¿De dónde sale tanta gente?

Si te van las culturas, los idiomas, la vida internacional, la mezcla… los nueve días de Sanfermin la ciudad se transforma en una caótica torre de Babel donde se pueden chapurrear lenguas varias, ligar con personajes variopintos o aprender geografía bailando con una txaranga.

La primera vez que llegas, alucinas con tanta peña. Luego te acostumbras. Ríos de gente vestida de blanco y rojo callejean a todas horas por el casco viejo. Y llegan de todos los rincones del planeta atraídos por la fiesta.

Cada año nos sorprenden diferentes visitantes. El pasado, por ejemplo, tuvimos gran afluencia de rusos. Éste, en cambio, han sido los terrícolas de ojos rasgados venidos desde China, Corea y Taiwan, quienes más interés han mostrado en conocer el jaleo sanferminero. Alguno se ha dejado ver corriendo el encierro.

Muchos de ellos han contratado su viaje a través de nuestra página web. Prefieren despreocuparse de todo el rollo (búsqueda de hotel, alquiler de balcón para ver el encierro, un sitio donde disfrutar del txupinazo sin pringarte, entradas para los toros, etc.) y dejarse guiar por un equipo local que le mostrará la fiesta desde dentro.

Nosotros de la fiesta sabemos un huevo –en esta web te damos consejos, te explicamos la historia, te guiamos por el laberinto sanferminero– pero de alojamientos casi nada. Así que dejamos en manos de un colaborador como Destino Navarra para que se encargan de esas tareas de logística. Mikel Ollo y su equipo de guías locales ‘pastorean’ a los turistas durante los nueve días de Sanfermin. Y están disponibles y atentos por si falla algo.

Este año, alrededor de 900 turistas de 35 países diferentes han confiado en nuestros servicios de asesoramiento turístico. Algunos de ellos repiten. Como los portugueses Pedro y Marina, que este año han vuelto, acompañados de sus dos hijos adolescentes. Y a juzgar por sus caras, se lo pasaron pipa.

Si alguien tiene duda de cómo va esto, que hablen con la pareja ganadora del sorteo de nuestro 26 Anibestiario. Vivieron una juerga cinco estrellas que, seguro, recordarán por mucho tiempo.

Entre los extranjeros, el turista estadounidense es, de lejos, el más numeroso. La estela que dejó Hemingway se deja notar, aunque también han venido más anglosajones de otros lugares, como la cercana Gran Bretaña e incluso desde las antípodas, de Australia y Nueva Zelanda.

A los anglófonos les siguen, por número, hispanohablantes de México, Venezuela y Argentina y, en menor medida, de Paraguay, Ecuador y Perú. Dentro de Europa, nuestras fiestas han atraído sobre todo a franceses, alemanes, suecos y noruegos.

Foto: sanferminbylocals.com

A star fell in the kalimotxo of Tom Turley

Tom Turley trabaja en catástrofes humanitarias y lleva 28 años corriendo el Encierro. Su historia es increíble.

La primera vez que el neoyorquino Tom Turley puso el pie en Pamplona fue en 1987, por Sanfermin. Al poco de llegar, le cayó una estrella en su kalimotxo. Conoció por casualidad a un abogado estadounidense, Ray Mouton, que le hizo un regalo increíble: cinco noches gratis en el mítico Hotel La Perla donde solía hospedarse el escritor Hemingway. A cambio, él se comprometía a regresar cada 6 de julio. De momento, ha cumplido. Y cada 5 de julio vuela desde Colorado, en Estados Unidos, a Pamplona.

La entrevista transcurre en el Caballo Blanco de Pamplona, punto de encuentro para muchos fiesteros locales y guiris, tomando un gintonic.

Llegas como estudiante, sin mucha pasta, y acabas en un hotel cinco estrellas. ¿Es cierta la historia o fruto de una juerga sanferminera?
Totalmente cierta. Primero conocí al hijo de Ray Mouton, Todd, charlando en una terraza. Me presentó a su padre, me preguntó dónde iba a dormir, le dije que en un parque, y me hizo la proposición: “Si me prometes que volverás los próximos Sanfermines, te dejo que duermas en el Hotel La Perla compartiendo habitación con mis hijos”.

Y aceptaste, claro.
Sí, sí, y los dos años siguientes también pude compartir la habitación con sus hijos en el mismo hotel.

¿Quién era este hombre, un millonario?
No, qué va. Ray Mouton entonces era un abogado con bastante prestigio. Nació en Nueva Orleans. Ahora ya está retirado, se dedica a escribir, vive en la localidad francesa de San Juan de Pie de Port. Le encanta Europa. En 2002 publicó un libro sobre Pamplona y la fiesta.

Sigues viniendo desde entonces. ¿Cómo te has apañado después?
Conocí a una amiga muy cercana a la peña taurina de los americanos y durante mucho tiempo me dejaba un piso en el casco viejo para quedarme, hasta que lo vendió. Ahora me suelo alojar en el Hotel Eslava, que son como mi familia aquí.

¿A qué te dedicas profesionalmente?
Estudié Economía y Filosofía, pero luego hice un par de masters en relaciones  internacionales y trabajo social. Me dedico a temas de ayuda humanitaria. Trabajo para una oenegé americana, Americares, con la que viajo a las zonas donde ocurren catástrofes, como los terremotos de Haití e Indonesia, por ejemplo.

¿Cuál es tu labor cuando trabajas?
Dirijo proyectos de logística, hago un poco de todo, “jack-of-all-trades”, chico para todo. Si va a llegar un avión con medicinas, lo organizamos todo para transportarlas en camiones desde el aeropuerto al lugar que corresponda. A veces colaboramos con otra oenegé que tiene sede en un país donde no tenemos oficinas, entonces ellos son nuestro consignatario, y voy para averiguar que está todo conforme a nuestra reglas, verifico, hago el reporte…

¿Sueles estar en contacto con la gente o tu labor se ciñe a la logística?
Bueno, no me toca vivirlo tan en directo como a los equipos médicos, pero sí veo mucho. Mis amigos me dicen “qué bueno que vas allá”, pero para mí es lo normal. A veces se me pega el sufrimiento que veo, pero me he acostumbrado.

Entre tanto viaje, ¿cuál es el lugar que más te ha impactado?
(Tom se pone serio y se toma un respiro antes de contestar). Sin duda, Ruanda, en el 94. Fui a Tanzania porque había 250.000 refugiados que habían huido de Ruanda. Era mi primera vez en África, y flipé. Me tocaba mucho aquel sufrimiento… Visitando un hospital, pasamos por un parque con niños: me fijé en un muchacho unos cuatro años, guapísimo, con una venda en la cabeza. Pregunté qué le había pasado. “Un golpe con machete”, me dijeron. No me lo podía creer. Para mí fue terrible.

¿Tuviste que trabajar en esa zona mucho tiempo?
Todos salían de Ruanda hacia Zaire, un millón de refugiados. Me enviaron allí y a Goma. Se desató una epidemia de cólera y cada día morían entre 3.000 y 4.000 personas. Cada mañana, cuando íbamos a los campos de refugiados, veíamos montones de cuerpos enrollados en mantas para que se los llevara luego un camión. Un horror. Eso fue lo más duro, y todavía hoy me duele al recordarlo.

