Not long to go ...
md - we will be ...
Tony Hoskins - terrific story Chris, made me feel I was back there. I remember turning up in the Bronce Pena Bar last year on the 6th, it was manic. Your hospitality was wonderful and we made a number of return visits over the course of the fiesta- always warmly welcomed. Hope to see you in 2 months, Y Falta Menos
If you stay in the Casco Antiguo of Pamplona, the sound of bells is never very far from your earshot, and when we hear them, it should remind us that time is fleeting and fiesta will end in a few days. The stone streets and buildings allow the bells to ring with a clarity that echoes far from their bell-towers. In the quiet hours of fiesta , 4-8AM, the bell's sound floats over the red tiled roofs and through my bedroom window . I check my clock and I have another hour before I have to get up and prepare.
Some mornings, instead of getting up to run, I would lay in my bed and listen for the 8 bells of the Ayuntamiento and then carefully listen for the first rocket, envisioning the jefe of the corrals as he stands on the raised platform just to the right of the spring-loaded barn-door style gate. He would also be listening for the bells and waiting for the last one before he gave the rocket a light. The rocket would sound like it was directly overhead as its report signaled the first instructions to anyone waiting. Gate Open. One or two pastores with 5' long sticks, charge into the corral from the back and drive the herd out the gate. The herd's natural instinct is to go through an open door, but sometimes they need to be coaxed or driven. The herd of bulls and larger trained steers, having exited the corral, now run the only way the can, up Calle Santo Domingo. The second rocket report signals that the last bull has left the corral. Usually, when I ran Estafeta, I would start counting as soon as I heard the first rocket until I heard the next rocket. If you count to more than 20-40, this is usually a bad sign. Sometimes a few of the bulls don't leave with the herd. The herd becomes spread out and is not running together. I listen for the crowd roar as the bulls pass by the mayor's palace, which is just up the street from me. The din of the crowd fades and soon a third rocket signals that the whole herd has entered the plaza de toros . The fourth rocket means that the herd is in the corral of the plaza de toros and the encierro is complete. Average time first to fourth rocket is about 3 minutes. The hard part is going back to sleep.
With Jesus A. and friends in the street at about 4 AM.
For some reason, the difficult portions of fiesta were a little easier for me last year, especially the prelude to the bull-run; the long wait that you must suffer before a rocket goes off. This time of reflection and pause has the power to make you reconsider your choices of the day. More than once, after preparing to run and standing in the street with my brethren, I have left the street and not participated because of a bad feeling that I did not ignore. The day before I left for Pamplona, I was at a birthday celebration, where I was able to get in the arena with a small vaca and make some passes with my muleta. It was the first time I fought here in Texas, and the experience and training helped me focus on the bulls differently; with more understanding of their capabilities and how when you are in the ring, you can control many of them, sometimes. Understanding how little you have to do to cite a bull or brave cow, helps you avoid common Pamplona pitfalls like accidentally turning an animal around, when it was heading the right direction, up the street toward the plaza de toros; or citing an animal into a crowd by touching him or doing something other than running with the animals toward the plaza. So, the wait has become a little easier and I sleep a little better at night, but not before the first run.
Typically, I stay out all night on the 6th because the day before is my birthday and the energy of fiesta is just beginning to bubble over. Jesus and I and the Los de Bronce quadrille usually have dinner at the Gure Leku Society Gastronomic in their subterranean, stone-walled, arched dining room. Like much of old Pamplona, this room is from another era and reminds me of what a Roman mess hall must have looked like. Afterwards, we hit the town for hours and wind up at La Manueta Churreria around 5:30 . Jesus and Paulina and her husband Josetxo go way back. Jesus peaks in to the private back room and gives us the hi-sign and we all crowd into the smoky work space behind the counter and drink home-made booze with Josetxo. The next room has a lone man chopping wood and feeding a fire for the cauldron of boiling oil. This is the traditional way. Nobody chops wood anymore to make churros. The wood chopper is in a tee shirt dripping with sweat, flanked on two sides by stacks of un-split oak logs. He has an audience and the mood is festive, but quiet, except for the sound of the ax slicing wood. He thanks me for the cigar. The smells of frying churros and a wood fire, surrounded by walls of beech wood, help you imagine a very old scene of one family making churros the traditional way, for five generations, in this old building up the street from the Mercado. Now, this place is closed most of the year. Paulina told me that they have almost closed the doors for good a few times, but the high demand during fiesta and the profits they make provides them the ability to pay the many people it takes to run this place the traditional way. Also she told me that the effort involved makes her children less than enthusiastic about making churros full time. Paulina is a force and runs the place with authority. Everyone is busy making the dough or frying the churros or getting ready for the unending line as soon as the door is open at about 7. The etiquette is that you should only stay as long 20-30 minutes or until it gets too crowded and you make space for the newcomers.
