San Thirteen Re-Seen

Well…that was some fiesta this year. A San Fermin quite unlike any I have ever known. This heartfelt city is famous for so much and renowned for so many things, but whatever it has become known for over the centuries, be it The Camino de Santiago, The Fiesta of San Fermin and all it entails, the peñas, the bull runs, Hemingway, Osasuna (just kidding…I think!) the clue is in the word “heartfelt” there.

The thing about Pamplona in fiesta is that we’re not just visitors…we’re participants. If you’ve ever partied with the peñas, woken with or danced the Dianas, ran with the bulls or done any number of other things, you’ll know that glorious sensation of not just watching things going on, but being involved in it. It’s a fabulous feeling and we’re a fortunate and privileged bunch to experience it. To be a part of it. What a lucky lot we are, hey?

This year’s fiesta was an overdose of heartfelt feelings for me then, and that’s quite something for a town famous for, amongst so many things, of being not just full of heart, but also giving out a whole lotta heart. This article is going to be different from all of the others I’ve done, as for once I’m going to write almost totally about the present, and about one thing in particular…San Fermin 2013.

And I’m writing not just about fiesta in general here but about certain groups and individuals and events in particular, so if I mention names and people that you don’t know, my apologies…and if in the future you do happen to get to know some of these characters…then you also have my apologies, too…

On what is generally just a day (all be it a great day) when the city sees the arrival of an avalanche of outsiders in town on July 5th, some of us had something extra special to go to, a heart-warming and moving memorial Mass in memory of some great San Fermineros who had passed away since the previous fiesta.

Then there was a heartily off-the-wall (literally) Chupinazo on July 6th like no other that I have seen in the three decades that I’ve had the great joy to be going, followed by a day of tragedy and heartbreak for some people on July 7th, plus that horrific and heart-stopping, and oh-so-nearly-tragic encierro of July 13th…and all topped off, at least for me, by the most heart-warming and in its own way, almost heartrending Pobre-De-Mi that I’ve experienced in a long, long time.

Like I said…a whole lotta heart. But where to start? Well, at the beginning, I guess, and by that I mean the beginning of the article and its title, and not the beginning of fiesta. Not quite yet…

It was at one of those ever so frequent fiesta gatherings, when I was sitting at a bar with the usual fiesta-electric and impossibly eclectic group of Pamplona party people, and among the people around the tables were the Spicehandlers, (yes, that really is their name,) Yoav and Sarah.

I don’t know quite what we were talking about or how we got onto the subject – does anyone, ever know, in fiesta? – but the subject, as it so often does, became about Pamplona itself, and the fiesta, and just the extraordinary organised chaos of it all, the happy-go-lucky craziness, the effervescent anarchy, the almost medieval madness of it, and of course the state of mind of some of the people there.

“It’s like a summer camp for lunatics,” said Sarah Spicechica, (and yup, that really is her name)…and, bullseye! I knew I’d got my title for this particular post-Pamplona-party piece. So, thanks Sarah, and without much further ado, and as Los Ramones sang: Hey, ho, let’s go…

Two guys proving that fiesta really is a summer camp for lunatics. Photo is from the book, “204 Horas de Fiesta.” Larrion & Pimoulier Editores.

Medieval Camplona

Sometimes, strolling around the old town, especially at night and with a bit of what I call imaginebriation – yup, that’s a mix of imagination and inebriation – the place can almost take on the appearance of a medieval encampment. Wandering around the square and the nearby streets really is a visual feast for those bloodshot eyes.

With the odd fire-eater looking like he’s come from not just up the mountains somewhere but from another age, entertaining the crowds in the square, while in one corner there’s a band of traditional Basque pipers and drummers, and in the other there’s the deep rhythmic sound of African drums pounding that hypnotic voodoo beat that seems to get everyone moving to some sort of zombie shuffle, (although if it’s me then that’s probably just the shakes,) the old Plaza del Castillo seems to take a step or two back in time.

Add to that fire bulls and fireworks, streets packed with people and street acts everywhere, the square full of dancers and bands, and it’s grassy surrounds now almost a campsite of people sleeping, sitting, drinking and partying, like a gathering of the world’s dispossessed…and possessed…and the laughter, always the laughter…all mixed together with the underlying colour of fiesta, that red and white, adding a two-tone modernity to the scene, and you have a perfect marriage of the old and the new, an indelible link from times past to present days.

It’s called fiesta. And as I always say, in Pamplona, during San Fermin, anything can happen. And this year, oh my goodness, it certainly did.

An almost medieval looking Plaza del Castillo. Like an encampment from another age. Photo: Eduardo Buxens.

Una Misa Sanferminera

One thing that some of us knew would be happening was what I can’t help thinking of as a San Fermin Mass, in memory and honour of three great Sanfermineros who over the past year had quietly slipped away to that great fiesta in the sky to run amok in pastures new. It was organised by Bunny and Jota-Jota Centurion, for that really is their name, and it was a beautiful thing.

Also beautiful was where it was held too, in the Church of San Lorenzo. This is not only God’s House, of course, but it also happens to be San Fermin’s house, for this is where he lives during the year. Or at least, his spirit does, in the form of that glowing golden and red statuette that one can see paraded not only during fiesta, but occasionally throughout the year also.


