Lucinda Poole, nueva Guiri del año posa con la mano sobre la barbilla

Face to face with Lucinda Poole, “Guiri” of the year

Picture by  José Luis Larrión

American journalist, Lucinda Poole, will be awarded during Sanfermin 2017 with the XIV Premio Guiri del Año, an award which is given each year by Kukuxumusu and to a foreigner who has stood out for their love of the Sanfermin fiestas. This year, in its fourteenth edition, the winner of this award is the versatile journalist and translator, Lucinda Poole, who will follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Englishman Tim Pinks.

Lucinda Poole is a 60 year-year-old woman, from Chapel Hill (North Carolina) and she has been associated with the Pamplona fiestas for more than three decades now. Indeed, her first writing on the fiestas was a guide book published as “Don’t Be a Foreigner in Sanfermines”(1982).

From Carolina University all the way to Pamplona

-¿How did an American girl end up living in Navarre? 

I grew up in a “Gone with the Wind “ atmosphere where women never danced in the street.  My first visit to Pamplona was as a student during Sanfermines.  Before I could finish lacing my alpargatas, I suddenly found myself with a crowd of new friends who dragged me down Carlos  lll where everyone was dancing in the streets, singing songs I didn´t know and  drinking so much of a strange mixture of wine and coca cola that finally all I could think about was fiesta, fiesta and more fiesta.  I felt a freedom that I had never known in my very protected life, and I loved it.  Even when I discovered that Pamplona was a little different during the rest of the year, I was determined to live here.  Hemingway didn´t bring me here, it was just that I had fallen in love, and who can explain that?

Lucinda Poole in Sanfermin.

-What do you feel for Navarre and Pamplona to be kept here?

I have always liked history.  As a child, I wanted to go to sleep and wake up in a completely different world and in a different time. Now I walk down the streets of Pamplona, and my feet actually touch the ground where people once walked centuries ago.  I place my hand on the wall of San Saturnino and pretend I am a woman in the middle ages who is lifting up her dress to protect it from the rain.  In Chapel Hill, I knew what kind of life I would probably have:  a job working in a newspaper,  the competing for better more expensive material things and a typical American husband.  Here I never know from day to day what will happen. It´s all a wonderful surprise waiting for me to discover.  The feeling of being  part of a past time is especially strong in Navarra´s incredible villages.

-Your professional career goes through the magazine Tiempo, Diario de Navarra and the International Press Office … Is there much to tell about Sanfermin?

My relationship with Ernest Hemingway began with an assignment for the Diario de Navarra where I worked many years.  I think the title was “Following in the Footsteps of Hemingway during Sanfermines.”  It was finally time to read Fiesta” or ”The Sun Also Rises”.  I began to investigate Sanfermines from the author´s point of view.  I spent days in the archives of the Town Hall, even discovering what the weather was every day that Hemingway and his friends were in Sanfermines.  I interviewed many people who had really known him then – like those in Casa Marceliano,  waiters in the Iruña, the cook at Hotel Quintana where Hemingway and his friends stayed, his best friend and protégé, Antonio Ordóñez at his finca near Sevilla and the one person who knew him the most and was still alive – Valerie Hemingway, married to Ernest´s yountest son. I say “really knew him” because by now, many myths have become reality except for those who really investigate.

During the years I worked for the news magazine, Tiempo, I was asked to write about Sanfermines – both the good and the bad aspects of the fiesta – every single July.  They were more interested in the sensational  – such as the arrival of the “Black Feet” group or how foreigners  had problems.

The OIP is the best thing to happen to Sanfermines since Hemingway.   The International Press Office  works with the Town Hall to give passes to approved journalists who are in Pamplona to cover the fiesta from countries all over the world and with the government of Navarra. We help them in every way possible, always stressing the positive side.

A girl taking off her t-shirt in the Chupinazo isn´t Sanfermines. Unfortunately many journalists see a front page photograph in that, and there is so much more to our fiesta.  While respecting the freedom of the press, we would like to discourage this type of reporting.  It may be the product of ignorance because the majority of reporters who come -not those from here- haven´t got the slightest idea where to go or what to do. We, at the OIP, also strongly support the freedom of women to be safe during Sanfermines. I would like to see more of a sense of community and family.

Bill Lyerly playing in a concert

-Your husband is Bill Lyerly, one of the most authentic bluesmen. Is music an important part of your life?

Bill for me was like Sanfermines – love at first sight!  He is extremely well-known all over the United States and has won many awards for his songs.  He plays the guitar, the bass, drums, sings and composes, and he has taught me to appreciate good blues music.  I have gone with him several times to London to Abbey Road Studios to remaster songs where he enjoyed playing John Lennon´s piano.  When Bill is not on tour, our house is full of music – he even takes naps with a guitar on top of him!  And naturally what he likes the most about Sanfermines is the music.

He believes that we don´t pay enough attention to street music – some of which he feels is fantastic.  If you visit us, you will have to be prepared to talk music for hours and house – he has played with many of the greats and knows literally thousands of stories about backstage fun.  So here I am – an American married to an American after all – but the most atypical one you´ll ever meet.  Much more interesting thanVan Morrison who begged me to go to dinner with him at a jazz festival in San Sebastian years ago.

