Imagen del chupinazo de san fermin lleno de gente y con los gaiteros saliendo del ayuntamiento

Essence

“The essence of pleasure is spontaneity.”

Germaine Greer.

 

At the end of the encierro in Pamplona the adrenalin’s edge softens and the sense of relief, satisfaction, fulfilment and even disappointment takes its place.  At the same time, amid the Kaiku y cognacs, coffees and conversation, thoughts turn towards breakfast.

There was a time when groups of runners would take the short stroll down Plaza del Castillo, crossing Estafeta and up to Calle de la Merced where they would find a few spare benches outside La Raspa and sit down.  The crowd would vary day to day but ultimately it would be a relaxed affair where a group of friends could eat a simple breakfast, share a few bottles of tinto with gaseosa and chat away in a mood of contented camaraderie.  The odd jota would meanwhile float over from a nearby table. It was always the perfect way to ease into the day and to transition between the drama of the encierro and the rhythm of fiesta.

Not now.

Now the tables are all reserved: booked up in advance for the “right people” and the impromptu breakfast has been replaced by a stage-managed event.  The very concept of spontaneity has been sacrificed because the breakfast “event” is so popular that everyone wants to join in. Everyone wants a piece of the action and to be seen to be there.  When the essence of a thing vanishes what is left is an artificial facsimile of the original.

We have seen it before in so many ways.  If you have ever dreamed of visiting a famous monument or notoriously beautiful site then you will be aware that the truth does not match the dream.  That amazing view across to Niagra Falls, across the Grand Canyon or up The Mall to Buckingham Palace is not something you can enjoy in the way you imagined.  This is because of the sheer mass of humanity getting in the way of the view. The forest of selfie sticks, or ego poles as someone else has described them, has to be waded through and any photograph has to be captured in that split second when a group of Japanese tourists, British schoolchildren or American coach tour is not right in the optimal place.

Popular sites are popular for a reason – people believe they are worth seeing “in the flesh”.  Their essence is something that is worth enjoying in person. Yet in doing so we end up killing them through popularity.  Pumphrey described it as the “devil’s bargain”, and that experience is greatly diminished not just because it has to be shared with dozens of Antipodean backpackers but because that sense of intimacy, that personal connection, is compromised.

It is very easy to leap up and blame the very modern phenomenon of social media for much of this.  After all the attitude that drives so many of us to share our lives with the rest of the world has found a natural home in the digital age.  Not only that but there is an accompanying theme of the need to prove how amazing our lives are while sharing them with the world. As a result the selfie stick pervades and every visit to a famous monument or site has to be captured as evidence not only that we were there, but that we were having the most amazing time while we were at it.

Yet it wouldn’t be fair to blame this solely on the rise of social media.  As long as humans have been able to travel for leisure and been able to share that experience so the complaints of over-crowding and spoiling have existed.

The famous European Grand Tour was an expected trip for wealthier members of British society, particularly between the 17th and 19th centuries.  Yet even as far back as then there were complaints that the circuit was getting too crowded and too rowdy.  As Professor Kathleen Burke writes; “The undisciplined and sometimes violent behaviour of young Englishmen was often commented upon; certainly, for the staff of British embassies abroad, the activities of English visitors, ‘each vying with the other who should be the wildest and most eccentric’, were a major preoccupation. ‘Even Russians were impressed by the cohorts of wild English youth they found in the cities of western Europe.’”

Hemingway too acknowledged the down side to the popularity of something so beloved.  “Pamplona was rough, as always, overcrowded… I’ve written Pamplona once, and for keeps. It is all there, as it always was, except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there… four decades ago.”

Social media has merely exacerbated this and contributed to it on a global level.  Take a trip to San Sebastián, home of the most wonderful pintxos and tapas, and you will see what popularity has done to this culture.  The principle of tapas, how tapas traditionally works in Spanish towns and cities, has been erased. In its place there is a much more stage-managed, tourist-friendly version where the bars do not want people to pop in for a mini and a single pintxo.  Now they hand you a plate and encourage you to stay long and spend deep in order to keep the cash registers ringing. (This is not to denigrate the gastronomy of San Sebastián, which is outstanding).

This is not how tapas works elsewhere, but San Sebastián has become popular on a mercurial scale.  When this happens a critical mass is reached and something has to give. As Hassan Bougrine points out; “…the essence of the capitalist economy is the need to ‘make money’.”  No wonder that tradition is distorted. Though perhaps some would say that it is actually more positive – an evolution that gives the customers what they want. Given that a high proportion of those present in the Basque city are foreign travellers, that evolution to ‘Tapas Tourism’ is not surprising.

