By Mat Dowsett

“When looking back doesn’t interest you anymore, you’re doing something right.” Anon.

Around a decade ago there was a lot of dissatisfaction aimed at the moves to make the encierro safer around La Curva. The use of a coating on the street to give the bulls more grip was at the heart of this change. Whether or not it was the only factor, there was certainly something going on and morning after morning the bulls seemed to be going around La Curva cleaner than they ever had, the occasional exception noted. At the time I wrote a piece asking; “What future now for La Curva?” The famous “threading the needle” run from the doorways of Mercaderes and up onto Estafeta was gone, perhaps for good. The photographers massed on the barriers are still able to capture images fit for the newspapers, but the heyday of running the curve is gone.

This has caused a lot of heartache but also a lot of denial as runners cling on to the past and find themselves trying to reproduce it, but only end up standing the street as the arse-ends of cattle move swiftly away from them. There are runners who want a return to the old days and would rather the manada broke up on the walls of the famous curve, but it seems that the current state is here to stay, for a while at least.

Pamplona and the fiestas have been changing for as long as anyone can remember, and even longer than that. In some ways the changes are glacial – a small element here and there – a new feature, a new rule, a new bar, a new venue. Other changes are swift and sure but are absorbed into fiestas with barely a second glance. Remember when the bandstand was abandoned for the huge stage in the Plaza del Castillo?

Other changes feel more significant such as the bulls on La Curva or the red line down on Santo Domingo.

Over the years there have been some very dramatic changes. The txupinazo was nothing like the spectacle it is now and evolved through various stages, including a man letting off a rocket in the Plaza del Castillo surrounded by a small group of bemused children, eventually reaching the mass participation event it is now. The encierros have also moved hours not once but multiple times to reach the 8am start that is in place now. High kerbstones and round cobbles have been replaced by flatter pedestrian areas and even the encierro route has changed significantly, the last time being in the 1920s.

Some will argue, and with justification, that the changes are not always justified and are often for more sordid reasons. In Pamplona this will often come down to money and reputation. The Ayuntamiento does not want to have the stigma of deaths on its hands and so is likely to keep making changes to ensure the encierro is safer and safer – the cost of popularity. Other changes are to extract every last Euro from the pockets of the million people that turn up to party in the old city. It is certainly the case that not all changes are for the better, no matter how inevitable they are, and not all changes are done with an honest and transparent intent.

Many changes are received on a personal level. Old timers will particularly bemoan the loss of Casa Marceliano on the Calle Mercado off Santo Domingo. This bar and hostal has a kind of legendary status among the long-standing fiesta lovers as being a famous hangout, bed for the duration of fiestas, or perhaps just one night, and spiritual home of a number of fine American and Western bull runners until it was closed down in 1993 and absorbed into the council buildings. Old timers will wistfully talk about the good old days and the strong implication is that if you never drank in Marcelianos then your history is not worth considering. An elitism grows up around the past as a clique of the chosen ones looks down patronisingly at the newcomer wannabes. Yet all is in constant flux and the fashionable bars often fade out of favour as other places drift into the sphere of influence. It is not uncommon to see lone old timers sitting grimly outside Bar Windsor, gravely clinging onto the past.

It is understandable. Humans have a reluctance to change and to move on. There is a very natural desire to yearn for “the good old days”, but we do this with blinkers, ignoring or forgetting those parts of the past which, if we had to live with them again, we would find intolerable. John Green rightly said that “Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed.” Memory is selective and tends to favour the positives over the negatives. We view the past from our comfortable middle age, our affluent self-confident and our assumed wisdom, forgetting that 20, 30, 40 years ago we were not affluent, confident or wise. Sure, we were young, but we did not truly know what to do with it and now we are left mutter variations of the classic lines from Elizabeth Akers Allen; “Backward, turn backward, O Time in your flight, make me a child again just for tonight!”

Karen Ann Kennedy sums it up very nicely when she says:

“There is a difference between thinking about the past and living in it. Sometimes we live in the past because it’s familiar – we know what happened; there are no surprises.”

She goes on to say:

“Living in the past is a problem because it robs you of the opportunity to enjoy the present.”

I would go a step further when it comes to San Fermín. Living in the past only encourages a new generation to venerate something they never witnessed, to aspire to something that is long gone and to disown the present. In doing so this deprives us of the honest happiness of the future.

“Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse…” goes the French proverb, and it is true.

Whenever we are faced with change we go through a curve taking us from denial, to resistance, to acceptance and finally to moving on. How quickly we move through the change curve depends on many factors, not least how invested in the change we are personally. We can move through quickly, unconsciously even but if things go wrong or we hate the change then we can be stuck in different stages like an old timer, sitting alone outside a bar, still thinking that it’s 1969.

That’s not to say that there is no place for nostalgia and romance. These are a pair of benevolent old souls that visit us from time to time. We should always humour them, listen to them and smile at their stories, but then we should wave them farewell until they pass our way again.