In San Fermin’s House. Photo:

So at seven thirty in the evening of July 5th, guiri tsunami day, when we’d all normally be gathered in the various myriad bars of Old Pamplona Town, some of us were instead inside La Iglesia de San Lorenzo, Casa de Dios y de San Fermin, for a Mass and Memorial to three of fiesta’s finest foreigners, Frank McGuinness, Rex B Howieson and the irreplaceable Keith “Bomber” Baumchem.

The service was led by the rather delightful Fr. Santos Villanueva Escujuri. Although I don’t actually know him, I’ve used this description because it was this enlightened priest who decided, for the 150th birthday in 2010 of the present “Comparsa”, that marvellous group of Giants, Big Heads…actually, I’m going to stop here and give them their proper names.

The Giants, as most people seem to call them, are made up of los Gigantes, los Cabuzedos, and the Kilikis and the Maldikos – Zaldikos. Yes, they really are called that. And, of course, they are accompanied by a band of pipers and drummers, the txistularis.

And as I started to mention it was this fine Pamplona priest who decided that for 2010, La Comparsa should come to his church, where San Fermin lives, on every day of the Escalera, to celebrate their 150 years of dancing through the streets and giving joy and pleasure to the people in the town…especially its children. Have you ever seen their faces as the Comparsa troupe parade into view? Priceless…

Outside the church, the complete Comparsa…and those who bring them to life. Photo:

And I happened to be there one morning, July 10th 2010 actually, for a Mass that Fr. Villanueva was leading, partly in commemoration of Daniel Romero Jimenez, the young runner who had died in the encierro exactly one year before. Outside I could see the Giants and gang had arrived, and when I and a lot of other people thought the service had ended, the doors were opened and the Giants were carried in, horizontally, and the rest of the band came in too.

What on earth was happening? Actually, I’ve written about this before, but people stayed in their seats, others returned, more people came into the church having no doubt seen the Comparsa enter and wondered, “what the…?”

Well, the “what the?” was actually wonderful, because the Giants were lined up side by side along the altar and beyond with their friends around about them and up the aisle. Then, with the congregation hushed and the church silent, (and I swear San Fermin had a smile on his face) the Txistulari pipers and drummers began to play. And deep inside the church, the Gigantes came alive and began to twirl and whirl and spin and dance…and it was magical.

Pure magic…but it was real. Photo:

So to be in this church, for this mass, led by this priest, on Fiesta’s Eve…well, you can’t really get more Pamplonican or San Ferminero than that, can you? The church was full of a mixture of locals and outsiders, foreigners and friends together for fiesta. Oh, and lest I forget, Bunny told me the church was suggested to her by those two well known encierro mozos, Jokin and Iker Zausti, so thanks and eskerrik asko to them for putting this legion of two Centurions in touch with the perfect priest.

There are more people to mention and thank, of course, and I shall try not to leave anyone out as I scribble away. So, the Mass got under way, and whether you could understand anything or not, it was a gentle and heart-warming service. And I am sure, up there in the Celestial Peña, (for thus it is called) its three newest members were watching everything approvingly, and smiling. With glass in hand…

This being Pamplona in fiesta (hey, July 5th is fiesta for us foreigners) things didn’t quite go to plan, of course. There had been a wedding before we arrived, and a practice of the San Fermin Procession choir was due afterwards, and as always things began to run a little late. Those irascible Iruña festival imps were out for some mischief. And thanks Bunny for telling me about those imps. I knew they existed!

All three gentlemen were to have a eulogy read out to them, but in the end there was only time for Dr Frank’s, read in that soft gentle voice of his by the incomparable Noel Chandler. Others who were to speak included JJ, Tom Gowen and Chapu Apaolaza, but as I was saying, the imps were out playing!

But Miguel Angel Eguiluz did manage to say something in Spanish for those who didn’t speak English but wanted to understand a little better what was going on, and of course for non-English speaking amigos of our three friends of Pamplona. Oh, and it was Miguel Angel who brought along those fine Bomber panuelos, so thanks have to be given to someone I only know as Ana, from Pamplona, who made them. Gracias Ana, que bonitos son.

foto06The Bomber panuelo. Father Villanueva asked for one to keep in a display they have in the Chapel of San Fermin, of important things related to fiesta. Perfect. Photo: Bunny!

Oh, by the way, did anyone hear a near silent whoosh! like a speeding sigh, after Noel had finished his piece? It think it was Dr Franks imp, heading heavenwards to join the other two imps, who had stayed with Rex and Frank and Bomber up at the peña bar. And I think the bar must have a name too, and I wouldn’t doubt it’s called something like Bar Las Estrellas…

There’s a song on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison” album, written by the prisoner Glen Sherley, called “Grey Stone Chapel,” that has the words: “It takes a ring of keys to move here in Folsom, but the door to the House of God is never locked.” Well, I’ll bet the doors to that peña bar are never locked, either.

