Pamplona memories 1984. My first San Fermin. By Chris Dwyer

There was a contingent of Garmisch adventurers that went to Pamplona every year for the Festival of San Fermin. Bomber was the most experienced runner in the group and told great stories about prior years and the close calls with the horns and riots between Basque locals and the police and military. The first time I heard him talk about Pamplona was when we were getting stoned together in Uganda in the shade of the Sikh temple wall, where they had come looking for a place to stay, but were turned away. I was immediately hooked on the idea of going to Pamplona and running with the bulls and was thinking about Spain when he and Goldie left me to walk through Kampala (3 miles with their packs) to the other Sikh temple to see if they had room for them to stay. The sun was going down and I worried for them. Very few people were on the street at night, it was a dangerous city after dark in 1983.

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Imagen del chupinazo de san fermin lleno de gente y con los gaiteros saliendo del ayuntamiento

Essence

“The essence of pleasure is spontaneity.”  

Germaine Greer.

 

At the end of the encierro in Pamplona the adrenalin’s edge softens and the sense of relief, satisfaction, fulfilment and even disappointment takes its place.  At the same time, amid the Kaiku y cognacs, coffees and conversation, thoughts turn towards breakfast.

There was a time when groups of runners would take the short stroll down Plaza del Castillo, crossing Estafeta and up to Calle de la Merced where they would find a few spare benches outside La Raspa and sit down.  The crowd would vary day to day but ultimately it would be a relaxed affair where a group of friends could eat a simple breakfast, share a few bottles of tinto with gaseosa and chat away in a mood of contented camaraderie.  The odd jota would meanwhile float over from a nearby table. It was always the perfect way to ease into the day and to transition between the drama of the encierro and the rhythm of fiesta.

Not now.

Now the tables are all reserved: booked up in advance for the “right people” and the impromptu breakfast has been replaced by a stage-managed event.  The very concept of spontaneity has been sacrificed because the breakfast “event” is so popular that everyone wants to join in. Everyone wants a piece of the action and to be seen to be there.  When the essence of a thing vanishes what is left is an artificial facsimile of the original.

We have seen it before in so many ways.  If you have ever dreamed of visiting a famous monument or notoriously beautiful site then you will be aware that the truth does not match the dream.  That amazing view across to Niagra Falls, across the Grand Canyon or up The Mall to Buckingham Palace is not something you can enjoy in the way you imagined.  This is because of the sheer mass of humanity getting in the way of the view. The forest of selfie sticks, or ego poles as someone else has described them, has to be waded through and any photograph has to be captured in that split second when a group of Japanese tourists, British schoolchildren or American coach tour is not right in the optimal place.

Popular sites are popular for a reason – people believe they are worth seeing “in the flesh”.  Their essence is something that is worth enjoying in person. Yet in doing so we end up killing them through popularity.  Pumphrey described it as the “devil’s bargain”, and that experience is greatly diminished not just because it has to be shared with dozens of Antipodean backpackers but because that sense of intimacy, that personal connection, is compromised.

It is very easy to leap up and blame the very modern phenomenon of social media for much of this.  After all the attitude that drives so many of us to share our lives with the rest of the world has found a natural home in the digital age.  Not only that but there is an accompanying theme of the need to prove how amazing our lives are while sharing them with the world. As a result the selfie stick pervades and every visit to a famous monument or site has to be captured as evidence not only that we were there, but that we were having the most amazing time while we were at it.

Yet it wouldn’t be fair to blame this solely on the rise of social media.  As long as humans have been able to travel for leisure and been able to share that experience so the complaints of over-crowding and spoiling have existed.

The famous European Grand Tour was an expected trip for wealthier members of British society, particularly between the 17th and 19th centuries.  Yet even as far back as then there were complaints that the circuit was getting too crowded and too rowdy.  As Professor Kathleen Burke writes; “The undisciplined and sometimes violent behaviour of young Englishmen was often commented upon; certainly, for the staff of British embassies abroad, the activities of English visitors, ‘each vying with the other who should be the wildest and most eccentric’, were a major preoccupation. ‘Even Russians were impressed by the cohorts of wild English youth they found in the cities of western Europe.’”