The intense beauty of Cornish fishing villages is such an allure that those with enough income have been buying holiday homes there for many years.  This has had such a negative impact on the communities, effectively destroying the villages outside the holiday seasons, that bans on purchasing second homes now exist in a number of Cornish locations.

The essence of a thing is so fragile, so precious and so difficult to grasp that when we reach for it, it vanishes.  Like grasping a handful of sand on the beach, the tighter we hold on the less we are able to keep a grip on it and the sooner it slips through our fingers and is gone.  We rarely aim to destroy the essence of a thing intentionally, we merely realise that it has happened almost by stealth and the truth of our impact has crept up on us, seemingly out of nowhere.  Yet, destroy the essence of something we most certainly do.

With something fragile and something so desirable the answer, surely, is to handle with care.  We want to reach out and grasp something that shines and yet, like ice crystals, the very touch itself can destroy the thing.  In this case it must be wiser to enjoy a thing in the moment and be prepared to walk away, to change and to sacrifice the very thing we love so as not to destroy it.  This is not easy for, in the moment, we are normally overtaken by the desire to sink ourselves into the experience. Similarly we often destroy one small cut at a time and may not recognise it until it is too late.

Surely as soon as we feel a thing we love is at risk of being stage-managed or that its essence has been compromised or killed by popularity we should be prepared to walk away.  Perhaps we should even be prepared to walk away long before then. Take the post-encierro breakfast as an example. If we attend every single day are we expecting too much from it?  Are we forcing the fun to fulfil an expectation or are we merely contributing to the destruction of its essence. Once something becomes routine it is no longer special.

That is not to say that such things should cease and many people find enjoyment in routine.  Some would even claim that they are able to hold onto the essence of something even when it is a routine.

One of the most common complaints is that the encierro has been destroyed through being too popular.  Complainants point to the crowded streets and the high proliferation of non-Spanish runners (estimated to be 45% in 2017) as contributing factors.  Talk to any “old timer” and they will generally yearn for a time when the streets were quieter, when you had space to run and when you could actually see the bulls.  The essence of the encierro has gone, replaced by backpackers, beginners and wishful thinking.

The evidence does not totally support this view.

The encierro has been popular for a very long time and crowding is most certainly not a modern phenomenon.  Old black and white photographs and even film reels show crowded streets, a crowded Plaza de Toros, pile ups and packed barriers going back many decades – all seemingly without killing off the soul of the encierro.

Additionally, the modern crowding is not getting any worse according to figures released by the Ayuntamiento of Pamplona.  An article published on sanfermin.com highlighted the fact that some years, such as 2012, saw over 20 thousand runners take part across the 8 days, while others much less.  2017 was estimated to have had around 16 thousand runners. Volumes also vary dramatically from day-to-day. It would appear that a patient and determined runner can find space on the right day if he bides his time and takes his chances.

So while it is true that we often smoother the thing we love and destroy its essence, sometimes the thing we love is not actually dead and we just need to look at it slightly differently.  Perhaps, as in San Sebastián, we need to experience it differently and re-learn what the essence now is. Ultimately we need to acknowledge that the essence of a thing is fleeting, transient and that we should enjoy what we can of it while it lasts.

© 2007 Xabier Ansó. El dispositivo especial de Sanfermin permite acceder el propio recorrido del encierro

The Running of the Bulls is rejected by many Insurance companies

Bill lives in Ontario, Canada. He is a monitor of risk sports and he remembers the first time he ran the running of the bulls from the Santo Domingo stretch. A runner by his side, with a look of panic, told him just before the bulls were released, “I don’t think my travel insurance policy will cover this.” And it turned out to be that case. At times, Bill has thought about taking part in the running of the bulls since then, but he feels the risk is higher than the profession he performs in his working life as a monitor of risk sports.

Travel insurance companies don’t cover risky behaviour.

Chris after his experiences in the 1995 Sanfermines, expressed his attitude as follows: “Forget about Bungee jumping, forget about the jalopy car racing, forget the rest…This really guarantees an authentic adrenaline boost. There are no security nets; there are no safety belts or airbags. You and a dozen bulls running in among a couple of thousand runners who are just as terrified…as you.”