San Fermín will go on changing and there may be some intolerable changes to absorb. Consider that in San Sebastian de los Reyes they have moved the encierro to 11am. Imagine that in Pamplona if you can. And, horror of horrors, one day we may have to face the ultimate change in the loss of the encierro totally. Younger and younger people will come to fiestas and they will care less and less for your history, your traditions, your stories and particularly the way you think fiesta ought to be enjoyed. What will you do? Will you stubbornly hide away under the shadow of huge parasol, mulling over the past, or will you embrace the change?

As Alan Watts said:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

© Pío Guerendiáin. Tim Pinks viendo el encierro de verde en la ventana.


San Fermin ‘16 and a San Ferdream

San Fermin. Two of the greatest words in language.

‘’And so have ended the Fiestas of San Fermin…’’ Some of the most melancholy words…but so they sang, and we sang too, with the closing ‘Pobre-De-Mi’ ceremony, as this year’s Fiesta faded explosively away – only in Pamplona can something fade away ‘explosively!’ – and thus the unbridled anticipation of July 5th gave way to the exhausted calm of July 15th.

And personally, due to circumstances, I have not had such a San Fermin in a feria long time, (gawd-awful pun…sorry!) Actually, not so much as ‘in a very long time’, but ever, in a way, as something special happened which I’ll come back to at the end of this piece, as it involves me and I usually prefer not to be the centre of attention but to participate, and be involved in, and then be swamped and finally submergedby fiesta.

Writing about myself is just not my thing, (although I have to occasionally) especially when it comes to writing such things as these articles, as I would rather write about other people and events than myself. I honestly like neither the ‘me’ in ‘media,’ or indeed the ‘i.’ Which leaves us with just the ‘da’ and I have no idea what that might mean. Hey ho, la-di-da…

But first things first. Along with the melancholy of saying goodbye to fiesta, we also had the sadness of saying adios, (hopefully, actually, just ‘hasta luego’) at a special Mass, to three true Sanfermineros who left us over the year. More of which below. And then, at the end of August, came the shocking and incomprehensible news of the oh-so-sudden and unexpected passing of that great running man, Julen Madina.

Some events are just unthinkable in their shocking “I just can’t believe it” suddenness, and Julen’s death was one of those. I didn’t know him too well but had a wonderful chat with him at Bar Txoko this year after one of the runs, and all I can say is he was on top form, with his personality, charm and charisma shining through. He was more interested in me than talking about himself. I may write more about him another time, but I did do a piece on him for these pages, after I’d had a long telephone conversation with him a couple of years ago, and, for those who are interested, you can read it here.

Julen Madina. Un corredor sin igual.
Julen Madina. Un corredor sin igual.

However, some words have to be said, and I shall leave them to his great friend Joe Distler. These words are not something Joe wrote after deep thought, for some newspaper or magazine, rather they were straight from the heart and direct off the cuff comments to me in a private email after Julen’s death. So with his direct permission…take it away, Joe.

‘As for Julen I have been in a state of total depression since he died. We had run together for over 40 years since we were practically kids. He was one of the first Spanish runners to recognize us as equals. This means nothing to young runners today but for years the Spanish, except for Atanasio, looked down on us. Miguel Angel Eguiluz, Chema Esparza, Jokin Zuasti, Javier Solano (yes, he was a good runner before becoming the voice of encierro,) Antonio Campeon and Julen came up to me one day before the run and one after another wished me “suerte”. It was like receiving the Academy Award. Hard to realize how important that was to us as foreign runners.

Then I was the first foreigner ever invited to the Runners’ Breakfast at Casa Paco on the 14th, followed by Jim Hollander and now we outnumber the Spaniards.

Over the years the friendships we have made with our Spanish bull running friends in Pamplona have become an important part of our lives. There is a mutual respect and understanding of living all the traditions of the encierro and sharing great moments both in the streets and elsewhere. All of us who run will cherish Julen as one of the great Maestros of all time and a run will not go by when we won’t think of him.

If Julen had died on the horns of a bull I would have been sad but not destroyed as we all know what dangers lies in running. But for a powerful force like him to go the way he did is debilitating. I had spoken to him three days before he died, talking about his recovery from being gored a few weeks before. He and his new Lady were planning on visiting me in my home in La Villajoyosa.

I am weak even writing this as I am so affected by his death.

Con un abrazo, Joseph.

Julen Ayerbe Madina, 1954 – 2016. Un caballero, maestro y mozo extraordinario

And now, after that truly moving tribute, back to the article. Normally, as I said, I try not to stand out, so let’s start with a wee message to one very important person, who, as I said at one point pre-fiesta at a rather surprise event I was invited to participate in, “wasn’t exactly here, but is around here.” I’d arrived in town for one night on Friday 1st July, and the city’s band, La Pamplonesa, were having a pre-fiesta concert in front of the town hall that evening, to be followed by some local singing and dancing with Navarran jotas.

A little clip of La Pamplonesa, Friday 1st July 2016. The whole concert’s at the end, for those like me who love ‘em!