I had the pleasure of being with my daughter in fiesta last year. Elleanna was studying in Rome during May and June and she came to Pamplona via Madrid. John Macho picked her up and drove to Pamplona on the 5th. Near the Windsor Bar, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her running. For me it was my favorite experience in fiesta and fiesta had not started yet. I had not seen her in 4 months and missed her very much. We were both crying. I hugged her like she was leaving again. I was so proud that she navigated Europe and found her way here for fiesta and my birthday. In August she would turn 21 but that doesn't matter in fiesta. We started celebrating immediately. A few of my favorite people in the world, roaming the streets in sleepy, pre-fiesta Pamplona, (none of us wearing white), and then all at the same table for dinner; this is what I wanted most last year for my birthday.
The next day was busy. We were up early for Chupinazo and Noel Chandler's party on Estafeta. Noel always throws a great party. It starts with a Champagne toast at noon. Excellent chilled, vintage wine, in good crystal with old friends on the 6th ; this is the party that I enjoy the most during fiesta. Part reunion, part ceremony, everyone is smiling and hugging and starting fiesta together. Noel checks his watch and makes sure everyone has a full glass and then the rocket sounds at noon and everyone cheers and starts to put their panuelo around their neck. I help Elleanna tie the safety knot, so that if you are grabbed by the panuelo it will release and not act like a collar. We want to stay longer, but she and I must race off to work our bartending shift at the Bronce Pena Bar on Calle Jarauta.
Elleanna was a little nervous about working with me. She was worried that not speaking Spanish very well would be a problem. We showed up 30 minutes late. Every shift has someone in charge. This was Pepo's turn. He embraced us both and remembered Elleanna from 10 years ago on her last visit here. I expressed Elleanna's concerns and Pepo found her the perfect job. The Pena had made special stickers with the Pena escudo and Elleanna would be the Ambassador of the Pena and make sure she put one on everybody in the bar. Perfect. She took to her job with vigor. Everybody wanted one and Elleanna would lean over the bar and put it right over their heart. It is better to work in the beginning of fiesta while you still have fresh legs. The first shift is a coveted shift. Fiesta has just begun and many pena members want to work early so their commitment to the pena is over for the fiesta. Thankfully, Jesus made sure I was on the schedule for this shift.
Calle Jarauta was packed by 12:30PM. It was four people deep at the bar, all the bartenders were sweating. The taps were flowing. Not a sad face to be found. Elleanna and I high five each other. Welcome to fiesta. At about 4 PM, she and I leave to go and change for the bullfight and then come back to the bar and wait for the band to assemble, so we can march with them to the bullfight. We hang out in the back room of the bar talking with Pepo. He asks us if we are going to the corrida and then tells us, today there are no bands. The bands marching to the corrida starts tomorrow. So Elleanna and I make a quick dash toward the plaza de toros, buy some hats, and then go in to watch rejoneadores Pablo Hermoso Mendosa, Pamplonican, and others put on a magnificent display. He cut four ears that day. It was Elleanna and my first time to see rejoniadores. It was also Elleanna's first time to see any kind of bullfight and she enjoyed herself, unlike the next day when we sat with the Bronce Pena for the first bullfight.
It was unfortunate, and I should have anticipated what happened when we showed up the next day after marching with the Pena to the plaza de toros. Our abonos were Bronce abonos. To sit with the penas, you must get there early to get a seat. If you march with the pena band, you should arrange with another member to hold seat for you. I forgot. When we tried to find a place to sit, it was full. I cut through the seated crowd to an open seat above and wanted Elleanna to follow me. She was not wearing her Bronce colors and two men from the Bronce that I didn't know grabbed and accosted her Sand in the process someone else doused her with red wine all over her chest. It only took a few seconds, but she was drenched from the waist up. My back was turned and I missed this. When she made it up to where I was, Elleanna was very angry but trying not to lose her temper. I was just getting the details and I asked her to point out the men who did this. She hesitated and then said it wasn't important. I was just starting to get angry. I insisted that she identify the culprits. I was about to make a big mistake but couldn't see it through my mounting fury. She pointed them out and I started planning on how to cause a fight. I couldn't focus on anything else. I was only able to see mayhem and revenge. The bullfight had not started yet and I said to Elleanna get ready to head to the exit. She knew what I was up to and said to me, "it is not important, forget it". I was ready to be an outcast in my beloved Bronce Pena, and confront the assholes who put hands on my daughter. Elleanna grabbed my arm as I rose and said, "NO, NO!". I almost pulled away from her, but then her eyes made me melt and I sat back down. I probably would have gotten my ass kicked, but that thought never stopped me before when I was this angry. We left after the first bull so Elleanna could change into dry clothes. We were both in need of an attitude adjustment and luckily San Fermin was watching over us and whispered in my ear, LET IT GO, NO FIGHTING IN FIESTA.
