Postal del encierro de Pamplona.


First things first…boy, how I hope the bunch at Kukuxumusu spell that title correctly, because any misspelling and it’ll perhaps describe just a little too closely my scribblings that are about to follow. Because, after last months dive into the past about the events of July 8th 1939, and as we approach the third of the third, I thought I’d dip into days gone by again for a few of the defining moments and images of fiestas gone by. I am, of course, spoilt for choice, so I’ll just choose a couple that I like, and perhaps return in the future for another delve into times past.

In today’s world of instant around-the-world in seconds communications and visuals, it’s easy to forget that things weren’t always like that. When I first went to Pamplona in 1984, I’d never even seen a photo of the fiesta, the city or the bull run, whereas nowadays everything is “out there”, and perhaps the sense of discovery and adventure is a little bit lost. I’d read James Mitchener and his book “The Drifters”, four years previously, and it was because I just did not believe what he was telling me about Pamplona that I decided to go. This was more than fiction, I thought…this was rubbish. Nowhere could be that mad, that medieval, that crazy, not in this day and age. And it wasn’t…it was worse! And it was brilliant.

Of course it was Hemingway who made a small town in northern Spain internationally famous way back in the 1920’s, but what is widely acknowledged to be the first photo from the fiesta to travel round the world didn’t happen until a decade or so later, in 1936.


July 12th 1936, the first photo of the encierro to go worldwide

July 12th 1936, the first photo of the encierro to go worldwide

As many of you who know the town will see, it shows the bulls (from the ranch of Antonio Perez de San Fernando), at the top of Santo Domingo and turning into the Plaza Constitorial, and the town hall. The run that day was apparently fast and violent, and the picture from the photographer Ruperez shows in clear and classic detail the two lead bulls causing customary encierro damage.

Two things stand out from that run from so long ago, as well…there were only four bulls running that day, another four from that ranch having run on July 10th. Why? Well that’s a tale for another day. The other curious and rather poignant point from the run is that when you look at the figures in the photo, amongst them some known runners from Pamplona, apparently, such as Martin Jose Muguiro, Jose Antonio Murillo, Pachon Gonzalez and Jose Remon, none of them would have known, as the shadow of the darkness that was the civil war was about to fall, that it would be another three years before they, and some bulls, would be able to run once again over the cobbled streets of their home town.

Oh, and the photo above? Well, it became the first photo from the fiestas to go worldwide because, several months later, the magazine Life chose it as their picture of the year. Not bad for a photographer from Pamplona, with a shop in that very plaza.

July 1960. The mountain in Estafeta".
July 1960. The mountain in Estafeta.

Photos of the human mountains formed by fallen runners are always fascinating, but this one is a beauty, as for once it doesn’t happen around the entrance to the ring, but halfway up Estafeta, near where it widens a bit. Photos can play tricks sometimes, but amongst the panic and pandemonium, can you see the man just behind the bulls, in dark trousers and jacket, casually smoking a cigarette? Talk about smoking being bad for your health…

It appears that as the bulls turned from Mercaderes into the long and narrow straight that leads up to Telefonos and the Plaza de Toros, the police who open that last barrier in Estafeta had delayed longer than ever, hence making rather nervous some of the people who were only in the street so they could get into the ring without paying, and well, one thing lead to another, people fell in their rush to get away, and disaster loomed. Amazingly though, as so often miraculously happens when carnage threatens in Pamplona, death was averted, though the emergency services tended to dozens of people. And the smoker? Well, I would love to know who he was, and perhaps…still is.

1951. Balda y Millor. 1955. Balda y Muñoz Sola. 1956 y 1960 Balda.
1951. Balda y Millor. 1955. Balda y Muñoz Sola. 1956 y 1960 Balda.


Every year for many of us foreigners, we don’t just wait for fiesta, or for what bull ranches have been chosen so those who run know what bulls they’ll be running with, but we want to see what the poster of that particular year’s fiesta is going to be. You can see nearly all the posters from the last hundred years and more on the town hall’s website and of course this one. The reason I’ve chosen the four examples shown above is because they are all by one man, a real man of the city.

Pedro Martín Balda. Foto de Nicolás López
Pedro Martín Balda. Foto de Nicolás López

His name was Pedro Martin Balda, and I’m sure he must be the only man ever to have had four of his efforts chosen for fiesta. Quite a feat, but he also did so much more. Those banners that we see the peñas dancing with and waving about, with those crypto political or comical messages, well, from 1943 and for over forty years, he painted many of them. I can’t pin down just how many, but it seems to be between 147 and 200 different examples. Again, a heck of a feat.


Pancarta Irrintzi 1961. Balda.
Pancarta Irrintzi 1961. Balda.