Pero, ¿estuviste en Ruanda?
Fuimos semanas después, para montar un centro de salud. Buscando un espacio entré en una escuela y había un cuerpo muerto, y muchas marcas de balas y sangre en las paredes, porque habían matado a varias personas allí. Y Ruanda es un país tan bonito, la gente es tan maja fuera del conflicto…

También estuviste en Banda Aceh, cuando el tsunami. ¿También te impactó?
Sí claro, pero lo de Indonesia era un desastre natural, el más grande que he visto, pero no como el de Ruanda, que fue producido por la humanidad.

Tú llevas muchos años corriendo todos los días el encierro. ¿Cómo fue tu primera vez?
En el 87, el último día de Sanfermin. Aparqué la juerga ese día y me acosté pronto. El plan era correr en Telefónica. Me dijeron que si había montón en el callejón, me tirase al suelo o subiera al vallado. Entonces yo no hablaba nada castellano, pero conocía la palabra “mira”. Ese día corrían los Miura, y sabía que eran los más peligrosos y tal. De pronto mientras corría escuché “mira, mira, mira”. Y me tiré al suelo debajo del vallado. Me pareció todo tan rápido… que casi no me entero. Pero ese gusanillo me atrapó para siempre.

¿Tienes una estrella en Pamplona?
Sí, la ciudad me ha tratado de maravilla. El primer año cuando conocí a americanos que llevaban 20 o 25 años viniendo pensaba que estaban locos. Pero después de correr el encierro me dieron más ganas de volver, de conocer gente, de hacer amigos… Luego aprendí español… y los amigos del encierro decían “éste vuelve”.

¿Dentro del encierro se hacen buenos amigos?
Sí, y seguimos en contacto todo el año. Es un sentimiento de hermandad. Compartir con ellos ese momento antes del encierro es muy especial, porque siento que me han aceptado.

Para correr el encierro hay que estar en forma. ¿Practicas algún deporte?
Esquiar, bici de montaña, bici de pista, kite-surf… Durante algunas temporadas hago a diario, pero no siempre.

A parte del encierro, ¿qué más te gusta de las fiestas?
El Txupinazo, me encanta ver el cambio que experimenta la ciudad el 6 de julio, por eso intento llegar la víspera, el día 5. Con el tiempo he aprendido a apreciar otros momentos, como la Procesión del día 7, que me la enseñó un amigo americano: escuchar a Mari Cruz Corral cantar una jota a San Fermín me impactó mucho, cantaba con tanta pasión que una vez se desmayó.

Los de Pamplona somos muy fans de la Comparsa de gigantes y cabezudos. ¿Y tú?
El otro día pasé por el hotel para coger una chaqueta y dinero, y en el vestíbulo estaban Caravinagre y otro cabezudo cambiándose: me quedé mirándolos como un niño.

Otra parte de la liturgia sanferminera son las corridas de toros. ¿Te van?
A los toros voy una vez al tendido de sol, con mis amigos, y otra, como mínimo, a sombra, con un buen asiento. Es una tradición de España muy antigua, quién soy yo para criticarla. O te gusta o no te gusta. Por lo menos, esos toros han vivido muy bien en el campo durante cuatro años. Los mansos corren peor suerte y se transforman en chuletón.

Cuando vas por las calles, ¿bailas con las txarangas de las peñas?
Sí, aunque voy un poco más tranquilo cada año… Los primeros días suelo tener más energía. Es muy bonito correr el último encierro y después celebrar que hemos sobrevivido, que lo logramos, y hacer unas risas.

¿Nunca te ha pillado el toro?
Sí, después de 26 años corriendo, un día ocurrió. Y me vio mi madre desde un balcón. Cuando murió mi padre, la invité a venir a Pamplona. Ella tenía 78 años. Hicimos un plan de viaje perfecto: vendría el 10 de julio y el 12 nos íbamos a San Sebastián porque su mejor amiga estaba allí de vacaciones.

¿Tu madre te vio correr el encierro en vivo y en directo?
Pues sí… era el día 12, ella estaba con Ray Mouton en un balcón, y yo abajo, en la curva de Mercaderes, frente a la tienda de Kukuxumusu. Subía la calle Estafeta corriendo y vi que un chico delante de mí se iba a caer, pensé que no le daría tiempo a incorporarse y decidí saltar por encima pero… se levantó, choqué con él, pasó la manada, me quedé quieto: venían dos mansos y dos toros por detrás; a otro mozo que estaba en el suelo, uno de los mansos lo saltó, pero a mí me pisó con la pezuña en la espalda y me rompió 4 costillas. Pasé cuatro días en el hospital.

Vaya trago para tu madre. ¿Cómo reaccionó?
Ella me quería llevar a Nueva York pero la convencí de que nos quedáramos y la madre de un amigo, Txapo, la acompañó en autobús hasta Donostia para reunirse con su amiga. ¿Qué habría pasado en el cosmos para que, después de 26 años corriendo el encierro, el único día en que mi madre estaba viéndome, yo acabara en el hospital?

Bueno, pero no fue nada grave…
Sí, y al final, la experiencia resultó muy positiva porque ella pudo conocer a mis amigos de aquí, no sólo a los americanos, y vio todo lo bueno que yo recibo en Pamplona.

Foto: Javier Martinez de la Puente

Los guiris love la Fiesta

Kurt Davies (en la foto) lleva desde enero viajando por el mundo. Tras graduarse en la universidad, salió de su paradisíaca tierra a la aventura. Este neozelandés de 22 años ha recorrido 25 países y no ha querido perderse Sanfermin. Ha dormido unas horas en un parque, se ha vestido de blanco riguroso y luego se ha ido a correr el encierro.

La experiencia ha sido, reconoce, lo más increíble que ha hecho en su vida. Pero una cornada que ha visto a un palmo de sus narices le ha quitado las ganas de volver a correr.

Y es que hoy el encierro nos ha dejado imágenes insólitas y varios heridos por asta de toro. El más grave, un estadounidense de 20 años que corría en la Cuesta de Santo Domingo. Quizás también se estrenaba en el encierro, pero ha tenido peor suerte que Kurt.

Este viernes 10 de julio se cumplió un año de la cogida de otro norteamericano, Bill Hillmann. La suya fue una cornada muy ruidosa porque había escrito un capítulo del libro “Cómo sobrevivir en el encierro”. Pero él no se ha rendido como Kurt sino más bien lo contrario: encontró inspiración para su siguiente libro, ya a la venta, “Mozos”. Y ha vuelto para correr cada día como hace desde hace 11 años.

Sanfermin embruja a muchos guiris. Caen seducidos por esa combinación de toros y fiesta en la calle. Ayer Kukuxumusu entregaba el Premio al Guiri de este año, el francés Jean Pierre Gonnord. Al acto acudieron varios de los premiados en anteriores ediciones y amigos suyos. Como el inglés Frank Taylor, campeón de natación, que ha preferido venir a Sanfermin en lugar de competir con otros ‘delfines’ como él en Rusia.

¿Qué encuentran los guiris aquí? La noruega Maggie viene desde hace treinta años sin interrupción. Viene a ver toros y a bailar. Dice que en su país no hay lugares donde se pueda bailar a cierta edad. Y le fascina que estos días en Pamplona bailemos a todas horas, en todas partes, jóvenes y mayores. Viéndola moverse cuesta creer que esta nórdica, funcionaria de Educación especializada en políticas sociales, criada en Nueva York, de madre bailarina, apasionada por el flamenco, sólo pueda bailar a su aire estos días.