La Iglesia de San Lorenzo. Photo:

A by now rather nervous Father Villanueva was ready to wind things up as it was late and the choir were waiting to practice, but Ray Mouton got up and began to speak, his voice low and resonant and bouncing off the walls, and I reckon we can all be glad he did, because this is some of what he said:

Padre, gracias por la misa
Some of those in this chapel were born in this great city. Some of us, like me, were led to this town by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway loved all things about Spain…
…a country he described as the greatest country on earth…
…a sentiment we all share.
Perhaps Hemingway’s most important work is a novel set on Spanish soil “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” is a phrase the author took from a poem that the poet borrowed from a meditation. We know for whom the bell tolls in this hour

-it tolls for Frank
-for Bomber
-for Rex

Tonight we bow our heads with sadness in our hearts, in a prayer of commemoration
Tomorrow we will raise our heads with joy in our hearts, in a prayer of celebration for the gifts God has bestowed upon us, including having had our lives graced by the presence of Rex, Frank and Bomber.

The bell of this great church will toll for the next nine days. It will no longer echo the sadness we feel in our hearts tonight. The clanging cast iron will mix with music. The blaring brass and pounding percussion of pena bands parading through the narrow streets of this ancient barrio. We will hear the music and…

In the Navarran way
With our hands held above our hearts
for the Saint
for ourselves
for Bomber
for Frank
for Rex

and all absent friends and family who have gone before them… No three men had more distinctive and different voices than Rex, Frank and Bomber. If we listen for their voices tonight… we will hear those voices…

Calling to us…
Calling to us to dance
Viva Bomber!
Viva Frank!
Viva Rex!

Just perfect, Paco.

And so, that was just about that. It had been a truly memorable and moving memorial Mass to three great foreign friends of fiesta, and thanks have to be given again to that Legion de Dos Centurianos, Bunny and JJ, for organising this special service. Enhorabuena mis amigos and I’ll bet Dr. Frank, Sexy Rexy, and the inimitable Bomber, those newest of Los Celestiales, were well chuffed.

Bunny and JJ Centurion, who made a beautiful thing happen.

Going back to the day I saw los Gigantes and amigos dance in San Fermin’s house, I remember that Fr. Villanueva said at the end of the service that they’d prepared a whole load of pintxos for everyone and that they’d be available after the service, but as the church was so full there may not be enough for everyone.

Then he said something to the effect that he knew it would be okay, as everyone knew there were lots of places close by where food was available…and that he knew that’s exactly where he’d find the rest of the congregation (cue laughter all around the church)…in the bars!

So when I say “that was just about that,” it wasn’t of course…not quite. Because there were drinks to be had and toasts to be made, and our friendly Father Villanueva had recommended El Bosquecillo, The Little Wood, that bar between the back of the Hotel Tres Reyes and the Taconera Park. Always a pleasant place to have a drink if you’re in the area.

So it was there that many of us went, on this warm and sunny and really quite beautiful pre-fiesta eve. And toasts were said and glasses chinked and ice a-clinked and three friends were remembered. And it took me back to a different time and a different place…and a day when the weather was certainly different, too.

It was 1998 and a whole bunch of us from our own Pamplona peña, that doesn’t officially exist (I call it The Lost Peña, for the sake of these articles,) were in New York for the wedding of two of our own…who were most certainly not lost, as they had found love, and each other. Aaah…

We were all there for about a week, and one day the news came through that Frank Sinatra had passed away, and taken that unique and mellifluous voice with him. That afternoon there was the most incredible hailstorm, it really was quite something. The locals said it was the ice falling out of their glasses as Dean Martin and Frank kept toasting, well, everything!

A lovely thought. I wonder…But back to the present and Pamplona 2013, as everyone from the Mass, wherever they happened to be, slowly dispersed and headed back to the square, or dinner, or wherever, to carry on. But up there in La Peña Celestial, in Bar Las Estrellas, the party carried on too.

And all the old Sanfermineros who ever were danced and drank, and toasted everyone and everything…and all the while down on our beautiful planet Earth, in this almost mythical town of Pamplona, as gorgeous day turned into heavenly night, not a drop of rain nor hailstone fell.

They don’t spill their drinks, those Celestials.

foto09 Sexy Rexy. 5th June ’31 – 19th June ’13 

foto09_bomberBomber. 6 Feb ’48 – 24 Feb ’13

Dr. Frank.13 Dec ’30 – 9 Dec ’12

Chupinazo Day and Txupinazo Delay

I have in my study, hanging up in front of me, a little postcard-sized piece of paper, coloured red and white, inside a protective plastic envelope. What a priceless piece of paper and plastic it turned out to be, at least for this particular San Fermin aficionado.

I’d wanted to do something special for this year as it was not just my, but a couple of other friends too, thirtieth fiesta. It should be marked! But unfortunately due to various circumstances it was not to be, but in the end, at least for me…it was.

It came from an unexpected source, too. Back in March when I was privileged to be given a personal tour of the nearly 200 year old time-machine that used to power and run the town hall clock, and control the bells and their chimes, and also got to be inside the wee room behind the present town hall clock, and go out on that balcony – what a thrill! – I was given a hint by one of the nutcases at Kukuxumusu, my friend and escaped mental patient Manu, that he’d try and get a press pass for me for the Town Hall on July 6

One pre-fiesta morning, as beautiful and warm a day as you could possibly wish for, (and a precursor to how every single day would be during the whole fiesta) saw me at the tourist office with Manu and the photographer Maite Hernandez. Very soon afterwards, I was the proud possessor of…a press pass. Crikey!