It was a proper concert too, with a big stage for the band, (it’s a big band.) Along with Director J. Vicent Egea, there are 46 musicians. That makes them bigger than The Rolling Stones! Hundreds of chairs were laid out for people to sit on with many others standing around or dancing, all enjoying the music. Little did I know that it had been arranged that I be invited onto the stage (see? Pamplona – they grab you and make you a part of them) to say a few words to everyone, between the end of the band playing the concert and the start of the jotas.

This was all down to being chosen by Kukuxumusu to be awarded their ‘Guiri del Año’ – Foreigner of the Year – prize. (More of which later, due to the previously mentioned unease with ’me, centre of attention, media stuff, etc.’) Gracias Manuman, for arranging that little bit of public speaking…you may be a cross-dressing six and a half foot tall blue bull sometimes but you’re also a cabron! So beware, Mr. Testis, because my revenge will be sweet… If you ever see me with a large pair of scissors, you’d better start running ‘cos I’m going to de-cojon you.

Oh, by the way, I’d also like to say thanks to Laly Jausoro and Jacobo Roura Formoso. Laly had something to do with all concert stuff and my culo being dragged up on stage to make my wee speech, (and she was the singer during the folk lore part of the concert) and she helped me just feel at ease, while Jacobo, with his calm presence and reassuring sense of ‘it’ll be alright on the night,’ (plus the supply of the odd beer or two!) helped settle any nerves I had left. Osasuna, guiriak!

However, “unaccustomed as I am to public speaking” etc, but having been in town at that stage for several hours I was by then fortified by some of the local medicine, (hic) so it all went okay. Even the song I attempted to sing. I kid you not… Well, they didn’t lynch me. But then, they couldn’t catch me… In all seriousness actually, folks, never in my wildest imaginings could I ever have dreamt that I’d be standing on a stage in front of Pamplona’s iconic Town Hall, before Fiesta, making a speech to hundreds of people after La Pamplonesa had played, and with some Navarran folklore singers and dancers. I have been in Dreamland and it is beautiful.

Oh, and did I write earlier ‘a wee message to one very important person?’ Wrong. To THE most important person. And luckily, at the end of my little speech (again – ‘cos I just like saying it – on stage, with the lit up Town Hall behind me…wonderful, I never could have imagined I’d be doing something like that in my beloved Pamplona,) I did actually remember to mention the fella.

Okay, I know, it’s me…but I have to. What a pleasure and an honour.

So to mi amigo Fermin, my friend, our friend: Please keep giving us your fiesta, San Fermin, please keep trying to protect us with your cloak, oh Holy Man, and please keep covering the town with your alegria, your happiness, you magic man. Some people say you never existed, some say that even if you did, you’re dead now…but I believe differently.

For exist you did and dead you are not. For I have seen the ghosts of fiestas past dancing up on the hill by the Church of San Fermin de Aldapa, (I have you know, folks, and I can prove it, for I see them often.) And, amigos, I have no doubt that our fabled saint is among them. After all, why wouldn’t he be dancing at his own party? Just come along with me during fiesta one darkness hour and I’ll show you some middle-of-the-night ghostly magic.

Sentimental poppycock perhaps? No. Not so much sentimentality as just San Fermintality and friendly fiesta sorcery.

So to my friend and our friend, like I said up on that stage a few days before Fiesta: to a man who isn’t exactly here but is around here ¡Viva San Fermin! Gora.

Now, onwards with the scribblings. From glorious ghosts of the past to friendly phantoms of the present.


Sadly, Fiesta began once again began with a Memorial Mass on July 5th dedicated to a few people, but I shall concern myself here with just three of them. Those three were of course true Sanfermineros. I wrote ‘Fiesta began…on July 5th’ as I always think of the 5th as ‘San Fermin Eve’ and literally, ‘the advance party.’

Los tres: the Gentleman that was Noel Chandler, the Joker that was Big Dave Pierce, and the Runner who was Rafael ‘El Gitano’ Torres, from Pamplona. I’ve already written about Noel and Big Dave before, over this past fiesta year, during their gentle dance from this Earth to that Fabled Fiesta in the Sky, so I won’t repeat myself again, suffice to say you can read about them both hereand here.

But while we’re here I must just say something about Rafa Torres. I never knew him but I did know of him, of course, as he was one of that group of runners who I aspired to be like when I first went in 1984. From the 1960’s to the ‘90’s he was a true bull runner, and he was from that evocative era when just about everyone ran in red and white, as you can see from the wonderful photo below. He’s the chap citing the bull with his faja, the red sash.

Rafa Torres, with sash in hand, as he'd lost his newspaper during the run, with Madina to his right. A truly moveable feast of a photo, and a perfect San Fermin encierro symphony in red and white.
Rafa Torres, with sash in hand, as he’d lost his newspaper during the run, with Madina to his right. A truly moveable feast of a photo, and a perfect San Fermin encierro symphony in red and white.