Deirdra Carney, with Noel Chandler at the last supper on the 14th of July.
The morning of the first run this year was little different. Instead of staying out all night with Jesus on the 6th as usual, Elleanna and I went to dinner at the Gure Leku SG with Jesus and about ten others but after I took Elleanna home, I couldn't find Jesus later. I went home at about 2 and slept well. When I awoke, poked my head into Elleanna's room and asked her if she still wanted to run, but she declined and I told her I would see her afterwards. I met John down near the small niche in the wall for the icon of San Fermin, near the bottom of Calle Santo Domingo at about 7:15. My rugby buddy Jack had come back to fiesta after 24 years and John told me that he was running the top of Estafeta. It was good to be standing with John again. We have stood here in this spot more than once and pretended to read the newspapers we have, while struggling to not act as nervous as we feel. We don't change our pre-encierro routines; well bathed and groomed, clean whites and important talismans worn, laces cinched and knots double tied, many abrazos fuerte and suertes with comrades, singing the ritual songs of devotion, invoking the protection and guidance of San Fermin. Sticking to ritual to help block fear seems to help me endure the long wait before the bells sound 8 times. After singing to San Fermin for the third time, there is only one minute until the gates will open and the herd charges toward us, up the hill. The police are standing in front of us, John and I are in the first row behind them. They hold on to each other with arms locked together and facing downhill toward the corral.
The bulls are free and the heard comes up the street together and fast. The cops are still holding us back and have not let go, with the bulls 40 meters away . Finally, they break and head for the cut out on the left. The crowd has surged forward pushing us and then pulled back, and thinned out to head up Santo Domingo to meet the herd and run up the street. John and I head down the middle of the street only a few steps and the heard is right there in front of us, 5 meters away and building speed. John pivots right and I go left and hug the wall near the cut out. The bull's smell and the sound of their hooves fill your senses. I am looking eye to eye with the whole herd, and standing perfectly still as the first animal passes within two feet of my chest. I look to the end of the herd and try to see if any of the animals are spreading out or hooking with their horns at the others against the wall like me. I do my best to melt into the stone behind me, and suddenly I feel very fat. The sound of hooves is all I can hear and the stink of the bulls lingers in my dry nose and mouth. The last animal comes a little closer but stays bound to his cousins. Two pastores, who have run at a full sprint up the hill to keep up with the herd, are using their sticks and hitting the stragglers on their flanks to make them run faster. As I turned my head up the street, they were all gone. My first bull-run of 2010 is over. John and I head toward Bar Txoco with two stops on the way. John wants to get in line and wait for churros and I want to stop and have a cold beer in my favorite (cheap) little bar down the street and watch the replay of the run on TV. I see Charley and few others. I order a coffee and a beer. The cold beer is a tonic for my dry mouth. Everyone is crowded around the one small TV, having a look at what just happened in the street.
John is still in line at the La Manueta and I tell him I will see him at the Txoco. The water trucks are cleaning the streets, and I dance quickly from one side to the other to avoid the flow. Plaza Castillo is cool on the Txoco side, in the shade at 8:30 AM. There are about 70 people standing in front, talking bulls. Here is where we regroup and count heads, and also hear the news of anyone hurt. I see Jack and his wife. He looks very fit. He had a good run at the top of Estafeta.
We are having a small gathering in the apartment today for the procession of San Fermin. We have two balconies that overlook Calle Zapateria along the procession route. About 20 people show up around 11 and everyone takes turns on our viewing stands. The icon is paraded through town on the 7th each year. All of the important characters of fiesta are in the procession. Gigantes, cabazudos, zaldikos, dignitaries, clergy, the statue/icon of San Fermin, and last in line is the beautiful music of La Pamplonesa, the official marching band of Pamplona. The Procession always stops right in front of our door and a traditional jota singer from a balcony across the street, serenades San Fermin with a haunting female voice full of vibrato and emotion. The large crowd is silent as her song echoes along the narrow stone street. When she finishes, the whole street erupts into applause. Soon, the procession moves on and La Pamplonesa plays Verdi as they march past, each band member in perfect step, swaying as they head toward their next stop. Our crowd thins out and I decide to take a nap before going to the bullfights tonight.
Elleanna is only here until the 11th, and then she heads back to Philadelphia where she has one more class to take this summer, before the fall semester begins at Rutgers. She is loving fiesta. I am loving her company. Our routine is very simple: encierro, march with the Penas, bullfights, dinner, party, sleep when you can, get up and start again. John thinks it is great that she can keep up with me and not crash and burn mid-way through fiesta. I keep thinking tempis fugit every time I hear the bells whisper "make the most of every hour".