Chris encourages his American colleagues to take part in the running of the bulls and gives some sound advice, considering that he has been a runner from abroad. His final piece of advice is “Ensure that you have good medical insurance, and it is probably wise to make sure that your will is up to date.”

Planning to run with the bulls? Jump off cliffs?
Check your coverage

There are two insurance policies made by Pamplona City Hall and by the organizers of the bull fair – the Casa de Misericordia. These serve to cover compensations in cases of disablement or death. Those injured or wounded and born within the province of Navarra, or from neighboring provinces, receive free medical treatment from The Public Health Service. However, foreigners are charged through their medical insurance. Anyone injure or wounded will obviously be given full treatment with no questions asked, but later The Navarra Health Service will try to have the cost paid by the patients medical insurance.

The hospital is obliged to charge by law

The Navarra Public Health Service is obliged, by law, to charge for its health care, when there always exists a third party to pay, as occurs in the case of traffic accidents. Consequently, in the case of people who are resident in another country, they must try to find someone to take responsibility for the costs. In any case, all patients can leave the hospital without paying the cost – which does not occur in some other countries – and there have been cases where the Embassy of the infirm person has had to affront the costs of their citizens in cases of insolvency. In the case of other European countries, there exists a corresponding compensation system between the different national health systems.

When it comes to paying, the costs in Navarra are quite cheap in comparison with other health systems in the first world. So, consequently, if someone decides to take part in the running of the bulls without any kind of insurance, and should he be admitted to hospital, he can be assured of receiving good attention and the hospital bill will be lower than if it had occurred in any other place.

Difficulties to get insured

Whoever comes to Pamplona from abroad, could find some problems if they need treatment arising from some accident in the running of the bulls. For example, World Nomads is one of the biggest travel agencies in the world for travel insurance. In its publicity on the web page, Nomads announces instant universal insurance all round the world, but when faced with a specific request for travel insurance from an American citizen who wanted to take part in the Pamplona running of the bulls, the answer was. “Regretfully, as part of our policy we cannot cover you as an American citizen or resident to take part in the running of the bulls.”

The Allianz Insurance Company, in its coverage of travel agencies who organize trips from Australia, New Zealand and The United States, has a list of activities which are covered and a list which is excluded from coverage. The traveler can take a ride on an elephant and if there is a fall, there is coverage… but if a Polar Bear attacks off the track of the polar safari, besides dying of fright or even really dying, there is no insurance cover in this case. And watch out…another one of the activities excluded is the Running of the Bulls, whether or not there are any safaris…

Without specifically stating Pamplona, but using the expression “running with the bulls” the text reads: “I assume and accept the risks and dangers and the possibility of suffering personal harm and being hospitalized…” This kind of formula is now common to inform tourists that they have been warned of the risks and the element of chance which lies in the running of the bulls…

For example, another recent warning came from the Sidney Morning Herald, in Australia, when it recently informed its readers that jumping from the Navarreria fountain or taking part in the running of the bulls, is not recommended by the principal insurance companies.

Another example we could consider comes from The Association of American Programs in Spain which specifically recommends that travelers should not take part in risk activities and cites the running of the bulls as a clear example of this. It reminds travelers that both tourists and local runners have both suffered serious and mortal accidents over the years in the running of the bulls.

Another of the formulas being used at present by some agencies is to have a form signed which renounces all rights of suing made by the travelers if they take part in the running of the bulls and something happens to them. These forms free the agency from all responsibility in the matter and oblige the person who signs to assume that “I am conscious of the risks inherent in the running of the bulls and I am conscious of other added risks and dangers coming from other runners (…) that there are runners who are unaware of the dangers inherent in the running of the bulls and who could act irrationally and prejudice me in the participation of the running of the bulls.(…) I am conscious that the enjoyment and the emotion of the running of the bulls comes, in part, from the participation of the bulls and if I choose to take part it is at my own volition and risk, and my responsibility and at my own expense.”

There are also some overstatements such as the agency that states that in Sanfermin, the muggings increase exponentially and it is not safe to go out alone at night. The solution, of course, is to contract insurance…

La manada entra en la plaza consistorial un 17 de marzo. Increíble, pero cierto.

Toros de cine por primavera en Pamplona

La película china Line Walker Operation Midnight Shadow incluirá el encierro de Pamplona en su trama y esta mañana se han rodado las escenas emulando un encierro de Sanfermin en primavera.