Just for the record, the Mass was presided over by Father Felix Garcia de Eulate, but I’d like to also make a special mention of Fermin Baron, known as Pitu to his friends and to many of us as Fer Min Txo, who spoke beautifully and movingly about Noel, ‘The Welsh Lion.’

From the very start, where he began with, “The enormous heart of the old Welsh lion, spent from so much living, has finally stopped beating…” to the very end, ‘’There’s nothing more to say, only that we love you very much, Mister Chandler…always. See you soon, my friend. Safe journey…” he caught the mood wonderfully and emotionally, while not forgetting the other two, either. Fantastico, Fer Min Txo.

Finally, once again one has to thank that dynamic fiesta duo Bunny, and JJ (he’s nicknamed ‘Dance-Dance’ although for the life of me I can’t imagine why,) Centurion, as during a trip to Pamplona for last New Year’s Eve, they asked the previous Pastor at the church, Padre Santos Villanueva, to schedule a mass for Noel. Then when Big Dave died this year he was naturally added, and Joe Distler asked for Rafa to be included too. Such is the wonderful big Pamplona family we are so lucky to be a part of.

And so before fiesta had even begun three more, and then after it, four, of Fiesta’s great Sanfermineros joined the ever growing table where those mythical fiesteros sit. I’d love to have seen the look on Bomber’s face as Noel arrived, running like in the old days, but with glass in hand…and not a drop spilt. While Big Dave would be making them all laugh… A Lifetime of Fiesta Well Lived, Caballeros, with, now, Canito up there to take the photos. ‘Adios,’ caballeros? I doubt that, only hasta luego…


The mythical Canito, when he received recognition from Kukuxumusu to mark his 100 years.

I know, I know, this is becoming a parade of the passed, but I have to mention just one more man. To quote the online version of the ‘El Mundo’ newspaper, of Wednesday 27th July, ‘The mythical photographer Fransisco Cano Lorenzo, at 103 years of age, has died in the early hours of this Wednesday.’ Yup, 103 years old…and over 70 of them photographing the world of the bullfight. No, I’m not really an aficionado and I didn’t know him but I’d like to mention him.

I saw him in Pamplona, of course, but never dared speak to him…after all, what do you say to a man who knows the taurine world inside out, and photographed Hemingway, Orson Welles, Sophia Loren and, according to him, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world,’ Ava Gardner? “Hola, señor, my name’s…aw, forget it…”

He lived an extraordinary life immersed in the world of toreros, toros and corridas, and although I’m not qualified to go into it, I wanted to write just a little about him. To remember a man who contributed much not just to fiesta, but to so much more in the wider taurine world…and also, for those who had never heard of him but are interested in these things, well, they now have another name and piece of history they can look into.

Too many families and friends have lost too many special Sanfermineros this past year (the fabulous El Guti died, too, and you can read his about his unique fiesta contribution here. Fiesta and el mundo taurino have lost some extraordinary folk, but such is life, sadly. To you who gave so much during Fiesta, gracias. I wonder, how does Paradise photograph, Mr. Cano? I’ll bet with all the beauty of Earth, plus with some colours unknown to us that you’ll capture magically on film.

And so to those mozos and maestros Rafael, Big Dave, Noel and Julen…may you not only Rest In Peace when you so desire…but Run In Paradise too when the mood takes you. Our beloved City Without Equal will miss you forever.


Julio Ubiña.
Hemingway in Pamplona, 1959. Julio Ubiña.

Here’s one of those interesting (to me) snippets of fiesta history that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, and now seems about the right time to pop into the past after the above catalogue of present day San Fermin sadness.

Before the 1959 fiesta, due to a slight mix up, Hemingway and part of his entourage had nowhere to stay. I’ve read many reasons why, in various books by a wife, an editor and even a daughter-in-law, about what might have gone wrong, but suffice to say San Fermin was approaching and they were homeless for fiesta.

In the book ‘How It Was’ by Hemingway’s fourth, and last wife, Mary, she makes no mention of any accommodation problem, just that when she and Annie Davis, (the wife of Bill, Americans who lived in Malaga) arrived in Pamplona they failed to find the house that had been rented for them, and so had to go on to the square to find everyone first. They were at a bar, of course…

In ‘Papa Hemingway’ by his then editor, A.E. Hotchner, he puts the blame onto Juanito Quintana, whose job it was apparently to secure bullfight tickets and hotel rooms, but had managed to get neither. Whether this is true or not, who knows, but Hemingway was not angry at all with his old friend, who he’d originally met on his first visits to Pamplona in the 1920’s. As I’ve noticed a couple of mistakes in Hotchner’s book, I’d like to think that blaming Quintana is one too. But…

… In ‘Running With The Bulls’ by Valerie Hemingway, (she later married one of his sons, Gregory) there is a clue that maybe Quintana was in charge of organising a few things. Valerie Danby-Smith, as she was then, was a young Irish journalist working in Madrid in 1959, and who that May had managed to get an interview with Hemingway. He invited her to join his crowd and come to San Fermin, even asking Quintana to get extra corrida tickets and a room for her.