Hemingway too acknowledged the down side to the popularity of something so beloved.  “Pamplona was rough, as always, overcrowded… I’ve written Pamplona once, and for keeps. It is all there, as it always was, except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there… four decades ago.”

Social media has merely exacerbated this and contributed to it on a global level.  Take a trip to San Sebastián, home of the most wonderful pintxos and tapas, and you will see what popularity has done to this culture.  The principle of tapas, how tapas traditionally works in Spanish towns and cities, has been erased. In its place there is a much more stage-managed, tourist-friendly version where the bars do not want people to pop in for a mini and a single pintxo.  Now they hand you a plate and encourage you to stay long and spend deep in order to keep the cash registers ringing. (This is not to denigrate the gastronomy of San Sebastián, which is outstanding).

This is not how tapas works elsewhere, but San Sebastián has become popular on a mercurial scale.  When this happens a critical mass is reached and something has to give. As Hassan Bougrine points out; “…the essence of the capitalist economy is the need to ‘make money’.”  No wonder that tradition is distorted. Though perhaps some would say that it is actually more positive – an evolution that gives the customers what they want. Given that a high proportion of those present in the Basque city are foreign travellers, that evolution to ‘Tapas Tourism’ is not surprising.

The intense beauty of Cornish fishing villages is such an allure that those with enough income have been buying holiday homes there for many years.  This has had such a negative impact on the communities, effectively destroying the villages outside the holiday seasons, that bans on purchasing second homes now exist in a number of Cornish locations.

The essence of a thing is so fragile, so precious and so difficult to grasp that when we reach for it, it vanishes.  Like grasping a handful of sand on the beach, the tighter we hold on the less we are able to keep a grip on it and the sooner it slips through our fingers and is gone.  We rarely aim to destroy the essence of a thing intentionally, we merely realise that it has happened almost by stealth and the truth of our impact has crept up on us, seemingly out of nowhere.  Yet, destroy the essence of something we most certainly do.

With something fragile and something so desirable the answer, surely, is to handle with care.  We want to reach out and grasp something that shines and yet, like ice crystals, the very touch itself can destroy the thing.  In this case it must be wiser to enjoy a thing in the moment and be prepared to walk away, to change and to sacrifice the very thing we love so as not to destroy it.  This is not easy for, in the moment, we are normally overtaken by the desire to sink ourselves into the experience. Similarly we often destroy one small cut at a time and may not recognise it until it is too late.

Surely as soon as we feel a thing we love is at risk of being stage-managed or that its essence has been compromised or killed by popularity we should be prepared to walk away.  Perhaps we should even be prepared to walk away long before then. Take the post-encierro breakfast as an example. If we attend every single day are we expecting too much from it?  Are we forcing the fun to fulfil an expectation or are we merely contributing to the destruction of its essence. Once something becomes routine it is no longer special.

That is not to say that such things should cease and many people find enjoyment in routine.  Some would even claim that they are able to hold onto the essence of something even when it is a routine.

One of the most common complaints is that the encierro has been destroyed through being too popular.  Complainants point to the crowded streets and the high proliferation of non-Spanish runners (estimated to be 45% in 2017) as contributing factors.  Talk to any “old timer” and they will generally yearn for a time when the streets were quieter, when you had space to run and when you could actually see the bulls.  The essence of the encierro has gone, replaced by backpackers, beginners and wishful thinking.

The evidence does not totally support this view.

The encierro has been popular for a very long time and crowding is most certainly not a modern phenomenon.  Old black and white photographs and even film reels show crowded streets, a crowded Plaza de Toros, pile ups and packed barriers going back many decades – all seemingly without killing off the soul of the encierro.

Additionally, the modern crowding is not getting any worse according to figures released by the Ayuntamiento of Pamplona.  An article published on sanfermin.com highlighted the fact that some years, such as 2012, saw over 20 thousand runners take part across the 8 days, while others much less.  2017 was estimated to have had around 16 thousand runners. Volumes also vary dramatically from day-to-day. It would appear that a patient and determined runner can find space on the right day if he bides his time and takes his chances.

