Imagen Javier Martínez de la Puente

“There was a lot of hullaballoo on the slope”

Image.   Javier Martínez de la Puente

Carmelo Buttini, A true purebred of the bullrunnings; he has been running every morning in Sanfermin for the past 34 years.

He used to be called the Marqués of Estafeta but that title is in danger of disappearing since he changed his customary location four years ago. Now he is to be seen on the first stretch of Santo Domingo where he can experience that special sensation which gees him up. Carmelo Buttini (Pamplona, 1967) is an “out-and-out” sanferminero – what we fondly recognize here as ‘a fanatic of the running of the bulls’.

At the age of 12 he was already running in the kid’s bullrunning – the Encierro Txiki and his CV holds literally hundreds of encounters with the bullrunnings over the past 34 years. He never misses a single one in Pamplona, of course, (“the Champions league”) but he can often be seen at many other running of the bulls in Tafalla, Sangüesa, Castellón, Alquerías, Vall d’Usó, and Almazora… I have called into his bookshop, La Casa del Libro, an emblematic premises located right in the middle of Estafeta street. I want to get to know, at first hand, what is at the heart of this “business” of being a runner in the Running of the Bulls.

Do you have any English books here? asks a hefty blonde in a foreign accent. Carmelo suggests that we talk while he attends the public but soon the bookshop is filled with people looking for the morning press and he takes me to a quiet corner, amid some bookshelves. It is now 11.00 a.m. Carmelo has just come from a hearty brunch with some of his fellow-runners from this morning’s Running of the Bulls. But I can sense that he has been up since very early today.

How is a typical day during Sanfermin fiestas for you?
I come here to work at 4 o`clock in the morning. I distribute the press around this part of the old town. At that time, the place is crowded with bodies. I finish at 6 o`clock and I come here to the bookstore and I change my clothes, even if I am dressed in my Sanfermin gear. I put on a long-sleeved white T-shirt, but I usually fold up the arms a bit. I put white trousers on and my sneakers for running in The Running of the Bulls. I don’t wear any necktie or sash. At 6:45 I am usually at my place in the slope at Santo Domingo all ready to run. I do the Running of the Bulls and then I come straight back here to work, to distribute more press and when I finish that about 10.00 a.m. I go off to have a brunch with my mates from the bullrunning.

How many T-shirts do you have for the Running of the Bulls?
Four in all – two with the San Fermín badge sown on them and another two with the badge of the Anaitasuna Peña Club. The necktie is also from the Anaitasuna club and I like to wear it carefully tied on. When I finish running, I come to the bookstore and I change my clothes again. If I have had a good running, the next day I repeat with exactly the same gear on. If not, I put on a different T-shirt and a different pair of pants.

Tell us how you experienced this morning’s Running of the Bulls.
The bulls came out of the pens and ran up the slope well, shaping up to charge at the runners, but it was possible to run quite well, not like these past few days with a lot of hassle and hullaballoo. The bulls passed me close by… I always run close against the wall and even if you try to pull aside, the bulls always pass quite close. You have to keep a close eye on them because you only have the two options: stay on your feet or, when they come up tight against the wall, throw yourself down and let them run over you. That way you get a bruise or two but…I have my scars, see? (He shows me a scar of some 25 cm. on his arm.). That’s the way it is.

Have you been tossed very often?
Well, a serious tossing…yes, once in Tafalla, quite a few years ago now.

Do you know Bill Hillman, the American that got gored in these fiestas?
Those of us who run on the slope, we all know each other. Among those injured this year I know Bill… Mariano too, he was gored on the slope…and the one who had his hip broken as well…

Is there a special sense of camaraderie between all of you?
Yes, there is. Those who come from abroad normally run in Estafeta Street, so those who are at the slope in Santo Domingo, the fifty or sixty runners who are normally there, we have known each other for years and years. The Red Cross workers too on this stretch – among them two veteran runners, Josetxo and Antonio– know who we all are and if anything happens to anyone, we all find out straightaway what it’s all about.

What makes the Santo Domingo stretch so special?
There is a very special silence that is real pretty, which you cannot find in Estafeta and which creates a kind of special tension, which is not easy to explain.

From the time you get there, at 6:45, and then until 8.00 a.m. what do you do?
I always go with my good mate, ‘el Bou’, a Catalan friend with whom I send time during the whole of the fiestas. I call him ‘el Bou Adarra’ (‘bou’ means bull in Catalan and ‘adarra’ means “old” in Basque), that is to say, ‘old bull’. If there are not too many people we are strolling up and down there. If there are a lot of people, we stay well down and we try to hug the wall and blend in with the scene there.

Do you usually feel nervous before the run?
Always. And if I didn’t, that would be a bad sign. It is not a sense of panic, but rather a kind of controlled fear. When the run is over, you find yourself hugging some of your mates. If it has gone well for you, but one of your mates has fallen or whatever, you try to form a ring so that the “sweeping up” bell-oxen don’t step on him and wait for the emergency workers to come…it’s a nice sense of camaraderie.