“Prensa” it said. “Chupinazo” it said. “Casa Consistorial” it said. And “Tim Pinks” (yup, that really is my name) and “” it said.
“Joder” I said.

Chupinazo Security Detail. Photo: Eduardo Buxens.

A couple of days later and July 6th dawned…and I nearly didn’t. Thanks to the usual July 5th bender – I blame the Centurion’s fine wines, (and not my ability to drink too many of them) I actually wouldn’t have “dawned” at all, had I not been woken up in our apartment by one of my fellow fiesta flatmates, The Ultimate, from that well known land of midgets, Holland.

There were 40 minutes to go. Joder again! But I made it, of course, as I wouldn’t miss this for all the tea in China. Or all the beans in Heinz. Or indeed, all the kali in motxo. With my pass safely in my pocket I didn’t even have to show it as I waltzed my way into the Town Hall and upwards to the third floor. There must be some other great looking bloke in a green jacket who is a regular here, I thought, and they all thought I was him. Poor fellow.

Now here’s the thing. I’d been warned about what it would be like inside the Ayuntamiento on Chupinazo Day. That I wouldn’t be on the second floor where all the action was and where the rockets were launched from, but on the 3rd floor. In a room where you couldn’t see anything because the blinds were closed. In a room full of foreigners where I’d probably know no-one. In a room where I couldn’t even get a drink, because there’d be no alcohol. And with a humdinger of a hangover.

Where’s the fun in that, I hear you asking. Well now, here’s the thing because this is the fun: I love Pamplona, its people (even the ones that aren’t talking to me!) and its parties and its peñas and its, well, everythings. But most of all, I love the Fiesta of San Fermin. It has changed my life and the lives of so many people I know for the better.

So just to be inside that particular building on July 6th was so exciting. The only thing missing was having a whole bunch of my friends with me. Now that would have made it perfect…and yes, for the future, I’m working on it. To quote Johnny Cash, again, “I made me a vow, to the moon and the stars…”…that I’d try and find a way to get some friends inside one day. Vamos a ver!

Think of it this way. Being inside the Casa Consistorial before the official start was like being at the centre of the universe waiting for the big bang. And I was there, waiting for Pamplona’s own version of the “pum!” grande. Oh my (vanilla flavoured) legumba…

Actually, there was a balcony one could get out to, around the Santo Domingo side. It was only a small balcony and there was a queue, but I waited patiently and it didn’t take long before I was outside, and pretty soon at the front. Wow. I may have been able to see only half the square…but wow.

Proof that the lunatics are about to take over the town. Photo: Xabier Ansó.

I’ve been down there many a time in the old days and been a part of that heaving, seething sea of red and white, so I know exactly what it’s like. But to see it from up above, from the town hall…for the love of all the saints…Oh. My. Holy…Esparrago. The lunatics really had escaped from the asylum. It honestly looks as crazy and mad and fun…and dangerous…from above as it is actually being in the thick of it below.

I’d forgotten my phone so didn’t know what time it was, but I could easily have asked someone, but anyway, it was obvious that midday was approaching as people untied their panuelos from wrists or took them out of pockets and raised them aloft above their heads. The sight of the crowd swaying along with the noise they were making will stay with me forever. I swear I could have reached out into the air and touched the atmosphere, even grabbed some and put it into a jar. It was unbelievable.

I could feel it around me, inside me, in front of me, and it was a superb sensation. I swear I could actually taste it. (It tastes like champagne sorbet.) But were those fiesta imps back out and up to their mischief again? Surely midday must have come and gone by now, and yet there was no big bang, no shifting of the space-time continuum as fiesta was launched into orbit…San Fermin seemed to be suspended, hanging over the square.

I wandered back inside, and wine was being served. Aupa! There was red and white and rose and I knew I’d have one of each, at least. Fiesta may have been floating on a red and white coloured ocean of uncertainty, but I was technically working and there was wine to be researched. Hic.

Not too long later, say a couple of glasses worth, the big bang really did go off and fiesta erupted into existence. The two thousand and thirteen Fiesta of San Fermin had well and truly exploded into being. I’ll drink to that, I thought…and the balcony doors were opened and blinds folded back and the square was there in all its glory and the crowds were going crazy…and I drunk to that.

I wandered downstairs to see if I could get out onto that balcony, but I could only get as far as the edge, not out onto it. But it was enough…I was there. With another glass in hand. It’s quite something, you know…being at the centre of the universe.

I was to find out later what had actually happened and why the chupinazo had been delayed for nearly 20 minutes. Some locals from Pamplona had come out onto the roof tops, either side of the town hall square and managed to erect a huge Ikurriña, the Basque flag, between the buildings. Those fiesta imps were certainly out playing this year, except I guess these were Basque imps, (Euskaldun impoa perhaps)…what would you call them…jaiak impoak?