So while it is true that we often smoother the thing we love and destroy its essence, sometimes the thing we love is not actually dead and we just need to look at it slightly differently.  Perhaps, as in San Sebastián, we need to experience it differently and re-learn what the essence now is. Ultimately we need to acknowledge that the essence of a thing is fleeting, transient and that we should enjoy what we can of it while it lasts.

Barriers

Change

By Mat Dowsett

“When looking back doesn’t interest you anymore, you’re doing something right.” Anon.

Around a decade ago there was a lot of dissatisfaction aimed at the moves to make the encierro safer around La Curva. The use of a coating on the street to give the bulls more grip was at the heart of this change. Whether or not it was the only factor, there was certainly something going on and morning after morning the bulls seemed to be going around La Curva cleaner than they ever had, the occasional exception noted. At the time I wrote a piece asking; “What future now for La Curva?” The famous “threading the needle” run from the doorways of Mercaderes and up onto Estafeta was gone, perhaps for good. The photographers massed on the barriers are still able to capture images fit for the newspapers, but the heyday of running the curve is gone.

This has caused a lot of heartache but also a lot of denial as runners cling on to the past and find themselves trying to reproduce it, but only end up standing the street as the arse-ends of cattle move swiftly away from them. There are runners who want a return to the old days and would rather the manada broke up on the walls of the famous curve, but it seems that the current state is here to stay, for a while at least.

Pamplona and the fiestas have been changing for as long as anyone can remember, and even longer than that. In some ways the changes are glacial – a small element here and there – a new feature, a new rule, a new bar, a new venue. Other changes are swift and sure but are absorbed into fiestas with barely a second glance. Remember when the bandstand was abandoned for the huge stage in the Plaza del Castillo?

Other changes feel more significant such as the bulls on La Curva or the red line down on Santo Domingo.

Over the years there have been some very dramatic changes. The txupinazo was nothing like the spectacle it is now and evolved through various stages, including a man letting off a rocket in the Plaza del Castillo surrounded by a small group of bemused children, eventually reaching the mass participation event it is now. The encierros have also moved hours not once but multiple times to reach the 8am start that is in place now. High kerbstones and round cobbles have been replaced by flatter pedestrian areas and even the encierro route has changed significantly, the last time being in the 1920s.

Some will argue, and with justification, that the changes are not always justified and are often for more sordid reasons. In Pamplona this will often come down to money and reputation. The Ayuntamiento does not want to have the stigma of deaths on its hands and so is likely to keep making changes to ensure the encierro is safer and safer – the cost of popularity. Other changes are to extract every last Euro from the pockets of the million people that turn up to party in the old city. It is certainly the case that not all changes are for the better, no matter how inevitable they are, and not all changes are done with an honest and transparent intent.

Many changes are received on a personal level. Old timers will particularly bemoan the loss of Casa Marceliano on the Calle Mercado off Santo Domingo. This bar and hostal has a kind of legendary status among the long-standing fiesta lovers as being a famous hangout, bed for the duration of fiestas, or perhaps just one night, and spiritual home of a number of fine American and Western bull runners until it was closed down in 1993 and absorbed into the council buildings. Old timers will wistfully talk about the good old days and the strong implication is that if you never drank in Marcelianos then your history is not worth considering. An elitism grows up around the past as a clique of the chosen ones looks down patronisingly at the newcomer wannabes. Yet all is in constant flux and the fashionable bars often fade out of favour as other places drift into the sphere of influence. It is not uncommon to see lone old timers sitting grimly outside Bar Windsor, gravely clinging onto the past.

It is understandable. Humans have a reluctance to change and to move on. There is a very natural desire to yearn for “the good old days”, but we do this with blinkers, ignoring or forgetting those parts of the past which, if we had to live with them again, we would find intolerable. John Green rightly said that “Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed.” Memory is selective and tends to favour the positives over the negatives. We view the past from our comfortable middle age, our affluent self-confident and our assumed wisdom, forgetting that 20, 30, 40 years ago we were not affluent, confident or wise. Sure, we were young, but we did not truly know what to do with it and now we are left mutter variations of the classic lines from Elizabeth Akers Allen; “Backward, turn backward, O Time in your flight, make me a child again just for tonight!”