<em>Mary and Ernest, with Valerie on the right. Julio Ubiña.</em>
Mary and Ernest, with Valerie on the right. Julio Ubiña.

She still wasn’t sure about going, but one mid-June day as she was walking past her former residence, the concierge ran out, informing her that a letter and a package had arrived for her. It was from Quintana, saying that he’d made a reservation for her in Pamplona, and that if she couldn’t come, could she let him know by June the 15th? It was now June 16th.

That decided it for her, fate took over, and she was now a part of the Hemingway cuadrilla, his ‘party’ or ‘gang.’ In a nice touch, the package that Quintana sent her contained a copy of Inge Morath’s book, ‘Guerra a la Tristesse,’ a book on bull-fighting. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked what I’ve heard about Quintana, and that little kind act just adds to my admiration. Apparently Ernest had asked Quintana to send it to her, so she could learn a little about fiesta, and whatever the truth about any mix-ups with the accommodation, he got the book to Miss Danby-Smith.

So no mention there either of any mix up, but it does seem Quintana had been asked to arrange some things and why not, as he was an old friend of Ernest’s and a native of Pamplona. Whatever the truth, pre-fiesta the Hemingways, and their friends, Bill and Annie Davis, the American couple at whose house near Malaga they were based at that summer, were heading to Pamplona via some other bullfights but would apparently be homeless when they got there.

However, a small house was found for them quite quickly, and so just before fiesta the Hemingways’ and the Davis’s soon found themselves ensconced in the aptly numbered and named, 7, San Fermin Street. I doubt even Ernest himself could have made that up. And from now on the story gets a lot clearer, thanks to an article written by A. Ollo, that appeared in the special fiesta supplement from the Diario de Navarra newspaper of July 5th, 2009.

Inside the Casa de Fiesta


Hemingway at Bar Choko, (as it was spelt then) in 1959.
Hemingway at Bar Choko, (as it was spelt then) in 1959.

Whatever the mix up in accommodation, the house for that San Fermin nearly sixty sunlit summer’s ago was owned by a friend of Quintana’s, Jose Arrieta Lara, who lived there with his wife Patrocinio Mendizabal, and their four daughters. The newspaper article makes no mention of any problems that the Hemingways may have had with accommodation, or any failure on Quintana’s part, only that Ernest’s old friend wanted to surprise him.

The article goes on to say that Quintana was helped by one Rosalia Guerendain Larrayoz, part owner of a rather well known Pamplona restaurant that Hemingway frequented. Did I say ‘part owned?’ Yup, the other part owners being her eight, yes eight sisters, and whose collective nickname was ‘The Darlings’ which thus gave the restaurant it’s unofficial name.

Properly called ‘Hostal del Rey Noble’ it was more widely known by the nickname given to those nine sisters: ’Las Pocholas.’ Yup, ‘The Darlings.’ And with that house, so close to the bullring and by Half Moon Park, (surprisingly, still a little secret unknown by many foreigners, it seems to me) well, he must surely have provided that surprise. And as for the address, drunk or not…how could anyone forget that?

The only slight problem was one of space, as Hemingway also wanted a writing room, but with some rearranging of rooms, beds and mattresses, etc, a bit of furniture borrowed from relatives and making use of the dining room and basement, the Pamplona family managed to remain in their house while the Hemingways and their friends Bill and Annie Davis were all put up to everyone’s satisfaction.

So a bit crowded it may have been but everyone seems to have been happy and Hemingway got his writing room, too. Quintana supplied ice every day for the great man’s drinks as there was no fridge, and breakfast was included in the price but apparently Hemingway never took it. He was always first out of the house, either to go to Bar Choko, (as it was spelt then) or to watch the encierro…and sometimes no doubt both.


The room Hemingway and his wife Mary were in all those years ago. When this photo was taken, the room had hardly changed, apparently.
The room Hemingway and his wife Mary were in all those years ago. When this photo was taken, the room had hardly changed, apparently. Foto Calleja (Diario de Navarra)

I haven’t seen that wee house on any of the official Hemingway tours, although I could be mistaken, but every time I pass the house I say a little thank you to him. The magnificent bust of Hemingway in front of the bull ring is great and imposing and is where many folk obviously go to pay homage, or just to give a nod and a wink, or raise a glass to say ‘salud’…but my little spot is an almost forgotten house where, for all his many faults, a great man, who essentially brought us all here to this magical town, was, even though he didn’t know it then, to spend his final ever San Fermin. Muchas gracias, y salud, Don Ernesto.

Okay…it’s Guiri of the Year time…


‘Guiri Day!’ and the Guiri of the Year Lunch. Señor Pinks, (in green) with Mister Testis, (in blue) and assorted lawyers, attorneys and churros makers.
‘Guiri Day!’ and the Guiri of the Year Lunch. Señor Pinks, (in green) with Mister Testis, (in blue) and assorted lawyers, attorneys and churros makers.