Cuando crees que lo has visto todo en Sanfermin, siempre te quedas corto. ¿Alguien podía imaginar un encierro con vallado y todo en marzo en Pamplona? Pues ya no hace falta. Ha pasado esta mañana. Y además con regalos para la vista que fuera de contexto en los próximos años volverán loco a quien descubra las imágenes. Hemos visto encierros de cuatro y seis toros a nueve grados de temperatura, hemos visto encierros al revés sin corredores y hemos visto a corredores perseguidos por un coche. La culpa de todo lo tiene la segunda entrega de la película china Line Walker. Este filme estará ambientado en Hong Kong, Madrid y Pamplona y ha provocado rodajes en Segovia, Tafalla y Pamplona. Hoy tocaba encierro en Pamplona.

Y el encierro de hoy ha sido un encierro en serio a nivel de infraestructura, con carpinteros de verdad, policía de verdad, toros de verdad, pastores de verdad y fotógrafos y periodistas de coña (figurantes). Bueno, alguno de verdad ha tenido que ir para que veáis encierros como este.

Para que salga todo bien hay que tomarse su tiempo y en aras de la seguridad y del buen trabajo ha costado arrancar la jornada. Hemos empezado con sol y casi terminamos lloviendo. A los toros no les ha importado, pero hemos visto corredores con mantas para aguantar las escasas temperaturas de esta mañana.

Corral en Santo Domingo y corredores con mantas

Los toros partían desde un corral instalado en plena cuesta de Santo Domingo junto al ayuntamiento, muy cerca de la propia plaza. Los animales han discurrido por el recorrido del encierro hasta prácticamente la bajada de Javier junto a La Casa del libro y reloj que marca el tiempo que resta para Sanfermin.

Corrales improvisados junto al Ayuntamiento de Pamplona en Santo Domingo.
Corrales improvisados junto al Ayuntamiento de Pamplona en Santo Domingo.

Después de completar una pasada y grabar una escena real o de prueba, los animales tenían que volver a los corrales y se daba la increíble escena de ver un encierro al revés sin que hubiera un toro de Escolar de por medio. A los corredores se les apartaba, pero la escena es buenísima.

La manda retorna por Mercaderes en una imagen inesperada.
La manda retorna por Mercaderes en una imagen inesperada.
Corredores ataviados de mantas para aguantar los nueve grados, ven retornar a la manada a los corrales.
Corredores ataviados de mantas para aguantar los nueve grados, ven retornar a la manada a los corrales.

Conforme la mañana ha ido avanzando los animales han dejado paso a los coches. Así como en la grabación de Tafalla de la semana pasada pudimos ver la simulación de una persecución en coche, en Pamplona hemos disfrutado de escenas similares. Una de las más espectaculares ha sido esta entrada a tope resbalando como los morlacos en plena curva con un BMW. Está claro que no había aplicado el antideslizante.

La producción de la película en España ha sido cosa de la experimentada Babieka Films y por lo que hemos visto se han encargado con profesionalidad del tema. Desde Pamplona han echado una mano para la organización tanto el Ayuntamiento de Pamplona como la
Navarra Film Commission.

El público chino cada vez más habitual en Sanfermin

El público chino es habitual en Sanfermin desde hace unos años, de hecho a través de Sanfermin.com y Sanfermin by locals han venido numerosos grupos de ciudadanos de este país. Según nos cuenta Mikel Ollo, agente Turístico de Sanfermin by locals, es previsible que con acciones como esta pueda incrementarse la demanda sanferminera de turistas chinos como ya sucedió con el público hindú cuando se grabó en Pamplona Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. . Según nos cuenta Mikel Ollo, agente Turístico de Sanfermin by locals, es previsible que con acciones como esta pueda incrementarse la demanda sanferminera de turistas chinos como ya sucedió con el público hindú cuando se grabó en Pamplona Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

Mikel Ollo nos dice que desde hace tres años comenzamos a trabajar regularmente con público chino colaborando con la agencia VR Trip, la más potente a nivel online de China. Podemos contar que son gente muy interesada en las fiestas de Sanfermin,  que muestran mucha educación y respeto y a los que les llama especialmente la atención tanto el encierro como las corridas de toros”.