A la rusa Anna Nelubova, Guiri 2014, no la veo bailar, pero me cuenta que los toros le cambiaron la vida. Vive entre Moscú y Málaga, intentando atrapar la belleza de esos bichos con sus pinceles y con la cámara de fotos. Cuando el Ballet Ruso está de gira por España, ella lo acompaña como fotógrafa y también ayudante. En vez de vestir al torero, como hacen los mozos de espadas, ella asiste a los bailarines con su indumentaria.

Toros y baile. Los guiris andan embrujados estos días por nuestras calles. Observan fascinados nuestras costumbres ancestrales. Algunos se pillan unas cogorzas monumentales. Otros deambulan sonrientes con cara de “no me lo puedo creer”. Si los ves saltando con las peñas, a lo mejor el hechizo ha hecho su efecto y el año que viene volverán.

Sin ellos Sanfermin no sería lo mismo. Nos han abierto los ojos y el corazón. Por eso en Kukuxumusu les dedicamos un merecido premio. Porque los queremos mucho.

“I’m scared to death”

Los encierros de Pamplona dejan siempre imágenes electrizantes. Los toros corren tan rápido que es un visto y no visto. Pero el encierro comienza bastante antes de las 8 de la mañana. Los minutos previos al comienzo de la carrera, los corredores y corredoras –que aunque muchas menos, las hay– se agrupan en una especie de manada humanoide para darse ánimo, calor, abrazos. Saben que se juegan mucho en unos segundos.

Si ves el encierro desde un balcón bien situado, a poco que observes percibirás que algo importante está a punto de suceder. Las caras de los corredores que saben de qué va la fiesta hablan solas. En silencio. Se miran. Se buscan. Como los buenos amigos. En esos 30 minutos de espera, la camaradería se impone. Y si pudiéramos filmar todo lo que pasa por sus cabezas, fliparíamos.

Sin embargo, los 875 metros del encierro comprenden tramos que escapan a la vista desde un balcón. Ocurre, por ejemplo, en el callejón que escupe a toros, mansos y corredores a la Plaza de Toros, ya casi en el final. Allí son los fotógrafos y los cámaras de televisión quienes ven por nosotros.

Hoy 7 de julio corrían los temidos toros de la ganadería extremeña Jandilla. Unos bestias con alas. Me recordaban a los velocistas de los cien metros, como el jamaicano Usain Bolt. Han corrido sin entretenerse, seguros, directos, lanzados. Con algún que otro momento de miedo pero sin grandes sobresaltos. Y al igual que cada año, a los pocos minutos de terminar lo hemos contado en imágenes.

En un rápido vistazo al resumen fotográfico del encierro, uno siempre busca los cuernos cerca de algún corredor, la vuelta por los aires, el quiebro, las caras de susto… Y se nos escurren los pequeños detalles.

A mí hoy me ha atrapado esta corredora, la de la foto, que en medio del callejón chorreado de sol se lleva las manos a la cabeza, y se encoge como una croqueta temiendo lo peor. Los demás siguen, ella se para. ¿Qué ha pasado? ¿El miedo la ha paralizado? ¿Cuántas pulsaciones tiene en esos segundos? ¿Es suyo el pañuelo bajo sus pies? ¿Es su primera vez? ¿Sabía de qué va la fiesta?

Como tantas preguntas, se quedarán en el aire, o en el ruedo. Imposible dar con ella entre la marabunta de gente. El pintor Antonio Eslava interpreta el encierro como una danza. Ancestral. Y contemporánea. Bella. Poética.

La postura y el gesto de esta chica podrían inspirar una coreografía. Aunque aquí en este caso no es imaginaria. Oigo su voz en mi cabeza: “Me muero de miedo. ¡No puedo más!”. Y cuando parece que llega el final, el toro ha pasado sin ver que estabas ahí, acojonada.

Foto: Javier Ibáñez

¿Qué haces aquí, Hemingway, sin tunearte de blanco?

Estos días por Pamplona se dejan ver unos cuantos dobles de Hemingway, barbiblancos, con generosas carnes y aspecto de abuelo de Heidi. Hoy hemos pillado a uno de ellos in fraganti, sin tunear, el que sale en la foto. Bueno, a lo mejor es el mismísimo Hemingway, que se ha reencarnado para pasearse de incógnito y revivir su fiesta preferida.

A Hemingway Pamplona le debe mucho: sus escritos y reflexiones sobre la fiesta pusieron esta ciudad en el mapa del mundo. Miles de personas vienen cada año atraídas por lo que se cuenta de los Sanfermines. La mayoría nunca ha leído “Fiesta”, ni lo hará nunca, pero les suena que aquí pasan cosas increíbles, como que todo el mundo se viste de blanco.

Hoy ya estamos en pleno follón festivo. Una parisina de origen navarro ha encendido la mecha del Txupinazo. Su abuelo, Honorino Arteta, logró escapar a Francia, con un balazo en la pierna. El resto de sus 21 amigos y compañeros, todos republicanos, como él, no tuvieron tanta suerte. Era el 23 de agosto de 1936, en plena guerra civil.

Honorino formaba parte de la peña La Veleta, fundada en 1931 por gente de origen humilde y de clase obrera. Ese año Hemingway también vino a los Sanfermines. Los de esta Peña querían distinguirse de alguna forma durante las fiestas, y eligieron vestirse todos igual, con un sencillo atuendo blanco, popular, asequible para todos.

Desde entonces, Pamplona por Sanfermin se viste de blanco y rojo. La mayoría de los visitantes también cumple casi a rajatabla con el ritual. Si llegas a Pamplona en medio de las fiestas, te metes en la parte vieja y no vas tuneado de Sanfermin, cantas mogollón. Te sientes como un marciano. Y no te queda otro remedio que pillar camiseta, pantalón y pañuelo.

Durante muchos años, el traje era blanco impoluto. Hasta que un día a tres amigos se les ocurrió una majadería: diseñar una camiseta, hacer una tirada y venderla por las calles durante las fiestas. Así conseguirían pagarse sus kalimotxos. A la gente le gustó… y aquello marcó el comienzo de nuestra marca, Kukuxumusu, el beso de pulga ‘cocido’ entre kalimotxos.

Hoy en Pamplona por Sanfermin conviven los atuendos blanco impecable con una gran variedad de estilos, dibujos, frases, ocurrencias.

Este año cumplimos 26 Sanfermines reinventando la fiesta con los lápices. Y para celebrarlo hemos resumido el recorrido del Encierro en la camiseta del año, con todos los puntos de interés. Para que la gente de Pamplona pueda chulear del Casco Viejo y para que los turistas sepan lo que no deberían perderse. Así cuando se la lleven de aquí podrán contar sus historietas sin tener que poner el dedo sobre un mapa.

Ya huele a testosterona

Me he puesto a contar cabezas en esta foto. Pero es un mareo. Calculo unas cien. Podría ser una paella con mogollón de langostinos. Sólo veo dos gambas, quizás haya alguna más, escondida. Una frunce el ceño, la otra enarca las cejas. A saber qué están pensando.