As many people know, for many years now, (this year was the thirteenth,) Those Magnificent Madmen and their Kukuxumusu Machine have chosen someone to be rewarded as their Foreigner of the Year. There is no real criteria to be given it, you just have to go to Fiesta, love Fiesta, or just have some connection with it…really, it is just Kukuxumusu’s choice.

Now, for those who don’t believe, as I’ve mentioned and written often enough practically since I started writing these articles, that ‘being the centre of attention isn’t really my thing,’ let me tell you that’s the truth. It’s one of the reasons I had asked not to be chosen as the GdelA for several years now when the subject was brought up. But this year, for reasons too unimportant to go into here, when I was offered it…well… I had to accept.

Despite my natural shyness and media-phobia…actually, it’s not a ‘phobia’ it’s just that I think there’s too much of it and too many people seem to want to be seen, or known, or famous or just be some kind of ‘celebrity.’ There are a few reasons why I said yes, but the main one was just to say thanks to all the inmates at the Kukusylum who have been so nice to me over the years, from every shop worker all the way to the (big blue) boss, Mr. Testis. But especially to those who didn’t just encourage me to write articles for, (thank you Koldo) but those who have had to put up with my ugly mug showing itself all the time on the premises.

Thanks especially have to go to Manu who has had to deal with me and my computing neanderthalismic numbnutting nutjobbing numptyism (yes, these are all real words, all taken from the Libyan – Basque Dictionary that I’m currently compiling.) He has been a patient and kind fella these last few years putting my articles together from the jumbled jigsaw of scribblings and shots (and awful if artful alliteration) I send him…but best of all he has become a fantastic friend.

Now, without going into the politics of things, and the why’s, why nots and wotnots, there were, as many of you know, two Guiris of the Year this fiesta, awarded by two different companies. Basically, Kukuxumusu were taken over, some people left, but one of the original three who founded the company, Mikel Urmeneta, the comic, cartoon, and design genius, has started a new one, Katuki Saguyaki, and he wanted to also continue with the award and keep the original name ‘Foreigner of the Year’ too, but use it with his new company.

Yup, one guiri was a popular foreign Sanferminero who has being going for decades, is well known in Pamplona and indeed around the world for his work, (indeed, his ‘art’, for that is what it is) due to just how good it, and he, is…and the other was Jim Hollander. Just kidding folks…and sorry Jim!

Jim Hollander thoroughly deserved his award…(congratulations again, fella!) as he really is well known in Pamplona, had a photo of his chosen for the feria poster in 2002, and apart from being involved in a couple of other books, has also had a couple of his own published, including that classic Pamplona photo-book (but read the words from the various contributors too, they’re superb) ‘Run to the Sun’ and the most recent, ‘From Pizarra to Pamplona,’ which I read pre-fest and brought with me to fiesta to ask Jim to sign for me. Which he did, along with a lovely inscription.


The 2002 Feria poster, using Jim Hollander’s photo.
The 2002 Feria poster, using Jim Hollander’s photo.

Jim Hollander is a Sanferminero through and through, a true aficionado to hoof, along with being a world respected and renowned international photographer. Not bad, eh? And thus it goes without saying, but a richly deserved Guiri of the Year also. So, two Foreigners of the Year. I hope in our different ways we complimented each other.

Oh…and me? Oh…dear. I’ve written a few articles from things I’ve read, robbed and plagiarised, and self-published a couple of wee tales but that’s about it. Oh, there is one more thing though…I do love, love, LOVE Pamplona very, very much. I love its people, its saint and its fiesta to the moon and back…and that was enough for me to be awarded Kukuxumusu Guiri of the Year. Or it could have just been for my staggering good looks.

And do you know what? It was an honour, a pleasure and just a bullring shaped (all round) great fun-filled fiesta thing to be awarded and be involved with. Yes, even the media stuff was a hoot, although some folk who saw my ugly mug must have wondered what the heck El Hombre Elefante had to do with fiesta…anyway…I’m sorry you may have had to contend with my unedifying visage on the tele, (jeez, I’ve actually been told that I don’t even have a face for radio!) or in the papers here and there, but remember, it’s always glass half-full time for me, fiesteros…so it was only for a smidgen of those 204 glorious hours of fiesta.

So once more my thanks to Kukuxumusu, and especially Manu, for choosing me as their Guiri del Año. Hope the cheque didn’t bounce, fellas. Thanks for a great Guiri Day Lunch at the Nainere on Saturday 9th where there were about 50 people attending and I met many other previous GdelA’s, some of whom I knew, and some I didn’t, but where it was obvious that to actually win the thing you have to be slightly off your rocker.

Ah, yes, being ‘off ones rocker’ reminds me to thank my personal invitees who ditched whatever they really wanted to do and came along in support. At least, I hope it was in support, ‘cos I actually think they came not just a free lunch but loads of free alcohol, too. Heck, why do you think I showed up?! Salud, Sanfermineros, I truly appreciated it.

