By Matt Dowsett
Pamplona. Home of the running of the bulls and the fiesta to end all fiestas. San Fermín draws a varied and international following, but very few foreign visitors are aware that Pamplona is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fiestas and bulls. Across Spain and beyond there are many hundreds of fiestas and thousands of encierros every year. Within the old walls of Pamplona a local drama is played out on an international stage, but beyond the walls are the unseen and untold tales of the people, the bulls and the streets of these other fiestas.
San Fermín is just a couple of months away and the wonderful fiestas of August in Navarra are less than a hundred days of waiting to endure before they are on us. The anticipation grows and starts to ache at us in a way that we haven’t known since the harsh cold of January when the fiestas and encierros seemed about as far away as they ever could be.
Now the ache comes from an urgency, an urgency to be back in amidst the music, the singing, the dancing, the hot sun, the alegría, the passion and the intensity. It is so close that you can almost touch it but it is cruelly far enough away to be frustrating.
Waiting is not only reserved for those days outside of fiesta, but also within fiesta. Notably we wait in the encierro.
Some of this waiting is harder than others. Waiting in the streets of Pamplona is hard. It is an anxious and noisy time where there appears to be no space whatsoever for solitude, for a moment of peace with yourself to collect your thoughts and make your own preparations. All around you many other people are going through their own routines in their tiny little spots but they all overlap and they all intrude on your own concentration. Pamplona before the encierro contributes to stress, it does not ease it. Contrast this with the photograph which is taken during an encierro in Sartaguda in Navarra. Notice the casual attitudes despite the danger of what may come up the street. Notice the relaxed anticipation – these are people who are nervous, but appear to have all the time in the world to prepare. I lean on the shoulder of my friend, comfortable in the moment and no doubt sharing a story or the promise of a beer when the encierro is finished. Perhaps we are talking about where we will eat later or perhaps we are talking about the possibilities of other encierros that day. This is waiting with a difference.
But often that waiting is not so relaxed, and in many locations the seriousness and popularity of the encierro takes us back to a much more watchful and nervous state.
We wait. Waiting is painful. We suffer for it.
Our suffering is special. The pain we feel is worse than anybody else, but the sunrise we see is more beautiful than anybody else. We are like the moon; one side forever in darkness, invisible as it should be. But remember the dark moon draws the tides also. Our time will come.