Según nos cuenta Mikel Ollo, de Sanfermin by locals “El perfil de los visitantes chinos que acuden a Pamplona con nosotros suelen ser parejas jóvenes y familias de hasta 5 miembros (padres, hija o hijo y abuelos). La procedencia es de China, Taiwan, Hong Kong y ciudadanos chinos residentes en Europa, Estados Unidos o España que se interesan por las fiestas de Sanfermin. Son muy de sacar fotos y les interesa mucho conocer el porqué de correr el encierro junto a los toros y vestir por lo general de blanco.”

El público chino representa tras tres años el 10% del volumen de turistas que utilizan los servicios que ofrecen Sanfermin.com y Sanfermin by Locals de la mano de Mikel Ollo y su gente. El tipo de público suele ser de nivel adquisitivo medio alto y destaca el interés por captar los detalles y conocer las razones y la motivación de todo lo que contemplan. Apunta Mikel Ollo, “es complicado cumplir con el horario establecido de las rutas ya que se esfuerzan por conocer a fondo todo lo que ven.” Inicialmente vivimos varias experiencias con grupos en 2013 y 2014, y a partir de entonces trabajamos con grupos y con clientes individuales, que no vienen con agencia de viajes organizada sino que se preparan la ruta a medida. Generalmente los grupos visitan otras partes de España o realizan el Camino de Santiago y dedican una o dos jornadas a conocer las internacionalmente famosas fiestas de Sanfermin.

Imagen de Iñaki Vergara con los toros en abanico en la calle Estafeta.

Eminence

by Matt Dowsett. Photo Iñaki Vergara.

(Written with thanks and appreciation to AFH for his valuable contribution)

“A plague on eminence! I hardly dare cross the street any more without a convoy, and I am stared at wherever I go…”

Igor Stravinsky

It is a very human trait to want to be respected, to be highly knowledgeable and to elevate oneself, not only within a social circle, but far beyond. Some would argue that it is innate; linked to our evolution and the limbic system – that part of the brain that primarily integrates emotions, motivations and behaviours. Darwin maybe would have argued that it is actually in our genes as it ensures that the elevated ones are sure to get the girl, to get fed.

Thackeray derided he who would not strive for eminence as “a poor-spirited coward.” Washington Allston would seem to agree in saying: “I am inclined to think from my own experience that the difficulty to eminence lies not in the road, but in the timidity of the traveler.”

In this modern world the desire to attain these heights has a more immediate and less forgiving arena in the online space. The push for “likes” and the need for the most “followers” on a profile drives an online behaviour that appears to be a search for fame and influence. It is even possible to measure how much online influence a person has through their “Klout” score. And it is not simply about posting dreary nonsense in order to get clicks. Andrew Gill has pointed out that: “as social media is becoming more prevalent, and people and companies are using it to make purchasing and hiring decisions, the role of social eminence is becoming critical.”

Small wonder that everybody wants to rise; this is not just influence. In ‘Leviathan’ Hobbes wrote that: “Man strives for power after power and it ceases only in death.” What is power? Eminence! Or as Hobbes more correctly put it: “‘Natural power’ is the eminence of the faculties of body or mind, as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, nobility.”

Little wonder that we strive for eminence when, deep down, we believe it will give us power.

But remember that true eminence is not just about being well known. It is possible to become well known overnight; that is fame. It is also not just about having great knowledge. It is possible to attain great knowledge through the application of ones own appetite; that is being learned. True eminence is about being respected for ones knowledge and experience, being well known for it and, as a result, having influence.

Seeking to advance oneself is always a dangerous game. The temptation to cut corners, cheat a little or even to walk over the bodies of rivals to advance is never far away. Beware that a person is never too high to fall, but more than that, reputation is a valuable treasure that is easily lost. As Baltasar Gracian said: “A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.” Elevate, go and climb higher, but remember “The high road is always respected. Honesty and integrity are always rewarded.” (Scott Hamilton).

Additionally, Nicholas Chamfort pointed out that: “Eminence without merit earns deference without esteem.” Anyone seeking this level should expect to have a long wait and be prepared to put in the effort. But they also need to be careful. “Knowledge can be heady stuff, but easily leads to an excess of zeal – to illusions of grandeur and a desire to impress others and achieve eminence… Our search for knowledge should be ceaseless, which means that it is open-ended, never resting on laurels, degrees or past achievements.” So wrote Hugh Nibley, perhaps warning against hubris and its results.