“Apesta a testosterona”, dice la rubia. “Quién me manda a mí meterme en esta pocilga”, barrunta la morena. Parecen ajenas a la escena machoman rollo ‘Braveheart’ que protagoniza este bicharraco. Un ejemplar fornido en el gimnasio y bien tatuado, como manda la moda. Quizás se estrena en el Txupinazo, porque lleva un bañador y unas estupendas deportivas de marca que dudo mucho las vuelva a calzar. Los que nos sabemos el cuento llevamos unas zapatillas viejas que luego tiramos a la basura.

Esta escena es una de tantas que pueden verse desde un balcón el día 6 de julio, poco antes de las 12 del mediodía, en la plaza del Ayuntamiento de Pamplona. Gambas y langostinos llevan el pañuelo rojo anudado en la muñeca. Es parte del ritual. El traje blanco ha pasado en pocos minutos a un rosa sangría de la barata.

Contamos las horas para el Txupinazo. Hace un calor de infierno. Huele a fiesta por todas las esquinas. Van llegando ‘guiris’ de los lugares más curiosos del planeta. Como los de esta imagen. Pamplona se prepara para el gran estallido.

Si continúa la sofoquina, las noches serán más divertidas. Nos bañaremos en cerveza y nos tiraremos por los parques a reposar la juerga. Vestidos de blanco, nos sentiremos iguales. Por unos días dará igual cuánto tienes en tu cuenta corriente, lo que debes al banco, qué cargo ocupas en la empresa, o si te acaban de despedir…

También vendrán personajes muy ‘vip’, pastosos y poderosos. Les gusta meterse entre la gente jugando al escondite. Pero a nosotros nos da igual. Aquí no hacemos ascos a nadie. En la calle poco importa quién eres, sino qué gracia tienes para bailar, con qué humor te tomas las bromas, si eres capaz de olvidarte por un rato de dónde vienes y a dónde vas.

Sanfermin hipnotiza, si te dejas llevar. La fiesta te integra en una pura anarquía. Una oportunidad de vivir una gran juerga, hacer nuevos amigos, ligar, enrollarte, flipar viendo el encierro, reír sin parar… Ah, y si te ves en la foto o encuentras a algún amigo o amiga entre este mogollón, escríbenos y nos cuentas qué gritaba el musculitos y si al fin logró volar.

Imagen Javier Martínez de la Puente

“There was a lot of hullaballoo on the slope”

Image.   Javier Martínez de la Puente

Carmelo Buttini, A true purebred of the bullrunnings; he has been running every morning in Sanfermin for the past 34 years.

He used to be called the Marqués of Estafeta but that title is in danger of disappearing since he changed his customary location four years ago. Now he is to be seen on the first stretch of Santo Domingo where he can experience that special sensation which gees him up. Carmelo Buttini (Pamplona, 1967) is an “out-and-out” sanferminero – what we fondly recognize here as ‘a fanatic of the running of the bulls’.

At the age of 12 he was already running in the kid’s bullrunning – the Encierro Txiki and his CV holds literally hundreds of encounters with the bullrunnings over the past 34 years. He never misses a single one in Pamplona, of course, (“the Champions league”) but he can often be seen at many other running of the bulls in Tafalla, Sangüesa, Castellón, Alquerías, Vall d’Usó, and Almazora… I have called into his bookshop, La Casa del Libro, an emblematic premises located right in the middle of Estafeta street. I want to get to know, at first hand, what is at the heart of this “business” of being a runner in the Running of the Bulls.

Do you have any English books here? asks a hefty blonde in a foreign accent. Carmelo suggests that we talk while he attends the public but soon the bookshop is filled with people looking for the morning press and he takes me to a quiet corner, amid some bookshelves. It is now 11.00 a.m. Carmelo has just come from a hearty brunch with some of his fellow-runners from this morning’s Running of the Bulls. But I can sense that he has been up since very early today.

How is a typical day during Sanfermin fiestas for you?
I come here to work at 4 o`clock in the morning. I distribute the press around this part of the old town. At that time, the place is crowded with bodies. I finish at 6 o`clock and I come here to the bookstore and I change my clothes, even if I am dressed in my Sanfermin gear. I put on a long-sleeved white T-shirt, but I usually fold up the arms a bit. I put white trousers on and my sneakers for running in The Running of the Bulls. I don’t wear any necktie or sash. At 6:45 I am usually at my place in the slope at Santo Domingo all ready to run. I do the Running of the Bulls and then I come straight back here to work, to distribute more press and when I finish that about 10.00 a.m. I go off to have a brunch with my mates from the bullrunning.

How many T-shirts do you have for the Running of the Bulls?
Four in all – two with the San Fermín badge sown on them and another two with the badge of the Anaitasuna Peña Club. The necktie is also from the Anaitasuna club and I like to wear it carefully tied on. When I finish running, I come to the bookstore and I change my clothes again. If I have had a good running, the next day I repeat with exactly the same gear on. If not, I put on a different T-shirt and a different pair of pants.

Tell us how you experienced this morning’s Running of the Bulls.
The bulls came out of the pens and ran up the slope well, shaping up to charge at the runners, but it was possible to run quite well, not like these past few days with a lot of hassle and hullaballoo. The bulls passed me close by… I always run close against the wall and even if you try to pull aside, the bulls always pass quite close. You have to keep a close eye on them because you only have the two options: stay on your feet or, when they come up tight against the wall, throw yourself down and let them run over you. That way you get a bruise or two but…I have my scars, see? (He shows me a scar of some 25 cm. on his arm.). That’s the way it is.

Have you been tossed very often?
Well, a serious tossing…yes, once in Tafalla, quite a few years ago now.

Do you know Bill Hillman, the American that got gored in these fiestas?
Those of us who run on the slope, we all know each other. Among those injured this year I know Bill… Mariano too, he was gored on the slope…and the one who had his hip broken as well…

Is there a special sense of camaraderie between all of you?
Yes, there is. Those who come from abroad normally run in Estafeta Street, so those who are at the slope in Santo Domingo, the fifty or sixty runners who are normally there, we have known each other for years and years. The Red Cross workers too on this stretch – among them two veteran runners, Josetxo and Antonio– know who we all are and if anything happens to anyone, we all find out straightaway what it’s all about.

What makes the Santo Domingo stretch so special?
There is a very special silence that is real pretty, which you cannot find in Estafeta and which creates a kind of special tension, which is not easy to explain.

From the time you get there, at 6:45, and then until 8.00 a.m. what do you do?
I always go with my good mate, ‘el Bou’, a Catalan friend with whom I send time during the whole of the fiestas. I call him ‘el Bou Adarra’ (‘bou’ means bull in Catalan and ‘adarra’ means “old” in Basque), that is to say, ‘old bull’. If there are not too many people we are strolling up and down there. If there are a lot of people, we stay well down and we try to hug the wall and blend in with the scene there.

Do you usually feel nervous before the run?
Always. And if I didn’t, that would be a bad sign. It is not a sense of panic, but rather a kind of controlled fear. When the run is over, you find yourself hugging some of your mates. If it has gone well for you, but one of your mates has fallen or whatever, you try to form a ring so that the “sweeping up” bell-oxen don’t step on him and wait for the emergency workers to come…it’s a nice sense of camaraderie.

