The Dutchies have that famous song, ‘When it’s spring again, I’ll sing again, tulips from Amsterdam…’ Well, up here in the Northern Hemisphere, in the Land of Middle Earth on the Mountains of Mordor where I sit upon the Throne of Pinks, writing this, it’s March and the third countdown of the Escalera to Fiesta is upon us, the 3rd of the 3rd, and that cloven hooved, stampeding Game of Horns is rapidly approaching, as it were. As Bogart might have said in that long lost famous film, ‘Caballo Blanco’…
As so often, there is no particular theme to this month’s ponderings, just a selection of scribblings to start off the year’s writings and ramblings from this SanferTimero.
425 Years Ago
Four and a quarter centuries ago, after the fiesta of 1590, the date of San Fermin was moved, as the locals decided that the weather in October, when it had been previously held for several hundred years, was just not good enough. So it was moved to July in 1591, to combine with an already existing commercial fair. Ever since then we have been lucky enough to celebrate the world’s greatest free event in the glorious, (usually) summertime weather in the Kingdom of Navarra. Oh lucky us.
No one quite knows how the encierro started, or when, (although we know pretty much why) but last year in one of Navarra’s local newspapers, Diario de Noticias, in their special pre-fiesta San Fermin supplement, I read an article by Patxi Barragan that offered not just a possible explanation, but one that actually seemed very plausible too.
There is a town in Spain called Cuellar, in the province of Segovia, about 75 miles, (120km, keep up at the back there) northwest of Madrid. It lays claim to having the oldest encierro in the country, dating from 1215, which merits a whole other story on its own, but Cuellar could be relevant to Pamplona because of what I read in the piece.
Once upon a time there was born in that town a chap who became Beltran 2nd de la Cueva, The Duke of Alburquerque. He was made Viceroy of Navarra in 1552, and it’s perhaps because of this that he brought with him many of his fellow townsfolk to Pamplona, where it seems they could have decided to continue their home town’s traditions and play what was known as, literally, the ‘Juego de Toros,’ the Game of Bulls. See, I told you, Game of Horns…
We’ll never know for sure, and no doubt, as I’ve read before and also written about too, local Pamplonicans were already used to the bulls being run into the square for the bullfights and occasionally ‘played’ with them too, by making dares of darting out at them, or running way in front of them…especially when the authorities frowned upon this sort of thing and tried to stop it.
Which they failed miserably at, thank goodness, and eventually gave in and became the masters of the universe at doing a u-turn, and made the encierro official. Once again…oh lucky us… So thank you, Duke of Alburqueque, and I hope your time working for the English in the Court of King Henry 8th (he did, you know,) was nearly as fun as fiesta in my favourite city in the galaxy. Talking of fun…
A Fiesta Jester. Big Dave Pierce 1932 – 2016
Not a Duke, or a King, but most definitely ‘un Grande,’ and from what I understand, also, in the nicest possible way…a Clown. A Joker. A fiesta jester. I didn’t know the fella but many, many people did, and I like to mention these Sanfermineros as and when they slip off to that great fiesta in the sky… And so it has come to pass that one David Milton Pierce has left this Earth to join his old amigos up there in those Celestial San Fermines.
As I say, I didn’t know him, but I have read a lot about him over the years, so I’m going to use a couple of stories that have been doing the rounds, and post some pictures I stole too. I’ll credit them where I can, but if I can’t and you know who took ‘em, please let me know and between Mr. Tim here in London and Mr. Testis there in Pamplona we’ll get them name checked. I’ve read so many stories about that original crowd from the fifties and sixties that it’d make a whole book in itself, and I might well save that for another day.
But I’m going to borrow one thing that was posted to a bunch of us out there, by the one and only Yoav Spicehandler. I know, I know, thank gawd there’s only one, and it’s him… And then, if I may, a final post from someone else, as it relates to his return to Pamplona, for his last ever fiesta. And so, yup, once again I’m going to plagiarise my way to penury.
So, first, this, from Yoav Spicehandler. Take it away, Yoey…
David Milton Pierce. Big Dave, “El Valiente”
Here are some brush strokes that might fill in the complex and beautiful portrait that was Big Dave…
I first met this larger than life personage that was Big Dave in Paris, as a child in the early 60’s. He was a perfect combination of Woody Allen and Jacques Tati! He had come to Paris to visit some friends, and somehow ended up at our apt on Blvd. Edgar Quinet. I was about 14 or 15. Well, Dave never one to miss a potential audience, proceeded to show my brother and me the most incredible magic tricks I had ever seen! Coins and cards, disappearing, reappearing…and right in our living room!