In the world of fiesta and the encierro, there are plenty that seek an exalted position, despite there being few formal roles. The collective has no appointed leaders or positions of authority and yet many are drawn into the contest to become known, to become respected and to be seen as a figurehead for the masses in fiesta. Newcomers will attempt do demonstrate just how much they know about the history of fiesta. Perhaps they will even write a book, a blog or an article. Others will try to make their name in the encierro and gain respect through that route. Some will simply opt for longevity; returning to fiesta year after year until they naturally assume a position of respect.

Yet none of this is guaranteed to result in eminence. The person who returns time and again to Pamplona may be respected but could simply have lived the same fiesta thirty times over and never learned anything outside of the few bars and streets that they frequent. In the encierro the camera lies and a runner can make it look as though they have had an amazing run, eventually the truth will out. Not only that but respect in the encierro comes from proving oneself not just day after day, but year after year, as Nibley inferred.

Even after all of this, status in the encierro can lead to a false sense of importance. To be regarded as “divino” or divine carries a number of connotations; being so elevated as to be considered saintly, having reached a pinnacle of performance that leads to the runner being beyond reproach, but also a sarcastic or mocking term for a runner who believes themselves to be worthy of this status. To be divino is not necessarily something to aspire to. The divino who challenges the gods of the encierro can soon encounter nemesis in “valiente” form.

There is no shortage of fiesta attendees that are prepared to seek to be someone, to be known. AFH said: “I think the denial of the urge to eminence false, a pose, but its overindulgence ugly.” This implies a fine balance between feeding the desire for influence and not becoming a caricature. The question also has to be asked; “What good is power in fiesta? What does it serve and where does it lead?”

The search for eminence is at odds with the loose and chaotic nature of fiesta. In the maelstrom of Los Sanfermines, wielding power is contrary to the spontaneous, raw alegría. It inhibits it, it seeks to work against it in setting rules in an arena where the suspension of rules has long been celebrated as a cornerstone of fiesta.

And what are these cornerstones?

It could be argued that the key elements are faith, brotherhood, music, food and liberality. These do not leave much room for power to be assumed and employed, except perhaps in the world of faith. Look at the street during fiesta and you will see the evidence of the removal of controls: no or very few police or officials, the people spilling out onto the road, a huge and unmanageable mass allowed to be self-regulating, a 24-hour life, spontaneous bursts of music and dancing, a largesse that the city bathes in.

This is no place for power except that which is confined to pockets of friends or collections of the like-minded. It is a deluded kind of power as there is no real effect. The scale of San Fermín repels power leaving those who desire it to scratch out their exposure where they can: on snatched television interviews, holding court in a bar or restaurant, online activity and the written word that rapidly becomes litter, floating around the dirty streets.

Power and influence are fleeting. Everything passes and fades with time, and even the greatest leaders are only remembered in dusty history books. Shelley and his contemporary Horace Smith correctly observed that great empires fall into dust. In his poem, Ozymandias (written at the same time as the work of the same name by his friend, Shelley), Smith mused: “…what powerful but unrecorded race, once dwelt in that annihilated place.”

Some will tell you that the best parties in San Fermín are the exclusive ones, invitation only, in character-laden apartments of the old town and frequented by aficionados and their groupies every year on a certain day of fiesta. Actually the true joy of fiesta comes from diving into the swirling whirlpool of humanity and letting the flow take you with it. The white and red of Los Sanfermines may seem to some like an inhibiting uniform or a banal lack of individualism, but it is actually to be envied. The anonymous spirit can ignore all expectations and simply surrender to the flow. Power and influence come with shackles, while ignorance is bliss. How many long-term fiesta luminaries yearn to return to the fiestas of their youth? Not only to be young again, but to be free again – free of the responsibilities, burdens and expectations that come with age and influence. The faceless power of the collective alegría is stronger than the individual who has worked for 30 years to be respected on the street.

Up on the balcony of the Casa Consistorial at 11:55 on 6th July, a line of the powerful and influential stand in their pristine white clothes. In their hands a petite glass of cava. On the face of it they are the great and good of the city, the region, but in reality they carry only grey eminence. The masses do not care about them; in fact they regularly jeer at them, chant rude songs and even throw things at them. Up on the balcony it is all polite and careful conversation as they observe the seething mass below on the plaza. The crowd swirls and surges, the joy is about to explode into rapture while the eminent and influential look politely on.

“Isn’t it a marvellous view from up here,” observes one politician.

“Yes,” replies another, wistfully, “but I would rather be down there.”

Funes. Navarra.