Before I go, a couple of other things happened that made it a truly unique fiesta. I might even include a photo or two… (Look, as I’m talking about me for once I might as well take advantage and dilute a couple of pictures that I’m in with the friends about to be mentioned below.) Back in ’84 when I arrived for my first ever fiesta, little knowing it would be the beginning of a life-long love affair, one of the people I met on the patch of grass opposite Bar Txoko, where the gang I fell in with basically lived for the whole of fiesta was also there for his first year.


Ike celebrating his birthday in Pamplona in ’89. We’d get some buckets, fill them up with any old street sludge we could find…and tip the lot over him. It’s ‘cos we loved him, see…?! (By the way, he’s in the Guiri of the Year photo, too.)
Ike celebrating his birthday in Pamplona in ’89. We’d get some buckets, fill them up with any old street sludge we could find…and tip the lot over him. It’s ‘cos we loved him, see…?! (By the way, he’s in the Guiri of the Year photo, too.)

His name was Ike del Rosario (it still is) and he’s from California. He remains a great mate and one of my favourite people on the planet, but after the first ten years or so he hasn’t been able to make it back due to, well, life. He made it for New Year’s Eve once, (where he dressed up as Elvis…think ‘Filipino Elvis!’) and I think one more fiesta around 15 years ago. Actually, 1999 rings a bell.

Anyway, before fiesta the gang were in San Sebastian, and imagine my surprise and deep joy when, around midnight, in Constitution Square in the Old Town…there was Ike. Unbelievable. A couple of people knew but had kept it a secret but I had no idea. It all added to the magic of this year’s fiesta.

There was even more to come as there were two more folk there who hadn’t been for I think over twenty years, although everyone had known they were coming for months…James and Maryann from Brisbane. (Although I’d seem them in Australia since.) I first met James in Pamplona in 1986, in the gutter, basically, and thirty years later…

James and yours truly, in the gutter. Or perhaps that should read, James and me, truly in the gutter?!
James and yours truly, in the gutter. Or perhaps that should read, James and me, truly in the gutter?!

And as if with those three things couldn’t get better, well, they could. An old friend from England who had never been and who was now married and living in America came over, too. So to Tim Pollard, (and son Fergus who he came with) it was great to see you after so long and thanks for also being one of those who just made this year’s San Fermin extra special. And with one Mark Williams returning after nearly thirty years, and the ever present Alan Huggett, that meant four Reigate Hillbillies were in Pamplona for the first time. Happy Daze…

The Reigate Hillbillies. Mark, me, Tim and Alan, seconds before the town slips off it’s axis for 9 days.
The Reigate Hillbillies. Mark, me, Tim and Alan, seconds before the town slips off it’s axis for 9 days.

To everyone who had the good grace and just all round sense of fun to say congratulations or ‘felicidades’ to me for being Kuku’s Guiri of the Year…thank you. Just like the unknown folk from Pamplona who stopped me in the street to say something nice, or even to take a ‘selfie’ with me…you ‘got’ it. Thank you. (I know, I know…people wanted a selfie with me, for fiesta’s sake!) I was hailed by complete strangers who laughed with me, joked with me and drank with me. Like I said, Pamplona really does slip off it’s axis… What fun.

‘Cos that’s all it is about, being Foreigner of the year…a bit of publicity for the company, of course…but a whole lot of fun for the victim…me! And I have my ‘trophy’ proudly placed in the living room, and I’m going to keep my special kuku-tiara on until next year’s Guiri Day Lunch…when, even though they will have chosen the 2017 GdelA in June, I shall proudly, and officially, relinquish my crown, and pass it on to whoever is lucky enough to be the next San Fer King or San Fer Queen.

And finally…

Once Upon A Time In Pamplona. 1984 and how it all began…
Once Upon A Time In Pamplona. 1984 and how it all began…

Well, we are just about there, chicos. That’s nearly the end of this, and it’s certainly enough of me. The next puli, (for that is what these articles are called) will be back to the happy normal – almost nothing about me but mostly loads about everything else.

In certain photos the streets of Pamplona appear to be lined with gold, but of course the Fiesta of San Fermin can’t be all silver linings. Fiesta may seem like a fairy tale sometimes but it is real life too, after all. But during what was, in one small way, ‘my year’ I felt like I was treading on cobbles made of gold lined by pavements edged with silver.

Pamplona, I love you. You’re a dreamland, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, heaven on earth, and as a city you’re the genie out of the bottle, with dancing giants, magic people and running bulls. Pamplona and Fiesta is a magical, mythical marvel and inhabited by some of the best people on the planet and I’m a lucky lad and we’re a lucky bunch.

This video of the entire La Pamplonesa pre-fiesta concert in front of the Town Hall is for everyone, but especially for the maestro, mozo, borracho and golfo and all round huevo bueno and mi amigo, Rolf von Essen.

¡Ya falta menos! ¡Viva San Fermin! Gora!

¿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.


Una estrella cayó en el kalimotxo de 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.

