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.

My friend Shred had somehow finagled vacation time from the kayak school and also wanted to go. A group of us rented a car and planned to leave Saturday, July 7 and drive straight though until we arrived in Spain. Robert was doing most of the driving and Mick was riding shotgun, and claimed that seat for the whole ride. Shred, Steamboat John and me in the back. We left in the afternoon traveling through the mountains of Austria and Switzerland then to Lyon and south through Pau and then crossing the snow capped Pyrenees at Candanchu and then into Spain and Jaca and finally Pamplona on the evening of the 9th. There were other caravans from Garmisch also making the trip and we were the last to arrive. We walked into Plaza Castillo just as the bullfights were letting out and the Pena bands were parading through the plaza. We found Bomber and Goldie other Garmischers drinking red wine from botas and sitting on the curb, across from the Bar Txoco.  It was about 10PM and the sun was just setting. It was warm and the town was alive with people coming from the bull fight to find a table on the square and watch the paseo from a comfortable vantage point with bebidas. Our plan was to buy some wine and fill up our botas and then walk the bull run course from start to finish. Bomber led the way out of the plaza to the bull ring and then down Calle Estafeta, the longest portion of the run. At the bottom of the street past La Curve and through Calle Mercaderes past the mayor’s palace and down Calle Santo Domingo, to the beginning of the bull run where the corales for the bulls are. The pen was full of the next days animals and the police kept things quiet down here, so as not to allow drunks to disturb the bulls.

We went for a drink at Bomber’s favorite place, Le Mejillonera, the Mussel Bar. It was in the sketchy part of town on Plaza Navarreria. People were diving off the statue in front of the bar into the waiting arms of the crowd below. The street was full of trash and plastic cups and bottles. The crowd was rough and the neighborhood was dirty. This is where the punk rockers and misfits of fiesta were hanging out. Not the place to bring your Mom at night. It smelled like urine and puke. People were lighting fireworks and throwing torpedoes that exploded on impact. There were no police to be seen down here. The beer was cheap and we hung out for a few hours watching the the underbelly of fiesta in front of us, before heading out of town to where we were camping that night, near the waterfalls.

We were up at six and back in Pamplona before seven. All our bags were still in the car and we decided that somebody had to stay with the vehicle to guard our stuff. It was a hard choice and in the end John volunteered to stay. Just at that moment Louise and the girls pulled up in their car and parked next to us. Louise generously offered to stay behind and freed John to run the bulls.

I went to the square first and found a bathroom to relieve myself. We all met in front of the mayor’s palace and waited for 8AM. At 7:45 they let us walk up the street through Mercaderes around La Curve and up the canyon like street of Estafeta with six story buildings lining the street. Once you started up the street there was no exit until you reached the top, four hundred meters uphill. We found our spots to stand at the top of Estafeta where it gets wider. The next section curves left for about 200 meters and then funnels down to the left into the narrowest portion, a bottleneck tunnel called the callejon, leading into the bull ring.

I found a perch in the niche of a doorway on the left and waited with a few thousand others. Ten minutes gave me plenty of time to question my resolve. My mouth was dry and I was sweating and could smell the bad breath and stink of hangover wafting through the dense crowd around me. The sound of giddy laughter and incessant chatter identified the very nervous. There were others who were obviously veterans, who calmly read the newspaper with a quite smile just as if they were waiting for a bus on their day off. The cobblestone street was wet from the morning dew. We were all wearing red scarves around our necks and half of the crowd was dressed all in white. Basque flags were everywhere. The police were posted along the fence to prevent runners from vaulting the barricades, unless there was a bull goring someone, then they tried to pull them over the fence and out of harm’s way if they could.

There was a group of locals moving through the crowd looking for women. I saw them take the hat off a girl, revealing her long hair, and then picking her up and tossing her over the barricade and warning her to stay out. There was a long tradition of expelling women from the encierro. I only saw this once and it was a dying tradition in 1984. Plenty of girls snuck in and ran however.