Over the years, the family would travel to London and see Dave amongst others. He had a great apt., in a basement, where he had built a small mausoleum for his beloved cat, under a column in the apt. The couches were car seats fitted to be living room couches. It was a living room out of Harry Potter. Every nook and cranny contained something interesting!
And always there was Pamplona… I do not remember the details, but Dave, with his magic buddy, Victor Pinto, planned to go travelling by kayak, from “Paris to Pakistan” via the inland canals of Europe. Fortunately, by the time they reached southern France they decided for Pamplona instead!!
Pamplona where my parents, Dave and Derry Hall would stay at the Hostal Bearan, on the Calle San Nicolas. It was Dad and Dave and Derry that started the Infermeria, and the Old Farts Party after the Encierro. And it was they that initiated the terms “Red shit and Orange shit”.
It was also Dave who started the game of setting down newspaper in the plaza and not stepping off the paper no matter what steer came by.
David’s scripted Pamplona Banquets every year were hilarious and notorious events. Everyone was a target for his sharp tongued insults and witty compliments! After the 1967 Six Day war in Israel, being half Jewish, he decided to volunteer in Israel. His tales of working in the banana fields on a kibbutz, and his futile attempts at seducing serious Sabra women, were absolutely side splitting!!
In Paris, one year, he constructed a form of banjo, out of a broom stick and salad bowl. He would regale my mom and others with old songs from the 20’s and 30’s. At one point he also took tap dancing lessons!
In the early 70’s Dave lived on King’s Rd, London, right near the Chelsea School of Art, where I was a student. Before class, I would pay my respects, talk about everything, and buy hash from him… It was also there that I discovered he owned a pinball machine in his apt!
In those days that was a miracle. No one owned a pinball machine! Actually, I later found out he was close friends with Chris Stamp, (brother of the actor Terence Stamp) and manager of the Who, and it was that pinball machine that was featured in the Who’s rock opera “Tommy” and featured in the hit song, “Pinball Wizard”!! (Chris Stamp actually went to Pamplona and befriended my brother).
Years later, David enjoyed a moment of fame with his series of mystery novels that took place in LA. (His 7 novels are still available on Amazon.com). They are Vintage Big Dave. He also had many small volumes of humorous verse.
Years later, in 1990, I was in Paris with 2 of my boys, and he performed magic tricks for them!! To me, the circle was complete!
Many years later, in Pamplona 2003, after a couple strokes and giving up alcohol, he had trouble walking. Dave wanted to go to the Corrida, and asked for a date. Sarah was tall, and I wanted her to meet him. So, although intimidated, Sarah acquiesced. She was flattered, but did not know the man, and had no idea what to expect from this man dressed as an outlandish torero. By the time the fights were over they returned to the Windsor, and had become fast friends!
I also remember a dinner at the Aralar with Dave and my father… El Valiente was so funny that I had to run downstairs before dessert, laughing and puked the entire meal! At one point, he called over the young waitress, and complained that his Gazpacho was cold! And insisted on seeing the chef!! The poor girl was totally confused.
Bonnie was the love of his life, and although the marriage didn’t quite work out, they stayed fast friends, and helped him years later to give up alcohol, and help him convalesce after his stroke.
He actually prompted me to stop drinking, and over the years he would ask,”Yoey, how is “Demon Rum” treating you?” I would respond, “All is well David. All is well.”
David also mentored my foray into writing poetry and verse. He was always very encouraging, and his critiques very valid.
When Sarah and I last saw Dave in 2012, although wheel chair ridden, his mind was as sharp as ever.
And finally, as we were leaving his apt., Sarah whispered to him,
“You know Dave, Yoey really loves you”.
He turned to her, and responded,
“What can I say? I inherited him!”
I will miss David. To me “El Valiente” will live forever…
How “the greatest stuff up” came to be… (And I’ve changed just one word there…)
“A group of us were sitting outside the Windsor Bar towards the end of San Fermin 2002. Jim Hollander was mentioning he would like to get a box of his new book “Run To The Sun – Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermin” to Big Dave in Paris. JJ and I told him we would be driving to Paris after Fiesta with our daughter Annie to celebrate her 15th birthday there and had room in our car for the box of books. Only thing was we had never met Big Dave. Jim wrote Dave’s address and phone on the back of one of the stickers he had printed for the book promo and told us we were in for a treat.
