and write our books then we are arrogantly claiming to represent something which we do not own and which we were not chosen to speak for. We should consider with great care the implications of standing up and shouting about it through our loud-hailers. We should be careful about what we claim to be. There are plenty of other voices that are much quieter but may be more knowledgeable and may hold a contradictory view to our own. We cannot claim to speak for everyone, and we cannot declare ourselves to be great.

As George RR Martin wrote; “Any man who must say ‘I am the King!’ is no true king.”

While I appear to be condemning, I am also appreciative of this encierro world. Pamplona’s encierro is truly remarkable. Yet, if I could go back in time I would do things differently with the hindsight of experience. I made my own mistakes, not least spending far too much time trying to be recognised as a runner and not enough time simply enjoying myself. If I rewound the 10 years on the streets of Pamplona I would not have worn the blue shirt that I hoped would help me stand out in photos, and my own book would have turned out very differently with a greater emphasis on the encierro history and without the inclusion of the focus on individual runners or my own self-indulgent opinion. I learned to view encierros differently thanks to travelling wider than Pamplona. This was no overnight revelation, but a gradual transition and I realised that when I stopped worrying about getting a good photo, stopped worrying about having a perfect run then I started to enjoy the encierros much more than I ever had.

I recall running one morning in Tafalla down towards the Plaza de Toros. Three of the toros had strung out in a line. I was just behind another runner I knew and just in front of a pastore. The uninterrupted view of the toros that came gliding past us just inches away, was spectacular and memorable. My fellow runner and I embraced at the end of the run in mutual recognition of a wonderful experience of being so close to these animals in full flight and to be able to drift away and watch them vanish through the main gate. Then it was over and we went our separate ways. I have no photograph of that encierro, There was no TV coverage, it did not make the newspapers. Nobody congratulated my running and nobody cared except for my friend who shared it with me. But what I have and always will have is the knowledge that I ran with pure joy in my heart and with no other motive.

Let’s be honest, no regular runner follows the same mental course from very first run to very last. When we first step out into the streets we simply want to try it out, to survive and come home safe. As we run more we may choose to try to perfect a certain stretch, to push ourselves closer and closer or we may choose to hold a certain point time after time. Later on in life we may abandon the idea of running well in favour of simply wanting to be out there to enjoy the atmosphere and get a glimpse of the toros. We each make our own choices in the encierro and as such our attitudes and behaviours are then open to being praised or criticised, and in a very Kiplingesque way we should be able to deal with both outcomes equally. Our own choices dictate whether or not we are the type to seek out the encierro celebrity or to shun it. In the end, neither are wrong, but my argument is that a runner can be acting within the rules but outside of the “spirit of the encierro”. My personal belief is that certain attitudes and motives are not truly within the spirit of the encierro even if they are perfectly within the rules. However, no single person makes this call; we do not own the fiesta, we do not own the encierro.

Adding layers of additional complexity to the world that surrounds our encierros detracts from the true heart of the event. We should always go back to that datum which is the fundamental foundation of why we are there; streets and animals. All of the additional celebrity is a complication that distracts us from what it is that joins us, drives us. As I am fond of saying to some of my friends, and heavily paraphrased from the famous British rock climber Ron Fawcett:

“Walk out onto the course of your favourite encierro. Stand in the middle of the street and trace the line of the run going away from you. There, you’re home.”

You may surprised to learn that you don’t need to make a loud noise to be a success. Some of the quietest people are those having the most fun, and some of the best encierro runners are people we don’t know, and will never know.

Run as you will, but if you can then reach into your heart and run because of the joy that sits there, and “not for the sake of a ribboned coat, or the selfish hope of a season’s fame” as Sir Henry Newbolt put it. Put the Go-Pro away, turn your smartphone off and then run for yourself and run for fun. Or more simply; run as you wish to run, but put the loud-hailer down.