You have taken part in so many Runnings of the Bulls. Is each day so different?
Yes, it is. Each Running of the Bulls is special. The tension which you feel in Santo Domingo is awesome. The cold that you feel…I don’t know if it is because of the early hour of the morning or a result of the nerves. I have been told by others that during that time of waiting for the run to begin, my face turns whiter and stiffer, when I normally tend to have a smiling, easy-going disposition.

How did you get on this morning, at today’s Running?
We had a good laugh on the slope because today was real quiet compared to these past few days when the Bulls were giving us a hiding every morning. We usually say “today we had a lot of hassle”, when you run with a bull on each side of you.

And on the eve of the Running? Do you prepare yourself in any special way?
I don’t usually have any dinner and the following morning I don’t have any breakfast or anything at all. Not even water, until the Running is over. In 2008, a bull gored me right on the anus and the horn penetrated my bladder. Thanks to the fact that I had not drunk anything, the bladder was very compressed and it did not explode. I got away by the skin of the teeth from having to carry a bag for the rest of my life. The doctor who operated on me, explained that to me and since then I continue with that same routine. And, of course, I got to the bathroom several times…a friend of mine usually says “Carmelo is in the bathroom, fulfilling the tradition”.

What exactly is that thing that you feel when you are running with the bulls?
It is something that is not easy to describe. It is like you are on a high. At first I feel fear because on the slope you can see the pens and the rocket when they set it off. We are all hopping up and down, looking down towards the pens, and the runners are saying, “come on, come on, let’s run”. The taller runners warn us when the bulls are approaching a bull on the left, a bull on the right…”. And if you see a couple of experienced runners throw themselves down on the ground, it is a bad sign, it means the bulls are coming heads down. Then you too throw yourself down and wait for them to pass over you.

And you can hear those voices, can you?
Sure thing. You can hear your 50 colleagues as soon as the wick is set alight.

Are there any women running where you?
Yes, there are. But they are not from Pamplona, some American girl or other… … Isabel Solefont is a young woman who sometimes runs son the slope. Her father is also a runner. I think they are from Barcelona. She is a dark-haired girl, slim and light…she runs well. I admire the women who run a lot, especially on this first stretch.

And what about the Bulls, do you hear them bellow?
you hear everything. The bellows, the bells, the hooves strike the ground…it seems that at times they could be elephants. Today we pulled aside but even so they passed by right beside us. In dangerous moments, I like to throw myself to the ground, because if you are caught too close they could drag you all the way to City Hall square by the horns..

When the moments of tension have passed, what do you all do?
First of all, hug some of your mates and you feel so happy and gay. Then I soon begin to notice my empty stomach and I get a real feeling of hunger through me.

Do you notice much difference in the different stretches?
Sure, a lot. Because even the ground changes. In Estafeta we have cobblestone while on the slope it is concrete and easier to slip up here.

What runners do you admire for their style?
In the Pamplona Running of the Bulls there are many…people like me Dani Oteiza, Pitu (Fermín Barón), Belloso, Patxi Ciganda… all of them are very good.

What would you underline about them?
Well, the legs they have, they run well and can last the pace…now there are young people coming in who are very good. Some of them are the sons of veteran runners. And there are still some good runners even at an advanced age. The day before yesterday, one of them retired at the age of seventy-five and who had been running most of his life. But the other day, there was a lot of hassle and he decided that finally he had had enough. There are some good runners still that are now in their sixties.

Has anything changed with the introduction of this new red line?
Yes, now down below just up from the pens the runners are not allowed to go that way. So now the bulls have a clearer vision as they come up and they come up charging with more space. It is not a bottleneck like before. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that there will be changes of calamities occurring now on the slope.

Should the number of runners be limited?
No, let all those who wish to do it, let them run. As long as they respect the norms. Those who grab at the Bulls should be fined…the ones who use their elbows unfairly…the ones who come in flip-flops or with a backpack on their backs. But no, there should not be a limit imposed on the number of runners. I would feel cheesed off if I were stopped from running at other Running of the bull events.

Suddenly I realize that I am not on the Santo Domingo slope but rather in the Bookstore.. Carmelo had me enthralled with his observations on the Sanfermin Running of the Bulls. He still has a busy schedule for the rest of the day. After he shuts shop he will go to eat with 80 people who have come from Castellón. “They treat us very well there and we like to fete them as they deserve here”. Then he will go to the afternoon bullfight, with his buddy, ‘el Bou’, and the Anaitasuna Peña. This evening he must carry the club banner and then afterwards work for a while behind the bar in the club premises. And then the final running of the bulls for this year, with the fearful Miura bulls. He will surely do it with a tired body. But in fiestas, he gets the energy from somewhere and, except for that one hour just before the Running of the Bulls starts, he will continue to smile all day long .

You only live once

Robert has come all the way from New York to Pamplona. At 6:30 a.m. he arrives punctually with his friends for his appointment with the Running of the Bulls. He wants to run a stretch of the course – from The City Hall square as far as the dangerous corner of Mercaderes. He is very excited as it is his first time. He is dressed in immaculate white, with a clean red necktie and sash all neatly in place. His plan is to wait in the street until 8.00 a.m. while his friends will go to a first-floor balcony to watch him and to film him in Mercaderes square. We wish him the best of luck and, although he does do some kick-boxing, we warn him of the dangers of The Running of the Bulls

Rafa lives in the apartment from which we are going to watch the Running of the Bulls today. He works in the International Red Cross but these days he has stayed in Pamplona and at 7.00 a.m. he goes out to the street to work with the emergency service. From his ample sitting-room there are four large balconies which look down on Mercaderes Square. An antique typewriter catches my eye and I ask him if it is some kind of literary relic: “It belonged to maestro Turrillas” he responds. Turrillas was one of the best known music composers for brass bands in Navarra in the last century and some of his musical pieces can be heard every day during Sanfermines at all hours of the day or night.

Many visitors want to pack in all the best of the Sanfermin fiestas in one, two or three days. And in this “menu” the main dish is getting to watch the Running of the Bulls from a good balcony. First, they are informed about the background and the essential facts of The Running of the Bulls. There are guides who can speak in English, French, Spanish and Basque. Some people come well-informed beforehand, especially the Americans. There are others who don’t even know how many bulls take part … or where they will run from! Nearly one thousand people have booked balconies – among them 200 Spanish visitors – the rest are made up of 34 different nationalities of the most varied kind: Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Americans (from North, Central and South) Australians, Portuguese, French, Italian, Swedes, Germans… and Spanish from all parts of the State.

“Sólo se vive una vez”. (‘You only live once’)That is the title of the Bollywood movie that has been the biggest box-office hit of the Indian movie industry, and it was this same movie that has motivated the Indian couple, Nikita and Chandra, to come and visit the fiestas of Sanfermin. In the movie they saw the scenes which had been filmed in Pamplona during fiestas, as well as other Spanish events and locations such as Tomatina de Buñol, Andalucía… and so they decided to follow the same tracks as the protagonists in the movie. They have rented this balcony to watch the Running of the Bulls. But they will not go to the afternoon bull fight because they would suffer too much watching the Bulls die in the arena. “Does it show that we are Indian? “ They ask me in that distinctive funny accent that Indians have when they speak English. I reply by making the typical Indian gesture, inclining my head both left and right, which is an “affirmative “answer for them and which for us, might be more a “perhaps” .