Security chasing away one of those imps…Photo:

It was cleverly done using accomplices on the ground and fishing rods, but when the flag was raised it effectively blotted out TV España’s coverage of the official start, hence the delay. There used to be a small refrain sung when politics invaded fiesta, “fiesta si, politica no.” Well, whatever your view, it was quite a coup and you can see it all on You Tube if you so desire.

One other thing of almost tragic consequences also happened that day at the chupinazo, and it involved friends of mine. After the first rocket is fired, and the world suddenly starts spinning and summersaults and spirals out of beautifully and divinely organised orbit, more rockets are let off.

The trajectory of one of these rockets that was lit, instead of going up, shot off at an angle and went sideways…and hit a building…and headed straight back down into the crowd. Into a group of friends. Amazingly, and luckily, one of these friends, Frazier, happened to be watching it.

And fortunately, Fraze is not a man to either panic, or freeze. Or indeed, be fazed. We are talking split second judgements here. He saw the rocket was aiming for another friend, Susan, and pushed her away. It hit the ground and exploded, right where she’d been and right next to him. And we’re not talking a bit of a “bang” here…but a big “boom.” A bloody great big boom. They pack a heck of a lot of explosive into those things.

On the videos there is no sign of Susan, but you can see Frazier crouched on the ground, hands over ears. The noise was huge, and the percussion wave big, and he couldn’t hear for about 20 minutes afterwards. Other people are just standing around…in shock, it looks like…while Susan, out of sight, is on the ground injured.

She’s recovered from her injuries now, although it took nearly 2 months, I believe, but my god, it could have been so much worse. Just like people, I suppose there are good imps and bad imps, and fiesta always has the potential to go ape-jobby, imps or no imps …still, everyone was more or less okay, except Susan, who had to go to hospital, but for everybody else the party was under way and the sun was shining and life was fiesta-lickin’ good.

Mila esker to all those at Kukuxumusu, and to Manu, especially, un grandissimo gracias, for allowing me to be not just present at the big bang…but inside it.

I left the town hall to join my friends in the square, marvelling at this extraordinary town and its phenomenal fiesta, and wondered at how lucky I was to know this place and its people and all my fiesta friends too. Que suerte tengo.

Early Days: The Gutter, and some of The Little People, 1986. Photo from the fabulous Ike del Rosario.

And so Bar Txoko loomed into view, and the corner of the square I first wandered into in 1984 with a friend, and where I first dumped my stuff on to the grass, in the corner that we’d come to call The Gutter, knowing practically nothing, except that we were by far and away not the first people in a Pamplona gutter, (but would be to have our peña named after it) but even on that first visit, I felt like I was home. I just knew it.

The Gutter, once more in 1986, with some of the Little People again, (and they are a whole story in themselves but that’s for another day!) and the awesome Olaf, (I swear it’s him) in the shades and whose photo this is.

I was home then, way back on my first visit, and I was home now, thirty successive San Fermins later. Phew. So after the odd gremlins during the Mass, an almost missed chupinazo, a delayed chupinazo, a rocket into the crowd…well, apart from the bull run, where we all know anything can occur…surely nothing else could go wrong?

Little was I or anyone else to know that one of fiesta’s friends, a friend to so many people, only had 20 more hours or so left on this beautiful planet of ours, in this magical town called Pamplona. For within 20 hours sadness was to visit, and it had nothing to do with imaginary imps or anything like that, but just real life coming down.

Because in 20 hours the Celestial Peña would have a new member.

Roy Sundin

foto13_terceraA friend of Pamplona, red wine in hand, amongst friends, as always…
Roy Sundin, 7th Feb 1959 to 7th July 2013.

I didn’t know Roy too well, but many, many other people did. However, I was fortunate to get to know this gentle Norwegian soul just a little in London at the beginning of the year. He was over visiting his friend Peter and the three of us spent a very enjoyable time in a great old London pub, laughing and drinking over several hours.

I didn’t know quite how I’d not come across this particular Pamplona regular before – and if I had, I didn’t remember, though he said we’d met – but at least I knew there’d be all the time in the world to get to know him in the future. I never learn…

Roy was found by the cleaning lady inside the entrance to his fiesta flat around 7 in the morning of July 7th…what I always think of as San Fermin Day. It’s the day of the Procession of San Fermin, and it’s also what you might call the Day of the Feast, when all of Pamplona seems to sit down together for a very special saintly lunch.

For Roy though, there’d be no more San Fermin days and Pamplona nights. No more drinking and dancing, and laughing and singing, of putting on that uniform of white with decorations of red and going out to see what this wonderful town had in store for him.

He was lying on the floor and at the time no one knew what had happened…whether he’d fallen, or was it something like an aneurism or a heart attack. Once he was flown back home, for the last time ever, the autopsy showed it was the last of these. To paraphrase Martin, (I think,) it seems like this grand and gentle man, with such a good, friendly and kindly heart, also had a weak one.

