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

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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

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@Iñigo Alzugaray

Hooked by the armpit at the top of Estafeta Street

Photo: Iñigo Alzugaray

The rapid pace of the bulls over the second half of this sixth Running of the Bulls of 2017, did not allow for much fancywork or frills. Only those runners who were in an excellent physical condition were able to keep up to the pace of the steamrolling Victoriano de Rio bulls and even then, not for very long. This can be clearly seen in this sequence of shots with the runner in the green necktie, a regular experienced runner on this stretch. He displays some fine running in front of the horns of the bulls at the end of the Estafeta stretch but he is soon caught by the bulls as they charge ahead.

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A no-goring on the corner (video)

The most dangerous moment of the fifth Running of the Bulls of Sanfermin 2017, featuring the Jandilla bull-ranch, took place at the corner of Mercaderes, where, yet again, an imprudent runner found himself alone and stationary on the left side of the fencing, just where the bulls inevitably take the turning into Estafeta Street. However, despite the awesome images, this young runner from Australia escaped unscathed from the frightful tossing he received.

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La curva de la Estafeta con la manada. @Juantxo Erce

All together in a pack

Foto: Juantxo Erce

One of the biggest dangers in any kind of bullrunning occurs whenever a bull gets loose and separated from the pack. Just the opposite to what happened with the José Escolar bulls that are always ready to go their own way, these Fuente Ymbro bulls always seem to want to stay together in close contact. And that is exactly what they did during this fourth Running of the Bulls of Sanfermin 2017. All together in a tight pack.

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