“Me muero de miedo”

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.

¿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.

Escudo de Larraga

Más allá de las paredes, Organización

By Matt Dowsett

Pamplona. Hogar del encierro y la fiesta entre las fiestas. San Fermín atrae a una variada e internacional pléyade de seguidores, pero muy pocos visitantes extranjeros son conscientes de lo que significa Pamplona, de que solo es la punta del iceberg en cuanto a fiestas y toros. Cruzando España y más allá hay muchas fiestas y cientos de miles de toros corriendo todos los años. Dentro de las antiguas murallas de Pamplona se vive una pasión que se escucha desde fuera, que se muestra en un escenario internacional. Pero más allá de las paredes existen historias que no se ven, que no cuenta de la gente, sobre los toros y las calles de estas otras fiestas.

Lo ves por el rabillo del ojo durante la fiesta. Realmente no lo procesas porque estás disfrutando de ti mismo pensando en el encierro, las charangas, los fuegos artificiales o, simplemente, decidiendo dónde ir para echar el próximo trago. Pero allí está, en el fondo, oculto a primera vista.

La vida sigue, se escucha el ruido del motor y las ruedas avanzan. La Fiesta sigue en marcha, pero tiene que haber alguien allí para que todo siga funcionando; alguien que cuide las cosas y se asegure de que todo funciona sin problemas.

Nosotros no queremos admitirlo aunque, francamente, la idea irrumpe en nuestro estado de ánimo festivo porque unas pocas personas realmente trabajan en la fiesta, hacen los trabajos basura y tienen que pasar tiempo organizando la juerga. Hay un montón de elementos que no son muy divertidos y, gracias a Dios, los realiza generalmente otra persona; camareros, barrenderos, policía, personal médico, dependientes y organizadores de eventos. Para ellos la fiesta no es simplemente una fiesta, llevan la mochila de la responsabilidad también.

Marisa, el alcalde (alcaldesa) de Larraga -2007-2011- tuvo la amabilidad de permitirme echar un vistazo íntimo detrás de las puertas cerradas del ayuntamiento. Aunque no hay nada como la escalera de San Fermín, las fiestas de San Miguel todavía mantienen todos los elementos de una celebración típica de Navarra y requieren mucha organización.

Marisa me explicó que antes San Miguel duraba nueve días en septiembre, pero se redujo a siete, y se trasladó a agosto como otros tantos pueblos de la región. La organización de las fiestas es, en última instancia, responsabilidad del alcalde que recibe ayuda de un concejal, así como de una comisión que se reúne para acordar los eventos festivos y reunir las opiniones de la gente del pueblo que son los que pagan después de todo. Las Fiestas se financian a través de los impuestos locales, una cantidad que varía según los eventos conseguidos y la situación económica. La crisis, por ejemplo, obligó a una reducción de eventos en muchas fiestas y a quedarse peladas a las familias.

La planificación de las fiestas normalmente tarda tres meses en Larraga y, mientras el núcleo de la fiesta en gran parte sigue siendo el mismo, todavía hay elementos nuevos o diferentes cada año.

No es sorprendente que el elemento más estresante sea el encierro de vacas. No hay corridas de toros en Larraga, pero sí un montón de encierros y capeas. Lo último que el ayuntamiento quiere es una mala noticia de alguna persona ignorante que consiga la portada del Diario de Navarra por haber sido cogido en el encierro. Afortunadamente las lesiones con vacas son raras. A pesar de todo un mínimo de dos ambulancias deben estar presentes en la carrera, no son gratis y proviene de dos “empresas”. Estas no son públicas y no hay realmente mucha competencia por lo que en última instancia la elección será determinada por el precio. Las lesiones menores se tratan in situ y los heridos más graves se trasladan hasta Pamplona, situada ??a unos veinte minutos de distancia. Marisa me dijo que el encierro le causó siempre la mayor preocupación, así como el temor de que nadie resultara herido ni las familias tuvieran que pasar ese trago. La Policía, o más específicamente el alguacil (Sheriff), es en última instancia el responsable de la seguridad municipal durante los encierros, cohetes y fuegos artificiales y puede infligir multas al pueblo si no ha actuado de una manera segura.

Para Marisa durante las fiestas hay mucho trabajo. Tiene que asegurarse de que todo funciona sin problemas y debe asistir a los eventos oficiales, por lo que tiene poco tiempo para su familia y amigos. Ella admitió que sentía algo de miedo cuando la fiesta se acerca a causa de esto. También existen muchos momentos buenos, como encender el cohete para comenzar las fiestas, imponer el pañuelico de fiestas a los más pequeños y muy emotivo día de la Patrona.

A pesar de la lealtad a un partido político, Marisa expresó su creencia de que la política y las fiestas deben mantenerse separadas y que la fiesta es para todos. Y como en Pamplona un 15 de julio Marisa señaló que, en Larraga, una fiesta cuando termina, la vida vuelve a la normalidad con una rapidez increíble, prácticamente al día siguiente.