Karen Ann Kennedy sums it up very nicely when she says:

“There is a difference between thinking about the past and living in it. Sometimes we live in the past because it’s familiar – we know what happened; there are no surprises.”

She goes on to say:

“Living in the past is a problem because it robs you of the opportunity to enjoy the present.”

I would go a step further when it comes to San Fermín. Living in the past only encourages a new generation to venerate something they never witnessed, to aspire to something that is long gone and to disown the present. In doing so this deprives us of the honest happiness of the future.

“Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse…” goes the French proverb, and it is true.

Whenever we are faced with change we go through a curve taking us from denial, to resistance, to acceptance and finally to moving on. How quickly we move through the change curve depends on many factors, not least how invested in the change we are personally. We can move through quickly, unconsciously even but if things go wrong or we hate the change then we can be stuck in different stages like an old timer, sitting alone outside a bar, still thinking that it’s 1969.

That’s not to say that there is no place for nostalgia and romance. These are a pair of benevolent old souls that visit us from time to time. We should always humour them, listen to them and smile at their stories, but then we should wave them farewell until they pass our way again.

San Fermín will go on changing and there may be some intolerable changes to absorb. Consider that in San Sebastian de los Reyes they have moved the encierro to 11am. Imagine that in Pamplona if you can. And, horror of horrors, one day we may have to face the ultimate change in the loss of the encierro totally. Younger and younger people will come to fiestas and they will care less and less for your history, your traditions, your stories and particularly the way you think fiesta ought to be enjoyed. What will you do? Will you stubbornly hide away under the shadow of huge parasol, mulling over the past, or will you embrace the change?

As Alan Watts said:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Citroen Cactus y el encierro de Sanfermin

The Citroen Cactus is inspired by the Sanfermin Bullrunning

There is a good chance that you have already seen this TV commercial spot as it has made a reappearance just lately on TV. This video of the Citroen Cactus was first made more than a year ago by the Havas publicity company under the slogan “Efecto Made in Spain”. This TV commercial features a vehicle which is made in Spain and it shows how the different owners of this car model from around the world also acquire certain Spanish cultural values at the same time as they acquire the new car. The video advertisement has been made with great care and creativity and it reaches its maximum feature when the owner of this new car model finds his road blocked by a polar reindeer in the middle of a wooded trail and the car must come to a halt. The driver gets out of the car wearing a red necktie just like the Sanfermin runners and he entices the animal as if he was taking part in the running of the bulls in Pamplona and in this way he gets the reindeer to move off out of the way.

Citroen Cactus y el encierro de Sanfermin

Some cool style is shown by this “runner” in order to get the reindeer to move out of the way so that the car can continue its journey.

On Twitter, Javi Villaverde, wrote us to ask us to comment on this TV commercial spot as he feels it is quite well made and he is surprised that it has not raised more comment in the media outlets. Well, we think he is absolutely right; the fact isthe advert is very well done and its wink to the Sanfermin Running of the bulls is perhaps its very best moment of all. From the comments that we have seen on the video that Citroen produced at the time of the first showings of this commercial, it seems a lot of viewers liked the advert and they particularly praised the “Sanfermin” scene. It has to be said that there were also some negative comments stating that it showed a stereotyped image of Spanish culture with clichédimages like the siesta, the paella and Sanfermin. The creative team obviously intentionally played with these clichéd images of Spain, but within a humorous context, which is also an important characteristic of life in Spain.

Havas aimed to decontextualize typical Spanish customs which are of course, not so typical in Germany (Siesta), Singapore (Paella) or Finland (Bullrunning) and which would provoke surprise and admiration. The agency prepared a good launching campaign and a follow-up which worked very well and which can be followed on Twitter or Facebook at the has tag #efectomadeinspain.

300.000 Citroen vehicles for 60 countries

At present, several models of the Citroen vehicle range are currently manufactured in Madrid or in Vigo –namely the Citroën C4 Cactus, C4 Picasso, Grand C4 Picasso, Berlingo, its Electric Berlingo and the C-Elysée. In 2015, 300.000 vehicles from this trademark were manufactured and they were sold in some 60 countries all over the world.