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The balconies are transformed into a veritable assembly of the United Nations in which most of them appear in similar dress and most of them are looking for the same goal: to live the fiesta to the full. The moment when the balconies are opened to allow the people to step out is an exciting one. Below in the street, the runners are gathered in groups, saluting and greeting one another and encouraging each other with best wishes before the start of the event. A warm bright light of sunshine adorns the early-morning image of a stretch of the course. The sense of excitement is thick in the air. The municipal police begin to clear the streets of any “unwanted” runners that have an excess dose of alcohol and the  Red Cross First-Aid Teams  take up their positions.

Pedro has been dreaming of this day for the past twenty years. Born in Lisbon, where he lives, ever since he was a child, he has been hearing about Bulls, Bull-ranches, Running of the Bulls and capeas with the bulls… he soon learned that in Pamplona the most singular Running of the Bulls in the whole world was held every year during fiesta week. He knows exactly what is going on here in fiestas because he is a great fan of the whole thing. Thanks to Internet he can now devour all the information that he can find. He even knows the names of some of the workers who put up the fencing such as Pascual, or even some of the bull minders like Mikel Reta.

The sanfermin.com, page, as well as the special TV reports Sanfermines de TVE, are the favorite media outlets for Pedro. He has read and seen it all. This year, he discovered that, in addition to information, he could book a visit that included a balcony view of the Running of the Bulls. Afterwards, there is a breakfast in the Nuevo Casino Principal, and then he can also go to the afternoon bullfights and even watch the Fireworks display at night having some dinner with other people. If he wishes he can have a guided visit to the Sanfermin fiestas or choose a hotel…He did it all by Internet and surprised his wife, Marina, with a four-day surprise trip to the capital of the fiestas. His happy eyes say it all: he is really pleased to be in Pamplona. He asks sensible questions, he appreciates the personalized treatment he is receiving and, judging by what he relates, it would not be a bad idea to ask this civil engineer who is so enraptured by our Running of the Bulls to write a book about all he knows on the subject.

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But Pedro’s case is rather exceptional. The typical tourists are asking their guides very rudimentary questions, while they rent a balcony in this way to watch the Running of the Bulls. Can women take part in the event? Where can one sign up and register to run? How much does it cost? Are the horns of the bulls filed down? Have you ever run? Lots of curious details occur in these balcony-rents: the person who falls asleep on the sofa while they are waiting for the start, the person who, at the last moment, decides to run back down to the street to try to take part in the bullrunning or the person who comes rushing up the stairs putting on a special shirt just to watch the event from a balcony…

Sanfermines is for all ages and for all tastes. To the surprise of this family from Toledo, Sanfermin is much more than just partying, drinking, and bulls. This family of four has come together and they spend a great time together all day. Yesterday, they watched the bullrunning from the bullring and today they have decided to do it from a balcony. Afterwards, they will go to have some traditional fritters and hot chocolate in Mañueta street. They will look for the  Giants and all their entourage , they will dance with the brass bands in the streets… The two daughters, aged 14 and 17, are already planning to visit in the future with their mates when they are a bit older. They have not slept much, normal enough during these days, but it was worth getting up early for this event.

From Calamocha, Teruel, five workers have come from the Prefabricados Francisco Hernández firm. This Company did the shuttering work for the ‘hotel’ in the pens where the Bulls are kept during Sanfermines, at the Corralillos del Gas. One of the workers relates the anecdote that when the bull-minders and the Mayorales (charge-hands)saw the height of the wall, they were stunned: the bulls could see them whenever they passed by and that was always a dangerous thing. There was an easy solution found by adding a metal finish to the woodwork. The exteriors of the pens have also been painted in red and white as recommended by these same shuttering workers. For these reasons, these workers feel that the bullpen “hotel” is partly theirs and this year the firm has presented them with a free weekend in Sanfermin fiestas so as to disengage the neurons or to provide some inspiration, depending on how you look at it.

Where is Robert, the New York kick-boxer boxer? The mandatory three rockets go off and then everything happens very quickly: The packs of animals and runners cross the square at a very fast pace, some slip up, some are knocked over by the bell-oxen. We suddenly manage to see Robert running like a hare… until he trips up… but up he gets again in two seconds flat. A small fright…his shirt is dirty…a gash on his knee…he seems to be limping…and that’s about it…but something very important; he has a big smile of satisfaction on his face! We hail him from the balcony and he comes up to watch the repeat action on TV in an incredible run where he was close to the fighting bulls. And indeed, there is Robert on the screen, amid dozens and dozens of other runners.

Photo: Ignacio Rubio/Javier Martínez de la Puente

Padilla continues to be the king

The matador with his pirate eye-patch does not need much introduction. All those who know him well sing his praises. It was a bull called “Marqués,” from the Miura bull-ranch that is to blame for the eye-patch over his left eye. The horn of that bull penetrated his left ear and his left eye. But the bullfighter does not hold anything against the bull. Indeed, he appreciates the glory he has attained from that unfortunate mishap.

Juan José Padilla (Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, 1973), the “bread-man” from Jerez, is easy to like… and to like a lot. The Pamplona Bullring lights up with his presence. These Sanfermin 2014 he will fight on two days. He already made his first appearance last Wednesday and today, Saturday he repeats. His presence in the arena generates a lot of interest. He tends to give his all every time he fights because that is his style, a generous type, he is un ‘entregao’. This was confirmed to us the order day by Miguel Araiz, ‘Rastrojo’, the gaffer of the bull-minders in the Runnings of the Bulls. These men seem to have a certain special rapport with Padilla which was well caught in a photo from our photographer Mikel Ciaurriz last year when he snapped the matador arm-in-arm with his friends, the bull-minders.

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This year we wished to bring them together again and Padilla gifted us with these cute snapshots taken in the courtyard of the bullring. If it were not for their uniforms, this could be just about any typical gang of mates ready to go out together to have a good time in Sanfermines. On this occasion, the photos were taken by another of our other photographers, Javier Martínez de la Puente, but Padilla remembered Mikel Ciaurriz from last year and, on seeing him, he shook his hand and told him “We must repeat the photo this year, right? The appointment was for 7.15 a.m. and the “pirate” made a big effort to come on time. A gesture that we most certainly sincerely appreciate.

Padilla generates a lot of affection. Wherever he goes, he leaves his mark. His path is that of a true hero who has known how to confront Death itself and to make the most of his life doing what he likes to do best. His personal background is just as impressive as his work in the bullring. He deserves many more awards of ears and tails if only for having learned how to fight against adversity and suffering.

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“La vida es un regalo” (‘Life is a gift’) reads the title of the book written by María de Villota, the Formula1 driver who lost an eye in an accident and who sadly died last October. In the book, the driver expresses her appreciation to Padilla for his support and in different places in the book there are quotes and reflections made by the matador about what one can learn when one has looked Death in the eye. A copy of this book always travels with the bullfighter, like a lucky charm that will protect him, along with a couple of bracelets made by his two children for him.

He told the Formula One driver, among many other things, how to make a good eye-patch and how to place it without causing any pain…and how to show it off! In fact, he tends to match his eye-patch with the clothes he is wearing, as he is quite vain in that aspect. In several recent interviews that he has had, he admits that he likes to cook very much, to go to the beach, to have guests at home, to cycle on a tandem bicycle with his daughter and to take his six dogs for walks.