Jack must have been thinking the same thing. On the 9th his wife gets me out of bed telling me, " Jack got hit by a freight train. He's in the hospital. We need to go to the hospital." I got dressed and we made it to the hospital to find out he was discharged already. The pictures tell the story pretty good and the newspaper story also does a good job; Jack running right on the horns at Telephonos then hitting the street pretty hard and then being run over by the bull. He's lucky he landed on his head; pound for pound, Jack was one of the toughest rugby players I ever played with or against.
On another morning, I had been out all night, but was not drunk. Happy and a little tipsy is more accurate. I was not planning on running but something happened to change my mind. As I was crossing the bull-run course through the one open gate at Ayuntamiento, I joined the crowd getting squeezed together as you pass through the gate. I felt someone's hand in my right pants pocket. I reached down with my right hand and grabbed it by the wrist. As I turned and yelled I saw this man who was bigger than me with grey hair whose eyes were wide with the fright of being caught. He turned to run as I caught him by the panuelo around his neck and pulled him back and started to hockey punch him in the face as many times as I could. He went down to the ground and I stood over him as he tried to get up and I punched him again. The cops show up and I tell them I caught a pick-pocket in the act. The cops bring us both to the Ayuntamiento and tell me that I must go to their HQ and fill out more paper work to prosecute this man. Now? I suggest that I will go after the bull-run, as long as they give me an escort to the front of the bull-run right now, there is only ten minutes left before the encierro. The Pamplona Police, to my surprise, agree and four guys march me through the packed crowd 300 meters to the front of the course where I usually stand. I wasn't planning on running, but since the cops said yes to the escort I thought, why not? Plus, I was feeling the after effects of being in a fight, and I was pretty charged up. The escort had a word with the cops at the front of the crowd and a few of them look over their shoulders at me with grins on their faces and start to laugh. The Capitan of the Guard gives me the thumbs up. The encierro was fast and clean and in a few minutes I was back in my favorite cheap bar with a cold one and a cup of coffee watching the run on TV and telling my story. I hate pick-pockets and I have been robbed in Pamplona before. The cops told me not much would happen and he would be out of jail in one or two days. The sergeant also added, perhaps he got some justice by trying to rob me and taking a beating.
Me with Los de Bronce and my daughter Elleanna
This year in fiesta, 2011, The No Bull-Shit Monkey Pena, is having a grand reunion. Our group of returning members has dwindled down to only a few of the old-guard. This year will be different. We will still be missing two of our best runners, Tex-Rex Freriks and Hal Jennings, but that will not dampen the spirits of the rest of us. Hal stopped coming after breaking his ankle in a pile-up more than fifteen years ago. Rex broke his hip and ran into complications after they replaced it twice. He has told us all that if he can't run he would rather stay home. They will both be missed. Our President, Curly Ballor, will be there and this may be one of the last large gatherings of the old timers of our pena.
Every year in Pamplona, fiesta is a little different. Many friends have died, my pants have shrunk, and the crowd in the street seems to get bigger and younger every year. Many of the people I admired when I first came here in 1984, do not come to fiesta anymore. Back then, it was hard for me to imagine not returning to fiesta. I still see their faces, peeking from around the next corner. I still hear their laughter, from the next table. Matt, Donnie, Pleas, George, Steve and many more of the Dead Man's Pena. These fallen friends help us remember the traditions we keep. One of those traditions is our "last supper". We now do this in the afternoon on the 14th. It starts with a fine meal at a common table. During coffee, we take turns saluting fiesta and then toasting to Matt Carney with a large bottle of Jack Daniel's. Everyone gets a chance to say their bit and then drinks from the bottle and passes it down the line.
Matt Carney with Pena Anatasuna being given a panuelo.
One night, back around 1982, as Curly told me, "Matt first produced the bottle of Jack at the Txoko, explaining that someone had given it to him and he wasn't quite sure what to do with it. That part of the story is normally embellished with appropriate (and accurate) descriptions of wry and ironic grins, shrugs and winks. Of course, we drank it. The following year we decided that we had to return the favor, brought a bottle, and asked Matt early in the fiesta if we could have some of his time some evening. When we met (again at the Txoko) a few nights later, GT Long explained that on our way from Barcelona we had barely missed hitting a turtle in the road. We went back to move the poor bastard out of the thoroughfare only to find that it was indeed a bottle of Jack Daniels. At which point he produced the fifth and asked (with appropriate wry and ironic grins, shrugs and winks), "What do you think we should with it?" And, of course, Matt was gracious enough to help us polish it off." Every year on the last day we all share the "Turtle" and then toast to the memory of Matt. It seems proper and fitting to maintain this tradition, and to pass along the memory of Matt Carney to those of our group that never met him. In this sense, it is true that Matt Carney still lives in Pamplona. Viva San Fermin.