Deception, by Mat Dowsett

“The art of pleasing is the art of deception”, Luc de Clapiers

I have in my possession a beautiful photograph, taken of me by my wife on a basic digital SLR, running an encierro in Navarra a few years ago. To me the image is so good that it would be very difficult to improve upon it. In the shot I am running down the street, head over my shoulder as the horns of the bulls get closer behind me giving a strong air of danger but also beauty.

The buildings of the town and the wooden barriers all help to frame the moment. There is nobody in the shot – a runner and the animals, an encierro. What makes it more dramatic is the fact that it is shot in black and white, making it atmospheric and moody. If I ran a million encierros I could barely hope for a better picture and even the great Jimmy Hollander has remarked at the quality of that photo.

In fact this is only a part of the story. The picture is not a lie, but is not wholly honest either, and while I love it I am also loathe to make too much of it knowing that it doesn’t convey the entirety of that moment in Funes, Navarra, almost a decade ago.

“Photography has always been capable of manipulation” wrote Joel Stenfield, and he was absolutely correct. There is no Photoshop trickery afoot here. There is no airbrushing out or pasting in. There is no manipulation of the colour, contrast or brightness. The original has been unaltered except for the fact that it has been cropped. This makes all the difference.

In the original, uncropped version, you can see that there are other runners to my left and right making it clear that I was not alone, not the only one in danger. The uncropped version also makes it clear that we were reaching the end of the run and the safety of the barriers was just a few dozen metres away. What is less evident is the actual distance that the bulls were behind us. The camera acts to foreshorten these distances meaning that they were not quite as close as the touching distance that the image suggests. That is not to say that they were not close, but we certainly had a little breathing space. But when it comes down to it, the uncropped version is not nearly as good as the modified one.

“Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts”, Garry Winogrand.

So the beautiful image, cropped from the original is a deception. There is no crime here, but certainly a deception.

There is nothing unusual in this. Since the dawn of photography and even earlier to the origins of portrait art, we humans have sought to frame our experiences and our image in the most flattering way possible. We always want the artist or photographer to “get our good side”. Nobody likes an unflattering picture and is very unlikely to give it any publicity. Take a stroll through social media and this becomes evident – image is everything. The pressure on people to crop their lives on social media in order to portray a perfect life is overwhelming.

This is no different in Pamplona where the encierro, photographed to within an inch of its life, becomes the ultimate stage for ego, and also deception. In the mid to late afternoon after the drama of the run has drifted away into the heat, the photo shops are a hive of activity. In amongst the tourists and curious observers looking at the pictures with wide-eyed wonder, there are also a number of runners desperately seeking that perfect or near-perfect picture proving their worth as a bull runner, proving their worth within this family of aficionados who carry the burden of expectation like a modern day Atlas. To run the encierro as anything other than a novice first-timer is to bear a portion of this expectation. It becomes a need to prove, a need to display evidence, a need to justify and a need to satisfy self-worth. To go to Pamplona, run all week and enjoy it is magnificent, but to come away without evidence of the triumphs is a disaster for many, despite the views of philosophers from Marcus Aurelius to Kipling.

The perfect image. Photographer: Javier Martínez de la Puente
The perfect image. Photographer: Javier Martínez de la Puente

Small wonder that deception creeps in; it has a natural home – a very understandable host to cling to.

Howard Jacobson wrote; “…anyone who cannot bear to look at the reflection of his conscience in the mirror of a crime, has only to smash the mirror to feel innocent.”

Borrowing from this quote we could also say that anybody who cannot bear to accept a bad run has only to change the story to feel better. In this way the second element of deception is employed – manipulating the mental picture rather than the physical one.

“The truth is what I say it is,” said Jacob Kerns and thus, after the encierro, we make our subtle changes; cropping the actual run here and there to cut out the undesirable parts, adding a bit of extra colour to make it more attractive, changing the lens from a fish-eye to a narrow focus. In this way we end up with a more comfortable version and picture that we are happier to share than discard. All the time we forget that there is no crime in having a bad run. We don’t need to reinvent everything. Not every experience has to be portrayed in a positive light.

But we are human.

So how often have we heard runners claim that a bull’s horn missed them by centimetres when, in reality, it was feet? How often have we heard runners claim that they were right in front of the bulls when they were further ahead or off to the side? Small wonder that Bar Txoko after the encierro is sometimes known as “Liar’s Corner”.