Here’s just a little of what his friend Anders Ekman said about him:

The season 2012/2013 will be remembered for good and bad things.
Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to several friends, legends and legends to be of the fiesta.
Roy came to Pamplona on July 4th to celebrate his 24th Sanfermines. 22nd year straight. And he always said he´d go there until he died….
Many called him a gentleman, the guy who always greeted you with a smile. Always great company and with friends all over the world who he visited whenever he could.
And did he travel…
As late as in May this year he met up with fiesta friends in Las Vegas. He also took trips to Florida to see some of the people there. Roy squeezed more out of his 54 years on this planet than many of us can dream of.
The Norwegian party on July 7th will still be a good one, but never the same.
This year, Roy left us suddenly in the morning of July 7th. He couldn´t have chosen a “cooler” date to check out.
During the party he loved. Being with the friends he loved. And was loved by. And the very day of the 7th of July!
Always a good guy, always up for a practical joke, silly talk as well as more serious stuff. Always there to give a helping hand.
He will be missed and remembered but fiesta did, and will, go on.

Thanks for writing and sending that, Anders, and thanks for the photos, too.

foto13_primeraRoy…with a tree using him as support…

I’m going to include another thing written about Roy, because it sums up so perfectly not just my feelings about him, as someone who hardly knew him, but also about what happened afterwards, regarding the thoughts and sensations of people like me (and the chap who wrote it) about his death in relation to fiesta. It’s quite long…but I just can’t cut it, as I think it’s worth reading in its entirety. It’s by the poet Yoav Spicehandler:

Pamplona after an absence of two years was …an absolute joy!
It truly was a grand homecoming. So many friends and acquaintances.
And every year you meet new people or even better, you settle in your cafe chair and await who shall come calling. It is sometimes an old comrade. You catch up and expound. Most of all, you joke and laugh. Yet also sometimes, an acquaintance shall sit, and even better, a friend of his sits also down. And you begin to talk and talk, and drink and drink, and talk. About, life, bulls, bullfighting, Spain, children, anything and everything. You begin to know another individual more deeply; an acquaintance becoming a friend. How lovely
Well, this year a Norwegian named Roy sat down next to Sarah and myself. I had seen him around for many years, was probably introduced to him many a time, but the surface-like relationship went no further. This time, we spent about 2 hours chatting and laughing together. It was a pure joy! Others came and went, yet Roy stayed; he was at the top of his game: funny and charming; he was inebriated and tired, yet no more than any of the others. The conversation and yuks flowed. We met more Norwegians and some Germans. It was lovely, a pure Pamplona moment.
Yet less than a day later, Roy was dead.
He died suddenly, at the stairs of his apartment or hotel.
All of us were in shock. To die in in Pamplona is not allowed! (One can only die in Madrid!). Not in Fiesta, not in Feria.
That day, the Norwegians were giving their yearly party. Although they had heard the news, they said that Roy would have wanted to continue the party, in true San Fermin style! Of course!
And just as suddenly, Roy’s surrealistic death seemed to pass. Gone. Like one more of those evanescent conversations, like one more of those rapid San Fermin flashes of experience: fireworks, a glance, a shout “guapa”, “guapo!” a taste of a ham sandwich, Patxaran, the bulls, the heat, the torpor …Roy’s death.
Obviously, those closest to him would feel otherwise. But to those of us at the outside of his circle, it was like a comma, an ellipsis to an ongoing thought; another slide in a carousel of slides that is San Fermin.
So, Pamplona, with its joys and fantasies besotted me also, I who do not drink. It made me drunk with joy, with alegria, with duende. But it also made me forget a friend’s sudden death. It seemed somehow to rob Roy of his right to be mourned.
Now, as I sit in New York, sober from the alegria , I am swept by the realization of Roy’s death. It seems so surrealistic, unreal, grotesque. I do not know if I acted the right way by partying or that I should have been more constrained and sedate. I was just swept along …almost like the throngs of people in the streets.
Yet, I cannot seem to come to terms with this.
I might learn something from this incident, but this takes more time. Yet I also feel a bit abashed, ashamed – that I acted contrary to my core beliefs. I do not know. Something just doesn’t quite sit well. Hmmm….
I was wondering if others have been asking the same questions.
I certainly have no answers.
God bless Roy!
Abrazos fuertes a todos,
Yoav Spicehandler

Thanks Yoav, that was just perfect. And yes, I have been asking the same questions myself.

Pamplona…where you’re always among friends. R.I.P Roy.

Pobre –De Mi

The last proper Pobre-De-Mi I went to was probably around the turn of the millennium. By “proper” I mean being there in front of the town hall, candle in hand, waiting for fiesta to fade…explosively…away. Since then I’ve not been, not because I don’t like it, (on the contrary, I love it, of course) but rather because there was a bar shift to do in a peña, which I always loved doing, or I was with friends in the square, or in recent years was watching the fabulous El Guti and his own wonderful way of closing fiesta.

This years out-with-a-bang fiesta fade-away was one of the most emotional and heartrending one’s I’ve been to since probably the first pobre-de-mi I ever attended, when I had no idea what to expect and didn’t know just how it would affect me.

Outside Bar Marceliano, once-upon-a-time, one glorious and sunny day during the Enfermeria. The photo is by Jim Hollander…well, who else could it be by…

I was with my brother Mike and somehow we ended up at the ghost ship that used to be the old Bar Marceliano. I knew there’d be a bunch of people that I know there and so it turned out to be. I don’t know why, but it just seemed to be the perfect place to end what had been just about the most extraordinary fiesta I’d had in years, ever since, I guess, my first one, when I knew practically nada.