Cohete, by Matthew Dowsett

Pamplona. Home of the running of the bulls and the fiesta to end all fiestas. San Fermín draws a varied and international following, but very few foreign visitors are aware that Pamplona is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fiestas and bulls. Across Spain and beyond there are many hundreds of fiestas and thousands of encierros every year. Within the old walls of Pamplona a local drama is played out on an international stage, but beyond the walls are the unseen and untold tales of the people, the bulls and the streets of these other fiestas.

At 8am and in those moments afterwards, you may hear a distant explosion as a rocket known as a cohete reaches up into the sky and leaves a puff of white smoke. The sound tells you that the encierro has started/stopped. It is very rare to see the rocket, it is an anonymous punctuation in the morning – a sign from the gods that the die is cast and the bulls that haunt our dreams have been released.

Elsewhere the cohete is much more visible. Seen in this picture from Funes in Navarra. The cohete is everywhere, and is a crucial part of the encierros. Without the cohete the people may not know that it is time to close their doors, put up their shutters, lock their shops and send their customers on their way for a short time. Without the cohete the group of young people gathered around the bar may not know that a horned animal will be running down the street at any moment. In Fune, for example, this is very serious – on some mornings the streets are so quiet that a vaca or torico can run a lonely line up deserted streets and only meet a person after a hundred metres of emptiness.

The cohete is one of the vehicles whereby the encierros are efficiently run, and they are used widely, though not uniformly. Not every cohete is fired from the hand as in the photograph, and with good reason. One evening in Valtierra we had finished our run, the manada was back in the corrales and the jefe attached a cohete to the barriers and lit it with his cigar. We stood a few metres away awaiting the whoosh and the arcing smoke before the final explosion that would open the gates and send us into the evening to enjoy a fine meal somewhere and talk about the encierros of the day. Instead the cohete remained on the barriers and exploded with an enormous boom that made our ears ring and brought derisory comments from the nearby balconies.

The next day we stood a little further away, and a good thing too as the cohete exploded again. Once bitten, twice shy.

What future now for La Curva? by Katxi

In 2006 the organisers of the encierro in Pamplona experimented with a treatment on the surface of the streets around the curve of Mercaderes and Estafeta. The aim was to improve the grip for the bulls and reduce the instances of them slipping or falling into the barriers. Ultimately the purpose was to improve safety because falling bulls at La Curva normally result in a major separation of the pack which can then lead to more sueltos, longer runs and more gorings. While this may be good for the authorities it is not necessarily good for the runners down on La Curva for whom that particular spot and that particular run are special; unique, and require specific skills and timing.

Running La Curva is indeed specialised; one of a number of tramos that may be considered as such, along with lower Santo Domingo and the Telefonos stretch. Runners waiting at the curve, (on the left-hand side looking down from Ayuntamiento) are relying on a number of factors to allow them to get in front of the bulls at the start of Estafeta; they are looking for an existing split in the pack or hoping that the bulls will collide with the barriers and either slow significantly or slow up. Any of these instances should allow the runner an opportunity to dash across La Curva (often known as ‘threading the needle’ because it may require the runner to pick a way through bulls, cabestros and people), and get into a good position in front of some of all of the bulls.

The hearts of La Curva runners must have sank on hearing of plans which, if successful, would significantly reduce their opportunities on this tramo. The drama of the encierro is often focused on La Curva and it has long been a prime and coveted position for photographers. The encierros of 2006 were more closely watched than ever to see if the measures would actually have an effect. Their apparent failure resulted in a combination of derisory comments and sighs of relief as it appeared that nothing had changed, but then in 2007 the bulls were noted to keep their feet on La Curva and this was repeated in 2008. Regular runners on that tramo were missing out, getting frustrated and complaining that everything had changed for the worse. Mike Phelps admitted that he had much better runs up on Telefonos that La Curva. Joe Distler was heard muttering that he would have to try something different next year and La Curva newcomer Mat Dowsett was baffled by the lack of action. Who knows what Bruce Sinclair and Victor Lombardi would have made of it all if they had been around. Perhaps they already had a foresight of the future.