Once we arrived in Paris, we called Big Dave, told him who we were and asked for a convenient time to drop off the books at his place. The next day we rang his doorbell thinking we would say hello, drop off the books and continue with our sightseeing. Big Dave insisted we come in and tell him all about Fiesta. He was the most gracious host, serving appetizers and showing us around his very eclectic and colourful apartment. He then sat down at his desk with a copy of Jim’s book. Page after page his comment was how much he missed Fiesta and how he wished he could go back sometime. JJ tells Big Dave to let him know if and when he was ready to return to Spain and JJ would make plans to travel via Paris to accompany Dave to Pamplona. We gave Big Dave our contact information, said our goodbyes and left. Jim was right, meeting Big Dave was a treat and the highlight of our time in Paris.
Several months later I get a phone call from Chris Humphreys telling me Big Dave has told him “my good friend JJ is taking me back to Fiesta in 2003”. The problem was Big Dave had not let JJ know he was ready to go back to San Fermin. Another problem – JJ and I had already bought our tickets for July 2003 via Madrid. Chris, not too pleased, says he’ll see what he can do to fix JJ’s f*@k up. Later Chris tells us he has arranged for Big Dave to get to Biarritz if JJ can meet him there and take him to Pamplona. Of course, JJ agreed and that is how Big Dave made it back to San Fermin 2003. This ended up being Chris Humphreys’ last Fiesta. Chris, ever the gentleman, called JJ over and told him “JJ, this was the greatest stuff up ever but I thank you for it!”
Robbed, word for word, from Bunny Centurion. Cheers, chica!
As I say, I didn’t know him, but we did have quite a few conversations via email a couple of years ago. I needed some info about a fiesta photo and apparently he was the chap who’d know. So I was given his email address and I wrote to him. I explained who I was, who I knew that he knew, how often I’d been to fiesta, etc, etc, and we had a pleasant and humorous ping pong of emails. He sent me some of his poetry which I honestly thought was wonderful.
Then I found out that he’d written a load of books too, and had also had his poetry published, and began to realise that there was more, so much more, to this chap than I had ever realised.
I asked him a few more questions when suddenly, one day, I received a brand new email from him, and not a continuance of our regular thread. (I’ve since learnt from those who knew him that his question to me was typical ‘Big Dave.’) “Tim,’ he wrote, “excuse me for asking…but who in the hell are you?!”
I’m going to (nearly) end with this photo, as it seems that Dave Pierce was the founder of the 1000-1 Club, whereby after the bull run, one places a page of newspaper on the sand in the ring and attempts to stay on it without moving.
And finally, this one, because it made me laugh so much. Apparently he called himself ‘The Thief of Bad Gags,’ which is a cracker in itself…as you can see…
Adios Kukuxumusu… Kaixo Kukuxumusu! In the strange parallel universe that the Lokomuxaxos of Kukuxumundu live in, there have been some strange goings on. Those irascible Iruña imps have been up to their mischief again, and without going into the details or indeed politics of it, Kukuxumusu have undergone a bit of a change. Sadly, it’s not exactly been the best of divorces…more a sort of messy metamorphosis, if you will. While staying the same…sort off.
To quote the great Basque playwright, Etxakezpirri, (and I’ve always wondered why it’s not written ‘playwrite…’ anyway…) Kuku have managed, ‘To be, and not to be.’ They haven’t just lost the three original fella’s that founded it, Mikel Urmaneta, Koldo Aiestaran and Txomin Dominguez, over the last couple of years, but others too, like the fourth ‘socio,’ Antxon Iñarrea.
But, as George Harrison sang, ‘All Things Must Pass’ and I wish them all the best, because what Mikel, Txomin and Koldo did in starting up Kukuxumusu all those years ago was an original and very funny take on what is many people’s favourite fiesta. And the website they set up, (this one) is easily the best one out there when it comes to not just all things San Fermin, but so much more.
And to think, all those years ago, when my particular peña, an unofficial one that I call The Lost Peña for my articles and stories, were sitting down in the gutter during fiesta in the Plaza del Castillo in 1989, that those Pamplona University students selling one t-shirt design next to us, to earn some summer money, would quickly go on to form Kukuxumusu.
So, to those original three, zorte on, mutilak, and I have to say, good luck to the new bunch too. You’re the new Maestros of the Kukuniverse, and that’s a rather special company you have there, so please look after it… Finally, two things to two folk. To the previously mentioned Koldo Aierstaran… thank you.