As midnight slowly approached the candles were lit, and that old narrow street, where so many of the original post World War Two foreigners used to hang out, to be joined over the years by people who are older now, but still coming…that old narrow street seemed to flicker like the candle lights, and take a sepia tinge. Almost as if the memory of those who were here before us had somehow surfaced.

foto15Midnight, and beyond, and the Pobre-de-Mi. But behind the town hall, something special was happening. I swear the distant echoes of The Ghosts of Fiestas Past were amongst us…Photo: EITB fotos.

I’m not saying the ghosts of those original fiesta-goers were there, but it certainly felt like their voices and laughter, the imprint of their presence all those years ago, had somehow come out from the walls, like a distant echo.

So the original foreign fiesta gutter of all the modern day fiesta gutters was full again, full of people who love Pamplona and the Fiesta of San Fermin, and as midnight gently crept up on everyone and the chimes began to sound, and the song softly sung, the candles were placed on a thin ridge running along the wall opposite where Marcelianos used to be, and as the flames danced against the wall it was quite lovely.

s_f42_73464188 And so, fiesta flickered and faded away…but…Photo: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.

And people cried for the love of fiesta, and its end, and they cried for those who could no longer come or who were no longer alive…Rest In Peace, Dr. Frank, Rex, Bomber and Roy…or they just cried because something beautiful was ending. And even when the photographers zoomed in and began to invade everyone’s space, it didn’t ruin it, because something spontaneous and special had happened and the Marceliano’s gutter was alive again.

Pamplona, you most amazing of places, I love you. Viva San Fermin! Gora!

…but…Ya Falta Menos!

Murmurings on Mountains and Miuras…and Matt Carney

The first encierro, 7th July 2013. Bulls from the Alcurrucen Ranch. Photo: José Antonio Pérez.

This year’s encierros will be remembered for quite a few reasons, but the main one being, of course, that horrendous and oh-so-nearly fatal, and how-the-heck-didn’t-anyone-die, man-made human-mountain pile-up at the entrance to the bull ring. Okay, that’s probably not the greatest sentence ever written, but it maybe sort of sums up the absolute mayhem of uncontrollable unpredictability that happened that day.

Since the events of those terrifying two minutes that morning there have been debates and newspaper articles and letters and meetings and opinions expressed left, right and centre. Not surprisingly. When the Navarran Parliament came back in September from its summer holiday…sorry, recess…actually, maybe I was right the first time…they also of course had questions to ask. And the reactions are still raging as it ain’t over yet.

The Pile-up. Bulls from the Fuente Ymbro Ranch, 13th July 2013. Photo: Miguel Goñi.

And much as I would love to go into it all now, I have gone on for way too long already (this is by far the longest Kuku piece I’ve ever done) and because there is so much to write about on just this one subject, the encierro of July 13th, I am going to leave it for another day and wait until the various commissions and groups have had their say and the Town Hall have decided to implement concrete measures.

And I’m keeping my fingers and horns crossed, and I’ll even knot my tail, but I fear the encierro is entering a new, more controlled, and less spontaneous era.

To The Bulls

foto20The brand of the Miura.

Tattoos don’t do it for me, even though I can appreciate the beautiful artwork and skill that goes into some of them. Some of the others though…oh poison tipped needle, why on earth would you want to?

Having said that, I do have, along with a few others from the Lost Peña, a hidden tattoo which I love. And inspired by a friend this fiesta, I finally got another tattoo that I’d been thinking about getting for a few years now. Just a small, simple one, but it is visible.

So the afternoon after San Fermin was over, but while there were still quite a few of us lost fiesta orphans around, I decided to get it done. I knew this tattoo was going to be needle to bone so I thought a little local anaesthetic might be in order. And luckily the locals have just the most perfect oral pain numbness-inducer anyone could wish for. It’s called pacharan. And thus fortuitously fortified into the tattoo room I bravely went.

It’s a tattoo of the image above. Yup, el Hierro de Miura. Literally, the Miura Brand, the mark that those awesome animals carry on their hides. I got it, just the simple outline of the marque, not the colours, because contained within that single sign are symbols that have come to mean a lot to me about this city and its fiesta that I love so much. And that shall mostly stay secret for now.

Except for a couple of things that there is no harm in divulging. One is that in a little book I recently had published, a tale about a band of bovine brothers who come to run and fight in Pamplona, the protagonists just happen to be Miuras, And I’m rather proud of my wee bulls tail, (for thus it is written) and I wanted to mark it, somehow.

The beautiful, noble and regal animal that is the toro bravo. Photo: Patxi Arrizabalaga 2010.

The other reason is that I wanted to honour the bulls, all the bulls, that have ever come, (or will come) to Pamplona to run, and to fight, and to die in this almost fairy-tale town. They have no choice in the matter as it is us human that control their destiny…but my goodness, we owe them a lot.

So although the tattoo just happens to be of the Miura…it’s my little homage and thanks to all the bulls, those most noble and magnificent of beautiful beasts who have helped turn the Fiesta of San Fermin into something unbelievably special.