Ray Mouton, writing in his book “Pamplona”, expressed it as follows:

“It seems exaggerations are the rule, not the exception, among Americans in Pamplona. Many exaggerate the number of times they have been to Pamplona, the number of times they have run with the bulls, as well as bumps, bruises, knicks, scratches, and minor run-ins with a horn. A kind of inexplicable compulsion overcomes some Americans in Pamplona who seize upon fiesta as an opportunity for self-promotion, and writers often act as their shills, making them out to be what they a Hemingwayesque figure is. The tradition may have begun with Hemingway himself who exaggerated in the news dispatches he filed from Pamplona and in letters to friends like Ezra Pound.”

“The petty man is eager to make boasts, yet desires that others should believe in him. He enthusiastically engages in deception, yet wants others to have affection for him. He conducts himself like an animal, yet wants others to think well of him”, Xun Kuang.

Therefore it is not unusual to hear an encierro story that has been dramatically embellished. It is far from unusual to see that the words of a mozo do not match the images on television, online or in the newspapers. The deception can be incredibly subtle, innocent, or it can be a grotesque lie.

So what?

What is the issue here and does it matter? In short it is wrong, and it is cheap to make claims that are not true. In such a noble event as the encierro of Pamplona, runners should maintain their integrity. This is not only for themselves but for the reputation of the encierro as a whole and the community around it. When you lie about your achievements you may get temporary gratification, but no more than this – the rest will be devalued. Which is better, a good runner who exaggerates or an average runner who is honest about their limitations? Social media seems to favour the former, sadly.

“A journalist is supposed to present an unbiased portrait of an event, a view devoid of intimate emotions. This is impossible, of course. The framing of an image, by its very composition, represents a choice. The photographer chooses what to show and what to exclude”, Alexandra Kerry.

Should we not also be unbiased about our own claims?

Before we employ too much righteous indignation, ask who has not done this? Anyone? Ever? Who is not guilty of this even if in some small way? And what is so terrible about the use of slightly more descriptive language when talking about something that is visceral, intense and profoundly personal? Before we condemn let us first remember that it is human nature to exaggerate. Rufus Wainwright talked about making the mundane fabulous and Marina Tsvetaeva wrote:

“A deception that elevates us is dearer than a host of low truths.”

What then is the solution? Do we try to change this or do we accept that humans will always employ deception and there is nothing we can do about it? Ultimately it is down to our own conscience as, when we deceive in the encierro, we are not making any financial gains and we are open to contradiction thanks to media coverage and many other witnesses. When it comes down to it we are only deceiving ourselves.

Meanwhile my own photograph remains in an album, rather than proudly on display.

Two runners share the same destiny

Photo: Iñigo Alzugaray

Even the best runners can find themselves in a tight spot. Especially, when the bulls fly along the course, as was the case today with the Miura bulls in this eighth and last Running of the Bulls of Sanfermin 2017. These two guys are habitual runners with lots of experience on this stretch of Telefonica and on the final run down into the bullring. They shared the run, the fall and, in the case of one of them, a visit “just in case” to the surgery located inside the bullring, a precautionary removal to hospital for a more intensive check-up

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A bulldozing charge on the Telefonica stretch

Photos: Iñaki Vergara

The eighth and last Running of the Bulls of Sanfermin 2017 was unfolding in a predictable form, with the bulls running at a frenetic pace. The Miura bulls had knocked over several runners on the Mercaderes and Estafeta stretches, although without attempting to gore any of the runners. But when the bulls entered the Telefonica stretch, they raced along the fencing on the right side almost in file at a ferocious pace.

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Sweeping up along the fence

Photo: Javier Ibáñez

The greatest danger in the seventh Running of the Bulls of Sanfermin 2017,with the Núñez del Cuvillo bulls were those several moments when the bulls, one of them especially, stuck tight to the right side of the fencing. This bull made an early move to the right side on the first stretch at Santo Domingo, where it gored one of the runners, and again, on the Telefónica stretch, where some runners got wedged together and where the bull caused more than a few frights to the runners.

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A forced landing in Mercaderes

Foto: Ignacio Rubio

The Núñez Del Cuvillo bulls featured in an exciting seventh Running of the Bulls of Sanfermin 2017 where two runners received gorings. Unlike these previous days, today there were few slips-ups and falls. However, this spectacular fall took place at the Mercaderes stretch where the runner falls on his face, just as the bull’s snout is on top of him.
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