The organisers must have been thrilled; only 9 gorings in 2 years and 2008 was the safest in 10 years. Now with no reason for the organisers to let things go back to how they used to be the question has to be “what future now for La Curva?” If the bulls continue to take the turn cleanly then the regular runners may be faced with having to run elsewhere as the former dramatic location is tamed. New tactics may need to be employed, new starting points perhaps and the specialised La Curva runner may even vanish forever.

The die is not yet cast and after 2 lean years many runners are still weighing up the evidence. Some said that the clean runs of 2008 were more down to the discipline of the cabestros than the surface of the street. Only time will tell, but the fears of the runners on La Curva may yet be realised if the current situation continues. The future of La Curva looks fragile; Yolanda Barcina must be rubbing her hands with glee.

A Growing Problem, by Katxi

An endless flow of sentimental and romantic words have streamed across the pages of books and via the internet on the subject of San Fermin and the Running of the Bulls. The love for this fiesta is almost universal, and yet all is not well and under the surface lies a darkness that takes many forms. Over the coming months a series of articles by invited writers will explore this dark side.

One of the common complaints now heard during fiesta is that it has become so crowded, and that these numbers are bringing the fiesta down, taking something away from the atmosphere and making it worse.

The crowds have been growing steadily for years. In 1923 when Hemingway first visited Pamplona, both the city and fiesta were very different to the ones we know now. Sure, many aspects are the same, many buildings are the same, but much has changed. Hemingway entered a city whose population was around 30,000, (it sits around the 200,000 mark today). Instantly you can see that the numbers in fiesta would have been much lower back then; even taking into account the swell of people coming into the city from surrounding towns and villages. There are currently 16 official Peñas in Pamplona, but only one, (La Unica) has survived from Hemingway’s time. No doubt other Peñas have been and gone during these years but there certainly was no need for 16.

Hemingway would also have looked upon a Pamplona without many of the sprawling developments that grew up in the 20th century during the “ensanche” or widening that gave birth to the blocks and streets we see in Burlada, Rochapea et al. In the 1920s Pamplona was still largely confined to the constrains and geography of the old city walls. It was only when these were breeched, (in some cases literally as parts were demolished), that the expansion caught real momentum. The population of Pamplona has grown steadily, (and for the large part, sharply), since the late 1940s. By the time Papa visited his last Sanfermines the population was up around 130,000 and growing and the fiesta was attracting more and more people from near and far. You could say that by the time he left for the last time the damage had already been done.

But it is the more recent growth of fiesta that needs some explanation. In the past 20 to 30 years the fiesta has ballooned and there are many factors that have contributed to this. Firstly the growth of foreign visitors which has been made much easier with the massive expansion and improvements in international travel. The number of students and backpackers has been expanding since the early 1990s. Add to this the improved transport links, budget airlines and cheap rental car prices and it is not surprising that numbers are so high.

Consider also the promotion of Sanfermines. The Ayuntamiento has presided over a deliberate and co-ordinated growth of the fiesta over many years; knowing full well that more visitors equals more money into the coffers, and it makes sense to publicise San Fermín as much as possible to attract as many visitors as possible. It’s all about the money. The GDP of Spain has been rising steadily in line with population meaning that the public has more money to spend and more funds to lavish on their fiestas.

San Fermín is self-publicising, especially the running of the bulls. In these times of the internet, youtube videos, facebook contacts and images galore the modern members of the generation that needs experiences to tick off need look no further than organised tour groups to bring them to Pamplona.

Let’s face it, the growth was inevitable. Like it or hate it the crowds are here to stay.

In The Shadow Of The Dark Moon, by Katxi

An endless flow of sentimental and romantic words have streamed across the pages of books and via the internet on the subject of San Fermin and the Running of the Bulls. The love for this fiesta is almost universal, and yet all is not well and under the surface lies a darkness that takes many forms. Over the coming months a series of articles by invited writers will explore this dark side.

To contribute or comment please contact Katxi at katxi@email.com