We have a lot to learn from every single living thing on this planet. As it says, somewhere, in the Book of Job, I think: “Ask the birds, ask the beasts, and they will teach you.”

Matt Carney

foto22Matt Carney being honoured I believe, and there is a clue in that the photo is from Anaitasuna, but does anyoneknow exactly what was going on and in what year? Photo:

Now…I must admit that I’m a little bit nervous about this…writing about Matt Carney. It is a getting a bit late now I suppose to mention this, but this article was originally begun at the beginning of August, on my brand new computing machine. But due to me buying the worst computer ever made in the history of computers…nay, the worst machine ever made in the history of machines, I have suffered delay after breakdown after mysterious malevolent Machavellian machinations on this awful thing, so this piece is now nearly 2 months late.

But I’m going to end how I had originally planned to, as I was hoping “Summer Camp For Lunatics” would be on the esteemed pages of by September, hence leaving a couple of months for anyone who wanted, (I was thinking especially of his family and good friends and folk like that) to write something about Matt Carney. Or I was going to ask people to send in anything they wanted about him, stories and photos, and if they’d allow me, to put it altogether for an article in, well, October or November.

Which is now, but thanks to the aforementioned delays, time has rolled on rapidly and October is not just upon us but quickly leaving us. But why now? Because this December it’s 25 years since the death of Matt Carney, a man I never knew but always wanted to, along with many others of that crowd I used to see in the 80’s at Bar Txoko after the run.

Fortunately I do know some of those people now, but others don’t or can’t come back, for whatever reason, and others have gone forever now, although they still float back down to run, I’m sure of it…but you just can’t see them. I have no doubt Matt is among them.

I always wanted to be a good runner like those people I saw in my first few years: Carney, Distler, Madina, (Los Diviños…god, I so wanted to be able to run like them!) and so many others…but I was never good enough. But it didn’t stop me getting great pleasure from watching them in the encierro…they made it look so effortless sometimes, so natural. Which is one of the signs of a good runner…they make the very difficult look really rather easy. So and so’s…!

Joe Distler and Matt Carney. Runners-In-Arms.

Or I’d look at the photos in the paper, when a runner was caught in an instant, often showing man and beast in perfect flowing harmony…a precious moment suspended forever in time. And yes, I do have a few photos myself that never fail to take me back instantly to the excitement and the emotion that is the encierro, but I could never run like some could. Oh, they were good…

It was said of Fred Astaire, that amazing man who seemed to be able to defy gravity, who when he danced just exuded the pleasure he was feeling, that when he entered a room, he didn’t just walk across it…he glided…and that’s the impression I got of how Matt Carney ran…with effortless pleasure, with a natural, flowing grace that I’m sure, (and I’ve said this before about other runners) sometimes, it wasn’t the man who chose the bull, but the bull who chose the man, thinking: “this one, I’m going to run with this one.”

Back in the day it was almost impossible to get news of Pamplona and San Fermin throughout the year. Computers didn’t exist so whenever anything fiesta related cropped on the television or in the newspapers, it was a real rarity. And so it was one day I came across, in the sports pages of the British newspaper The Daily Mail, an article about the death of Matt Carney, written by the well-known British journalist Ian Wooldridge, also gone now but a big fan of fiesta, too. It’s not great quality, but here it is.

Matt Carney, 1922 – 1988. From the British newspaper, The Daily Mail. Sorry about the quality.

I was slightly confused on the actual date, so I got in touch with his daughter Deidre, who kindly (and hauntingly) put me right. I had thought the article was from sometime in October ’88…but as Deidre said…when your father dies on Christmas Eve and you’re 10 years old…you don’t forget the date. He was buried on his birthday on December 27th, 1988. He would have been 66 on that day.

I still think something should be written about him specifically for these Kukuxumusu pages, as there appears to be nothing major that I can see. Please excuse me if I sound a bit presumptuous here…but what do you reckon, his family and friends and fellow runners? ‘Tis just a thought…

One of my favourite running photos of all time. Matt and Joe, brothers-in-arms and runners-with-style, actually smiling during the encierro. Class, just pure class.

And so, finally, this month’s article comes to a close. If it seems to be a bit melancholy due to much of the content, well, as I always say, they are never planned, just penned. But do you know what? There can be real beauty in melancholy.

I want to dedicate this article, firstly, to Joe Distler and Rolf von Essen, two absolute stars of fiesta, and Pamplona Royalty in my book, who for various reasons couldn’t make it this year, and so had to miss their first San Fermin in about, oh, I don’t know…a hundred years. Ya falta mucho, chicos, pero ya falta menos until next year. Fiesta needs you!

But this article is also especially dedicated to Matt and to Bomber, and to Rex and to Dr. Frank. And to Roy too, now, who was taken from us way too early to join the Peña Celestial, but as Ray Mouton quoted at the Mass before fiesta had even started: “For whom will the bell next toll? For thee? For me?” But then he also said: “We will dance again…” And we shall, and we did…and so will they.

Ya falta menos! Viva San Fermin! Gora!

Foto. Maite H. Mateo