There is still much to be learned about Hemingway..

Valerie Hemingway y Lucinda Poole.
Valerie Hemingway and Lucinda Poole.

-What can we learn from ourselves by reading Hemingway?

If we have just a tiny bit of his courage, we should live like there is no tomorrow.  Be open to every new experience and see the world around us as if we had never seen it before.  Learn that we can dance in the streets.

Is it advisable to read Hemingway before coming to Sanfermin?

I don´t think so.  A person should first read everything he can about the fiesta – in all of its facets.  That is the reason why I wrote the first guide for foreigners – “Don´t Be a Foreigner in Sanfermines” which sold 10,000 copies. Because I saw a total ignorance of everything but lying around in the grass, sleeping off  the night before. You have to remember that “Fiesta” is a novel. A novel with characters very thinly disguised, which probably today would result in a lot of law suits.

The characters are real, but some of the facts about Pamplona are not along with some events that take place on different days.  After learning what the apartado is or what the Procession means, for example,  it´s time to live your own fiesta.  The reaction to what you see will then be an educated one , but one that is not what Hemingway saw. On the other hand, Hemingway loved Sanfermines with a passion, and his joy is contagious to young and old.

-Did the Sanfermin party change the Hemingway or Hemingway to Sanfermin’s party?

I think that the fiesta changed Hemingway a tremendous amount.  He had seen a bullfight before, but not like the ones in Pamplona.  His life-lomg dance with the idea of suicide connected with the matador walking into the ring to confront death willingly.  He mentions the Hotel Quintana and his friend Juanito, the owner, many, many times in his non-fiction writing and in “Fiesta” under a fictitious name. It was inPamplona during Sanfermines in the Hotel Yoldi where he was introduced to Antonio Ordónez, son of one of the protagonists in “Fiesta” as well as the father whom he adored in the ring and later turned against for his cowardice.  This book made the world recognize him as a famous writer – and mentor of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. En Pamplona he saw more clearly than ever life, death and tragedy among friends.

As to Hemingway changing the fiesta of Sanfermines – I also believe that he did, especially to young people who wanted to live the Hemingway experience.  While it is true that Hemingway complained from the beginning that there were too many foreigners there, later, he couldn´t escape them.  He would sit at his favourite café after spending the night at a small chalet at 7, San Fermín street, surrounded not only by his true friends but also by dozens of people who wanted to hang onto him and become false friends.  According to Valerie Hemingway, married to Hemingway´s youngest son, even before 1959 there were Hemingway look-alikes who wandered around Pamplonatrying to get a free hotel room or a meal.  They even signed autographs in his name.  Years ago I think more came because of Hemingway. Today there are many who have never read “Fiesta” but come to party – not exactly what Hemingway had in mind.
– Can Hemingway lead us to live Sanfermin today? I mean going to the party to life and feel the travel with all your heart

Of course,if we return to his visits in the ´20s and in 1931 and 1953.  Y así es como se debe vivir los Sanfermines, pero con matices.  This fiesta is unique in the World. It is pure joy.  A community of people from all over the world who arrive in Pamplona prepared to spend the best times of their lives.  It might take a month to recuperate, but it continues to change the pathways of many young fiesta goers.  I said that this is true if we look at Hemingway in the ´20s and in 1931 and, to a lesser degree, in 1953.  By 1959 he had suffered two terrible plane crashes, injuring himself to a serious degree. He was already ill, and his drinking was then visible to all. He would be dead two years later.

A regular Collaborator with the Press Office

-From your work as a reporter and now helping other reporters at the International Press Office, what are you interested in international journalists from Pamplona?

They are mainly interested in the running of the Bulls – the encierro.  We in the OIP point them in other directions as well, but usually they make use of the work space, especially for them and write about the chupinazo and the encierro – if anything happened there and about bulls. The media is extremely interested in the injuries of the encierro, the speed of the bulls and the photographers look for that one magnificent shot that has not been taken before.  Other journalists have passes for the last night of the fiesta and may come to the OIP later on. I always enjoy my work there – almost 14 years – because I see many reporters and photographers I never see during the rest of the year.   I use a little bit of psychology to make them feel less stressed by answering as many questions as I can.

-What does Sanfermin have to do to interest so many people?” Is it the party?

Yo creo que es el encierro.  Hemingway wrote about it, and probably, as much as the fiesta itself, the encierro attracts many many people.  The running of the bulls on one day at least is also broadcast on TVs everywhere – even my mother watches it with horror!  At the OIP, we see it on a large screen so we are lucky in the respect that we have before us the whole run and not just a section of it when you are on a balcony.  I have to say that my heart stops when the bulls start running.  It is so beautiful, but, at the same time, so dangerous, but too many runners think of it as a sport or have no idea of what to do.  I cannot stand it when someone holds onto the horn of the bull of runs with his hand on top of the bull.

I have seen what can happen and have interviewed many families who lost sons or other relatives in the encierro.  And in previous years, I have written on the web page of the OIP about the exact nature of gorings. It is not pretty.

-How do you see the future of the Sanfermin festival in a few years?

If we all work together, the fiesta will continue to be the best show on Earth.  But we have to guard it as Pamplona´s greatest treasure.