He appreciates almost everything in life. He says that the first thing he does each morning on waking up is to thank God for being alive. He often quotes doctor Carlos Val Carreres, who brought him back to life the day of his almost-fatal goring and indeed, other doctors too and of course his own wife – called Lidia, who he first courted when she just a girl of fourteen, when he used to deliver bread to her house. Her help has been crucial in his conclusive convalescence.

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The goring to his eye resulted in the loss of 18 kilos in weight as well as the total loss of vision in his left eye while it also damaged his sense of symmetry, his sense of depth, his speed, his reflexes…but thanks to an iron will, which demanded long hours of recuperation with physiotherapists and speech therapists, he was able to reach a level of well-being which allowed him to get back into the bullrings again. It was not an easy decision to make, but he realized he had done the right thing when his daughter asked him after he told them his wish to continue as a matador, Paloma asked him: “Does that mean that I can tell my friends at school that you will be a bullfighter again?”.

In short, Padilla is made from special mettle, a phenomenon of Nature. He has suffered a total of 37 gorings so far and he never stops repeating that glory and suffering go hand-in-hand. Perhaps to sweeten the path, he has become a vicious chocolate eater. Luckily, with his profession, he burns up calories and he can continue to squeeze his lean body into the tight matador outfits. And for when he is taking his strolls, we have presented him with one of our T-shirt drawings from this year’s Sanfermin collection. It simply reads: “Pero sigo siendo el rey”. Nobody better than him to show it off. The best of luck, maestro!

“Man, you are my angel”

“I don’t like the idea of running at all”, states Bill Hillmann, laid out in a hospital bed in Pamplona, Navarra, where he is recovering from a goring which he received on the 9th of July. The bull went by the name of “Brevito”; bull number 2 from the Victoriano del Río bull-ranch, which is famous for breeding fast bulls. The hospital room seems like a television studio. The media is very interested in this particular story because it contains a certain morbid curiosity. In this particular case, the guy who got gored turns out to be a 32-year-old North-American writer who is the co-author of a book entitled “How to survive the Bulls in Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls”. It could make a great script for a movie.

Bill has an open, honest smile. The telephone in his hospital bedroom rings. It’s a call from CNN, the north-American TV channel. They would like to get in touch with him for a live TV broadcast. The line gets cut off. They ring back again. Bill responds with all the patience of a meek bell-oxen. His only line of contact with the outside world is the hospital phone. These days, during Sanfermin fiestas, he had his passport and his laptop stolen from him and his American cell phone does not work in Spain.

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He has narrated the details of his goring several times already. Both actively and passively.Without any complaints. He does not try to change or move his posture in bed, because, with any movement he makes, his right leg reminds him that he is suffering a wounded leg. Jim Hollander, a New York-based photographer who is a regular visitor to Sanfermin fiestas in search of photos, comes into the hospital room. But this time it was not he who got the photos of his fellow-citizen’s mishap. He is simply paying him a visit. He tells me that “Bill is a fine writer” and he shows me a portrait that he made of him in Cuéllar when he was named ambassador of the bullfighting fiesta in that town in Castile. The two men chat for a few minutes. Both men belong to that tribe of North-American visitors who are addicts of the Running of the Bulls and the Sanfermin fiestas.

Several TV channels have passed through, and a radio station too. Two of his best friends have dropped by. Some hospital social workers are also here as well as nurses and even the cleaning lady has been in…one long procession of people. I bide my time and eventually, I get the chance to be alone with him. I notice that he is tired. He has been brought some food and I help him set the tray on the bed. His wife has gone off to get some sleep after spending the night with him. Bill eats with gusto. He says he loves Spanish cooking. I take out my notebook quietly. This man should be resting… the door of the hospital room opens again. Well, well…yet another visit.

Three big men and a woman enter the room. I tell them that Bill is all played out but, of course, they want to say hello to their friend. They all speak with strong American accents. Bill seems pleased to see them. I put away my notebook and listen to them speaking. They too are Sanfermin fanatics; they don’t miss a single day of the fiesta week. One of them got a goring some years ago in a Running of the Bulls. Another of them is holding a copy of the novel which Bill has just published,

“The old neighborhood” and he asks for a signature dedication. Would he have had the book in his travel bag along with his white Sanfermin gear or would he have bought it yesterday from Amazon? Bill takes up a ball point and starts to write something on the first page… he writes and writes… very concentrated… perhaps this is the first time he has used a pen since his accident and for that reason he wants to take his time on it.

His friends take leave of him and I prepare to do the same. Really, my task has been completed. I have brought him a laptop so that he can continue to write some articles for the Chicago Tribune newspaper and note down his first reactions to his goring, and all the fuss it has caused, etc. Ideas won’t be lacking. The laptop was given to me by Mikel Ciaurriz, one of the photographers at Sanfermin.com, the author of the photo which has been seen all around the world and besides, the man behind the cute story which has brought me to this hospital room.

How had it all come about? After checking his work and the sequence of photos that he took of Bill’s goring, Mikel felt that that lesion could turn out to be a very bad one as the horn was very close to the femoral artery. He immediately went over to where Bill was receiving first-aid at the fencing from The Red Cross. He looked into his face. The two men exchanged a look and Bill gave him a thumbs-up OK and Mikel made the same gesture back to him. Pure and simple empathy. Hours later, the two met up again in hospital: Bill immediately recognized Mikel who had come to visit him and to know if there was anything he could do for him. “Man, you are my angel”, was practically the first thing that Bill said to him. And it was the truth. He lent Bill his cell phone so that he could call his parents and tell them that he was fine and well.

Bill looks very pleased when I hand him the laptop. He has not got an Internet connection yet but at least he could do some writing with it. He insists that we should have a chat and that I could give him an interview. I think that maybe it would be good for him to have a relaxing conversation before taking a nap, although I could not help thinking that he would be receiving more transatlantic calls as it was now waking time in The USA. In any case, I started with my questions…

Do your parents know that you are out of danger?

Sure they do. Thanks to Mikel, the photographer, as he gave me his cell phone to let me call them. That guy is my savior!

What exactly happened between the two of you?

When the Red-Cross first-aid people were treating me at the fencing, I was looking at him. I was thinking, well, I am alive and well, I just have a jab from the horns of the bull, and I was not out of my mind. I don’t want anyone to think that I am afraid or out of my mind… the way he looked at me and smiled was part of that first moment of realization. I wanted to let him know that he should tell everyone that I was fine. I just liked the way he looked at me. I felt like shouting out in Spanish “Amo a los toros”, but I was bleeding quite a lot and well, I did not actually do it, but I gave silent thanks for having come out of the run still alive and in one piece.

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One of the first visits you had was from Mikel Ciaurriz.

Yes, the very first. I was alone in the room as my wife had gone off to look for our friends. When he entered, I knew him straightaway. Then later he showed me some of his photos and it helped me to understand what exactly had happened… how I got pushed…how I fell. These were the first images that I had seen and that was good for me and important as it cleared my head. I found it hard to believe that a perfect stranger would do all this for me. “Is there anything that you need”? he asked me. And my first thought was for my folks back home… I said to him “I would love to be able to call my parents”. Without any hesitation he held out his cell phone. “Tell me the number” he said”. It was 6 a.m. in Chicago, my parents would be just getting up and maybe they could already see the news. I felt a bit embarrassed but I accepted his kind offer. I just did not want them to be worried. I knew that if they heard my voice it would help to reassure them. It was a real gift. The best gift of this whole damned story. He is a great guy, is Mikel.