The first rocket went off at exactly 8AM. This signals that the gate of the corrales has been opened. Twenty seconds later a second rocket explodes, letting us know that all the animals are out of the pen and running in the street. The crowd starts to thin out and many runners have run into the bull arena, before the bulls are any where near them. These runners are sarcastically referred  to as, “Los Valientes” or the brave ones. At one minute, you can hear the crowd react to the bulls coming up the street, at the bottom of Estafeta. The runners near me are jumping up and down , trying to see the vanguard of the approaching bulls. The crowd gets louder and starts moving faster as it passes me. I see the first two bulls go by and then I jump into the flow of runners chasing the lead bulls ahead of us, and in front of the bulls behind us. I swerved left to avoid fallen runners and ran up on the curb around the pile of fallen bodies. A Bull has fallen and the runners in front of me have stopped and are staring down a lone bull to the right, that has just gotten to its feet and is about to charge at us. I am against the wall with two others, when I see what was about to happen.

Time had slowed down and I was starting to back up when a runner ran between the bull and where I was on the curb. The bull looked to its right and saw another lone runner against the wall and charged, impaling Steven Townsend in the groin and lifting him into the air. When he landed the bull charged again and gored him in the thigh, rupturing his femoral artery. A famous picture of this moment circulated around the world on the front page of the International Herald Tribune showing Townsend in all his agony, screaming with the bull looking him in the eye as it trampled over him. The bull charged again and again, goring and tossing Steve until he was in shock and had almost bled out. His blood was everywhere. It was one of the worst gorings in the history of San Fermin. There were two other bulls also trying to gore people further up the street in a section called Teléfonos. I watched this all happen in front of me and was scared of being the victim as well. I was about to climb under the barricade, but stopped and forced myself to stay in the street. Just then I saw a fourth bull ten meters to my right. I ran to the left, around the far side of the bull goring Townsend,  up the street where the other two bulls were causing havoc. I slowed down a bit and saw an opening and ran by the lead bull towards the tunnel, through the callejon.

The bulls I had run by had caught up to me and were close when I came into the plaza de toros. It was dusty and crowded and the audience was screaming as I entered. I was winded and my mouth was so dry that I could hardly talk. The bulls eventually came into the arena where the doubledores used their capes to lead the animals through the plaza toward the Toril and into their pens. Most runs are over in 2-3 minutes, but today’s encierro was much longer and had many lone bull/goring situations in the street. Back where I had started, Steven Townsend, 1st. Lt. US Army, was being saved by the experienced trauma teams who were waiting in the wings, watching as the carnage unfolded. As soon as Townsend was free of his tormentor, a doctor wearing sterile gloves had squeezed through the wooden barricade and immediately started first aid. He put his hand inside the gaping thigh wound and grabbed the pulsing femoral artery which stopped the hemorrhage and saved his life. He needed 14 pints of whole blood to sustain him through surgery. From the time he was gored to the time he was operated on, was less than 20 minutes. This rapid response and the experienced and well prepared emergency services were the reasons he didn’t die from his injuries. After fiesta I heard that Townsend had been court martialed and charged with destroying government property. It was his first run as well and I was standing right next to him just before he was gored.

I was still in the arena, trying my luck dodging the smaller and faster vacas running around with padded horns, not as dangerous as the fighting bulls we just ran with. My throat was so dry that it hurt. My pants were ripped and I was covered in dust. The other Garmischers in the arena were in shock for how violent the days run had been. Some of them had run in early with los valientes and had no idea what had just happened. We exited the arena and went back to Plaza Castillo and Bar Txoco to meet up with our friends and see if anyone got hurt.