For ‘twas he who first suggested I write something for them, and thus it’s down to him I began my scribblings. And not just the articles either, but the books too. (So you can all blame him!) It’s because of these pieces, and the lovely feedback I’ve received about them, that meant I got to play a tiny part in the Mad, Mad World of Cloud Kukuland… and it’s been a pleasure. A life changing one. Once again, gracias eta eskerrik asko Koldo.
And finally, to that Mad Man Manu, and his evil and genetically modified twin, Mr. Testis… It’s Manu who puts my neanderthaloid (new word) jumbled up mess of scribbles and pictures into the computerised classiness you see before you. Mil esker, Maestroman!
‘Minutiae’ probably isn’t the word I’m looking for, but hey, it fits, and if anyone else can find or invent a word that means ‘a minor but relevant fact or story relating to the Fiesta of San Fermin,’ then please let me know. Copyright Tim Pinks, obviously…
Another man died in February this year, whose relevance to Pamplona isn’t too big or important in the grand scheme of things, and yet…I like it when some ‘obscure or unknown,’ (to most of us) piece of history pops up in the present. My thanks go to Joe Distler for bringing this to my attention, and indeed thanks to his friends the Farley’s for bringing it to his!
Just imagine: you’re born and brought up in Winfield, Kansas, on March 7th, 1927…so naturally, you become a bullfighter. Well, I guess it helps if your parents are Mexican and so this is what happened to one Jesus Cordoba Ramirez, who died on February 16th. He was a pretty good torero by all accounts, and I’ve left three email addresses at the end of this bit for those who want to learn more.
I’ve included him in this month’s article because it seems he did have a Pamplona connection, as he fought twice in the 1953 feria corridas, and also, intriguingly, in 1966. Koldo Larrea’s article below explains how the corrida of July 14th, 1966 was billed as a ‘Ranchers Competition,’ as the three toreros fought bulls from six different ranches. He also met Hemingway. Which is the bit I’m going to lift here, from the first website printed below:
In 1953 he spent seven months touring Spain and Portugal to great acclaim.
It was probably during that period when Cordoba met Ernest Hemingway, the great American chronicler of bullfighting. Hemingway had been watching and writing about the Spanish corridas since the early 1920s. Hemingway had returned to Spain after a 15-year absence, and that year spent much time on the circuit following Antonio Ordóñez, a leading young matador of the day. Cordoba said he saw Hemingway every day for about two weeks.
“Jesus Cordoba was an excellent boy,” Hemingway once wrote, “and a good and intelligent matador and I enjoyed talking with him. He left me at the door of Antonio’s room.
As Cordoba told it years later, Hemingway asked him how he happened to get from Kansas to the bull ring. And he asked many more questions. At some point Hemingway tried to encourage Cordoba to write a book.
“Why don’t you write it?” Hemingway said.
“I’m not a writer,” Cordoba answered.
“Well, I wasn’t a writer once. Just take a pencil and start writing. If you don’t like it, tear it up and start over again.”
Cordoba stuck with bullfighting. He became one of the highest ranked matadors in Spain and Mexico, and he had the injuries to prove it. He confessed to being a reluctant killer, especially when a bull had impressed with its bravery. But that is the way of the corrida, and, “to get the ears and the trophies, you had to kill,” he said.
Regarding his appearances that in 1953 in Pamplona, he appeared on Tuesday 7th with Julio Aparicio and Isidro Marin, with bulls from the Salvador Guardiola ranch. Then on Thursday 9th he was part of the cartel that included Emilio Ortuño Jumillano and Pedro Martinez Pedrez, with bulls from the Joaquin Buendia ranch.
And so there goes up into those celestial skies another small smidgen of the San Fermin story.
And lastly, but most definitely not leastly, from Navarra’s very own Koldo Larrea and his excellent site, www.torosennavarra.com.
And for the aficionados amongst you, you’ll find a video of him on You Tube if you type in: ‘Jesus Cordoba Elegancia, Arte y Señorio.’
¡Ya Falta Menos!
And that, as they say, is that. For now. As I write this it’s still the third of the third, step number three of the famous ‘Escalera’ singsong countdown to fiesta. Although I always think of it as a ‘count up.’ For those who don’t know, ‘ya falta menos’ doesn’t really translate well but it means something like, ‘already there’s less time to go.’ (Told you it didn’t translate well!) I prefer to think of it as ‘time’s a-ticking!’
And Tim’s a-tingling…