You have taken part in so many Runnings of the Bulls. Is each day so different?
Yes, it is. Each Running of the Bulls is special. The tension which you feel in Santo Domingo is awesome. The cold that you feel…I don’t know if it is because of the early hour of the morning or a result of the nerves. I have been told by others that during that time of waiting for the run to begin, my face turns whiter and stiffer, when I normally tend to have a smiling, easy-going disposition.

How did you get on this morning, at today’s Running?
We had a good laugh on the slope because today was real quiet compared to these past few days when the Bulls were giving us a hiding every morning. We usually say “today we had a lot of hassle”, when you run with a bull on each side of you.

And on the eve of the Running? Do you prepare yourself in any special way?
I don’t usually have any dinner and the following morning I don’t have any breakfast or anything at all. Not even water, until the Running is over. In 2008, a bull gored me right on the anus and the horn penetrated my bladder. Thanks to the fact that I had not drunk anything, the bladder was very compressed and it did not explode. I got away by the skin of the teeth from having to carry a bag for the rest of my life. The doctor who operated on me, explained that to me and since then I continue with that same routine. And, of course, I got to the bathroom several times…a friend of mine usually says “Carmelo is in the bathroom, fulfilling the tradition”.

What exactly is that thing that you feel when you are running with the bulls?
It is something that is not easy to describe. It is like you are on a high. At first I feel fear because on the slope you can see the pens and the rocket when they set it off. We are all hopping up and down, looking down towards the pens, and the runners are saying, “come on, come on, let’s run”. The taller runners warn us when the bulls are approaching a bull on the left, a bull on the right…”. And if you see a couple of experienced runners throw themselves down on the ground, it is a bad sign, it means the bulls are coming heads down. Then you too throw yourself down and wait for them to pass over you.

And you can hear those voices, can you?
Sure thing. You can hear your 50 colleagues as soon as the wick is set alight.

Are there any women running where you?
Yes, there are. But they are not from Pamplona, some American girl or other… … Isabel Solefont is a young woman who sometimes runs son the slope. Her father is also a runner. I think they are from Barcelona. She is a dark-haired girl, slim and light…she runs well. I admire the women who run a lot, especially on this first stretch.

And what about the Bulls, do you hear them bellow?
you hear everything. The bellows, the bells, the hooves strike the ground…it seems that at times they could be elephants. Today we pulled aside but even so they passed by right beside us. In dangerous moments, I like to throw myself to the ground, because if you are caught too close they could drag you all the way to City Hall square by the horns..

When the moments of tension have passed, what do you all do?
First of all, hug some of your mates and you feel so happy and gay. Then I soon begin to notice my empty stomach and I get a real feeling of hunger through me.

Do you notice much difference in the different stretches?
Sure, a lot. Because even the ground changes. In Estafeta we have cobblestone while on the slope it is concrete and easier to slip up here.

What runners do you admire for their style?
In the Pamplona Running of the Bulls there are many…people like me Dani Oteiza, Pitu (Fermín Barón), Belloso, Patxi Ciganda… all of them are very good.

What would you underline about them?
Well, the legs they have, they run well and can last the pace…now there are young people coming in who are very good. Some of them are the sons of veteran runners. And there are still some good runners even at an advanced age. The day before yesterday, one of them retired at the age of seventy-five and who had been running most of his life. But the other day, there was a lot of hassle and he decided that finally he had had enough. There are some good runners still that are now in their sixties.

Has anything changed with the introduction of this new red line?
Yes, now down below just up from the pens the runners are not allowed to go that way. So now the bulls have a clearer vision as they come up and they come up charging with more space. It is not a bottleneck like before. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that there will be changes of calamities occurring now on the slope.

Should the number of runners be limited?
No, let all those who wish to do it, let them run. As long as they respect the norms. Those who grab at the Bulls should be fined…the ones who use their elbows unfairly…the ones who come in flip-flops or with a backpack on their backs. But no, there should not be a limit imposed on the number of runners. I would feel cheesed off if I were stopped from running at other Running of the bull events.

Suddenly I realize that I am not on the Santo Domingo slope but rather in the Bookstore.. Carmelo had me enthralled with his observations on the Sanfermin Running of the Bulls. He still has a busy schedule for the rest of the day. After he shuts shop he will go to eat with 80 people who have come from Castellón. “They treat us very well there and we like to fete them as they deserve here”. Then he will go to the afternoon bullfight, with his buddy, ‘el Bou’, and the Anaitasuna Peña. This evening he must carry the club banner and then afterwards work for a while behind the bar in the club premises. And then the final running of the bulls for this year, with the fearful Miura bulls. He will surely do it with a tired body. But in fiestas, he gets the energy from somewhere and, except for that one hour just before the Running of the Bulls starts, he will continue to smile all day long .