What do you miss most right now?

The Fiesta, The Sanfermines, I’m losing out on them! I don’t want to watch the Running of the Bulls on TV. I want to run and I miss not being there with my pals. I have been coming for the past five years and I always stay for the whole of the fiestas.

Do your feel inspired to write more about the Running of the Bulls? Have HaveAre you turning over some new ideas in your head?

Sure, sure, my newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, has already requested me to write some things for them and I am tossing some ideas around at the moment. Now that I have a laptop I will be able to work on that. That’s great. I feel very much like writing.

After Pamplona, will you head straight back to The USA?

No, not yet. Maybe a trip to Morocco…I don’t know…it all depends on how my leg is. Will I be able to carry my baggage…,move about easily…? In August we will travel to London to launch my novel. I have a writer friend there – Irvin Welsh – who is organizing some events for me. He is well-known in his country and he is really helping me a lot. We are both good friends.

When did you write that book, “The old neighborhood”?

I started to write it some ten years ago. And I have rewritten it several times to try to improve it. It was just published a few months ago.

This year you also published a book in electronic format about the Sanfermines, as a co-author with some other American writers, “How to survive in the running of the Bulls”.

That’s right. We wrote it between four of us and also the photographer, Jim Hollander, has participated in it – the guy who just visited me earlier. Joe Distler, who is just an incredible runner and John Hemingway, grandson of the Nobel Prize winner and then Alexander Fiske-Harrison, coordinated the whole project.

What was the experience of sharing a book like?

The book was divided into four parts. I wrote the chapter dealing with the Running of the Bulls…how to run…what to watch for…make sure the bulls don’t catch you…things like that (he laughs out loud). John writes about his grandfather Ernest Hemingway and his passion for the Sanfermines. Joe narrates how the Running of the Bulls has evolved and about the early runners… Alexander did the hardest part of all which was to link up the parts and give a form to the book. Then edit the whole thing and get it out and spread the word about it. The Mayor of Pamplona has written a preface and some local runners like Jokin, Josetxo and others have contributed with their ideas and advice about how to run the Running of the Bulls. It was a nice piece of co-authorship and cooperation from several hands.

In the photos taken of your goring, it is clear that you are wearing some light footwear that looks like stockings with toes on them. Are they the famous ‘barefoot’ ones?

Yes, I always run with them on because I just love them. They are very comfortable and very light. I have had those ones for the past three years and I use them to run and also to do some exercises with.

Have they survived the accident?

I think so. I don’t know exactly where all my things are, but I know that they survived.

Have you read Fiesta, by Hemingway?

Sure. It was the first book I ever read. I was a pretty poor student when I was a kid. I was about twenty years old when I first read it and when I finished it I felt I wanted to write and tell stories like that: I thought to myself “I want to be a writer, I want to go to Spain and I want to run with the fighting bulls”.

sanfermining_telef

The telephone rings. Bill answers it straightaway. It is Michael, a friend. Bill asks him to call back later as he is being interviewed right now and he would love to receive a visit from him in the hospital.

When you were writing the book, did it ever occur to you that you yourself could get gored by a bull?

Sure. I have always thought it could happen to me. The danger is there. You can make a mistake and, with the fighting bull you can never be sure. But I have been lucky because it has not been too serious.

As a writer, you need to have a special vision when it comes to telling how you feel about doing the bullrunning. What is going on inside you just before the start of the Running of the Bulls?

It’s just incredible. I feel fear… expectancy… I start to doubt about myself…about my own abilities… and also a strong sense of camaraderie and friendship, when I see my friends there, ¡aaahhh!, and we slap hands and wish each other “luck”, and you know they are with you and you are with them… because we all feel the same thing… it is all over in a few short minutes but the next day it is there again… It’s just awesome.

And during the run?

As you are running you feel the speed of everything, the excitement, there are so many people around you!… For me the best runnings are when I manage to get a focused view which is not easy as everyone else is trying to do the same and some runners know what the thing is all about and many others don’t. and suddenly that wild herd of animals appear with their tremendous pace and what I would call the “bull-chaos” and to keep your concentration then and there is no easy thing.

What happens when you realize that the Bulls are on top of you?

It’s a fantastic feeling…you feel so much strength and when you get close to the bull and the bull accepts you there and runs with you… it is just mind-blowing. I am waiting all year to get that high each morning during the Runnings of the Bulls.

How can you think at such a speed?

The most complicated thing is to foresee, in millimeters of seconds, what the bull is going to do, how it will move. You look back and you sometimes hear the bellow of the bull, which is an impressive sound (he tries to imitate the sound with an aaaaaaaaaa) and other times you just hear the thump of the hooves (chun, chun, chun), with their fleeting rhythm but also a steady-paced one. Some runners fall and trip-up, other push and shove… The bulls can react in a totally surprising way to all that at times. The bull that caught me was moving ahead quietly. I could feel that it was running along with me and suddenly it let out a bellow, uaaaaaa. If I had seen that there was another runner behind it, I would not have reacted as I did but he also wanted to protect himself from the danger and in his attempt, he pushed me and I fell down and… I got gored by the bull.

Bill takes a gasp after narrating his mishap, as if he had just finished his run.

And when the run is over, do you still feel that power and strength?

Sometimes, not often, I have felt that power, when I know that the Bulls have been with me. It is more than power or strength. I feel like I am part of the animal, that we are together and that all will go fine. It is almost like saying “let´s go”. Afterwards, you feel a great sense of joy…you watch it repeated on TV and you go wow! What adrenalin! But if it has not gone well, you feel a real downer, a real feeling of disappointment.

In what sense, because you have been unable to get close in front of the horns?

Yes it is so disheartening. I start to doubt…to feel that I have failed…that maybe I can never run again.

The phone rings again. This time a call from Chicago. He asks them to call back in 10 minutes.

¿Are you a regular jogger, I mean do you run throughout the year to keep fit.

No, in fact, I hate running. It tires me…it bores me. The only thing that can make me run are the fighting bulls. My legs are long and lanky, my arms are heavy…it is not any fun for me.

Do you play any sports?

I have played American football in my time, I have been a boxing champion and sometimes I do some physical exercise. I have had to leave off the boxing because it causes addiction in me.

Will you run with the Bulls again?

Sure, I hope so. I will go to Cuéllar in August and I will try to run there.

Can you remember the first time that you thought about running the bulls?
I had seen some video or other about the Running of the Bulls, but nothing very much. Where I really discovered about the Running of the Bulls was reading “Fiesta.” That is what got me hooked. When I discovered that those fiestas continued today I knew I just had to come to Pamplona and here the fiestas have become an obsession of mine.

I finish the interview. I explain to Bill what is in the case with the laptop…the charger…the headphones which are brand new and which Mikel put in for him…and I leave the things safely in a corner so that the material is not mislaid among the clutter. I leave with the impression that I have just lived through a Running of the Bulls…from the inside.