This true Pamplonican, born in the very heart of the city in the old town, finally packed up his paints and his ideas in December 2009 and took them to another place. Or, as Mikel Urmaneta wrote beautifully just over a month later, “Pedro Martin Balda did not wish to know anything of 2010 and he passed away to paint in another world”. He was 89 years old.

The competition has already started for this years fiesta poster, and as always, I can’t wait to see what we get.

Finally, from bulls to another animal. Last months posting finished with a dog named Ortega, this month it’s with an unknown cat, and is again from 1936. It was quite a year for strange happenings during the runnings, it seems….

Mercaderes street, and a cat using up one of its lives. 11 July 1936. Photo Galle.

Mercaderes street, and a cat using up one of its lives. 11 July 1936. Photo Galle.

Well, there have been a few dogs that have appeared in encierros over the years, but it’s believed that this is the only one with a cat. The photographer is again Jose Galle, who took the photos used in last months postings. He didn’t actually notice anything untoward , until he had the photos developed. Well, as that cat had one less life left, and as we approach the third of the third, we also have one less month to wait. One day, I’ll tell you about the lion in the streets of Pamplona. I kid you not!

An update about “Bullclippings”, and an R.I.P.

There is a famous photo shown in last month’s article from 1960 of the human traffic jam in Estafeta. I mention a man just behind the bulls, looking like he’s out for a Sunday stroll, cigarette in mouth, elegant in a suit and open-necked shirt, looking for all the world as if he’s thinking…”Oh, what’s going on here?”.

July 1960. The mountain in Estafeta".
July 1960. The mountain in Estafeta”.

I wondered about who he was, whilst hoping in my heart it was the legendary Matt Carney. Happily, his daughter Deirdre Carney wrote and said, “Well, he’s wearing a suit, as did my dad, he looks nonchalant, which he would have been and clearly blond…I don’t know for sure but it does kind of scream Matt Carney”.

In a later message: “Hey so my mom said it really looks like him and his style of walking. She doesn’t know for sure either but both of us felt it was him immediately. I don’t know if that helps. But who else would walk up to a pile-up smoking a ciggie?”

Who else indeed…I’ll leave the last words to Dave Pierce: “It was Matt. Not only was I in that pile-up but started it to my shame”. Few words, but perfectly said.

I think we’ve gone definitive on that then. But about the pile up Dave…more please!

Rest In Peace, Joe Moskaluk. Run In Paradise, Big Joe.

Joe, in the bright shirt, sitting at the heart of things…amongst amigos.
Joe, in the bright shirt, sitting at the heart of things…amongst amigos.

Sometimes someone passes away that you hear so much about you wish you’d known them. I didn’t know Joe Moskaluk, but he died very recently, towards the end of March as I was writing this, and the messages that I have seen doing the rounds have been truly touching. Here are just a few of the thoughts (as they wrote them) of some of those who knew him. And loved him.

Amongst what Bunny Centurion wrote, I’ve chosen this: “Our Pamplona family has lost another member, always too soon. Rest in peace Papa Joe you will be in our hearts every morning this July and always”.

“Very, very sad. Joe was a man’s man, a good man, a gentleman.” Jeffrey Hare.

“A saint indeed, standing alone and one of a kind, shedding light with his humour when things seemed so dark. What I would give for one more breakfast at Tres Reyes and a couple of cigars thereafter. You I will remember always”. Leon Friedrichsen.

“God Bless you and watch over you Joe”. Junerose Conlin.

“I don’t want to imagine a world without Big Joe”. Carl Butrum.

“A wonderful man Joe. He will be missed”. Bob Smokey Clark.

“Our lives all were so much better for knowing Joe, he was one of a kind, cigar smoking will never be the same”. Steven Kendler.

1994. Ready to run.
1994. Ready to run.

“We have lost a guy who probably loved us more than we will ever know…” Rick Musica, who wrote so much more, but I love that particular quote.

“For those of you who knew him, he was a special man. He was a great lover of life, and he lived it well and heartily.
You could see it in the twinkle of his eyes, and in his smile and his laughter.
You could see it in his love for Belle.
You could see it in his love for his family.
You could see it in his love for Spain.
You could see it in his love for the bulls.
You could see it in his sense of humour.
I loved Joe for many reasons, and I will miss him very, very much.

That last one was from Yoav Spicehandler, and that says it all, about a man I didn’t even know, but wish I had.

Joe with his beloved Belle.
Joe with his beloved Belle.

Chinese waiter training.

And now, something I hope will put a little smile on the faces of those up in the Great Fiesta in the Sky, and those still here on beautiful Planet Earth. I’ve often wondered how the Chinese waiters cope and survive during San Fermin, having to handle some of us lot, and after much research, I have found a video of the passing out parade for those selected for Pamplona during fiesta, after no doubt a gruelling, Ghurka style training course:

This has been a long one, hasn’t it? But look on the bright side…ya falta a little bit less now…