The rush of adrenaline had taken over and I had a feeling of hyperawareness. Body and mind were in sync and tuned in. I was high from the danger that had just passed me by. It looked me in the face and I saw its eyes and smelled its rank breath. In that split second before Townsend was gored, the stink of the manure smeared on the bull’s flanks filled the air and he was grunting and snorting and scraping with its hooves on the cobblestones. I saw the bull looking for a target, drooling with his tongue sticking out and breathing heavily. It was as tall as me and all muscle and its black hide was wet and shining.  For a second, the bull looked my way and then turned and looked at Townsend; he flinched. The crowd screamed when the bull charged ahead, goring him in the groin and tossing him in the air. When he landed, instead of laying still, he tried to get up and when the bull saw this he charged again, pinning Townsend to the street and tearing through his left thigh. I saw his terrified face and puddles of blood from one side of the street to the other. The bull was relentless and fixated on subduing Townsend. His last act was to slowly walk over Townsend probing with his horns and looking for movement. Then he walked away and was led up the street by the Pastores prodding the animal with their long sticks. Townsend was nearly unconscious when the bull finally left him alone.

At Bar Txoko, I saw Shred and Bomber and the others who had just run. Cliff and John had also had close calls with the horns. They were trying to avoid the two sueltos that were goring people in Telefonos. It had been an historic day for gorings and injuries, with three animals all goring people at the last section of the encierro before entering the plaza de toros. I also witnessed great acts of bravery. One runner who was trying to save Townsend, was pulling the bull by its tail and then reaching from behind and grabbing its testicles and pulling. The bull barely noticed and instead concentrated on mauling its prey. We were all trading notes and had lots to talk about. I  remember saying to GT, “That was really heavy! Is it always like that!!? WTF!!!”. We had started drinking and I wasn’t the only one with an adrenaline high. All of us were flying and the beer and wine hardly made a dent. We hadn’t eaten yet and didn’t mind. Our appetites were suppressed and time was flying by now. By early afternoon we wandered over to a party or enfermeria at the Eslava Hotel.

I met Matt Carney at the Txoco that morning and he invited us all to the party. He was holding court at the bar, drinking with some of the local Basque runners who grew up on the streets of Pamplona and were well known as expert coreadores. James Michener had featured Matt in his book Iberia and highlighted Matt’s fame as the premier American Runner at the time. He also recounted the time when Matt Carney and Hemingway got into an argument and there were harsh words and threats exchanged. Matt, the ex US Marine, was in his prime and would have won any contest or fight. It started when Matt offered Hem a drink from his bota. The cap was loose and one of Hem’s friends accused Matt of setting Hem up, and having his bota pour out all of its wine at once, making a mess, instead of a long drawn-out stream, which is traditional and preferred. The cap being loose was not intentional.  It was a misunderstanding blown out of proportion by the sycophants Hem was getting drunk with. Hem made a big deal out of the incident and got out of his chair and made toward Matt. His entourage “held” him back in a comical display of the indignant artist defending his image and honor. Nothing happened.

Matt had charisma and people were drawn to him. He was handsome and told great stories. When I met him he was with the local runners discussing what had just happened in the street and all agreed what a dangerous day it had been. We all wondered if the man who was badly gored had survived. We didn’t know his name or nationality yet. Matt was standing with Attanasio and his friends from the Anaitasuna Pena, which Matt belonged to and had the honor as the only foreigner made a member of their club for runners. They were all wearing the traditional colors of white and red. White clothing with a red scarf around their neck and a red sash around their waist. The red panuelo around their necks had the crest of the Anaitasuna pena, one of the oldest penas in Pamplona.

In the basement of the Eslava Hotel, we drank the traditional “red shit and yellow shit”. Buckets filled with Bloody Marys and Screw-drivers. Our host , Magoo, had also put some tapas out to soak up the booze and help us stay awake. Matt was telling us about the traditions of fiesta and how important it was to respect the locals and try to understand what it means to be Basque. He spoke about how they had struggled and were repressed under Franco, and why they are so proud of their heritage. Ten years before, it was illegal to speak in Basque or sing their songs or dance their jotas. Ten years later there was a resurgence of culture but the Basque were still under siege from the government.This was because hard-line separatist members of ETA were demanding their own country and had initiated a campaign of assassinations and bombings throughout Spain and was promoting autonomy through violent revolution. Many ETA members came to Pamplona for the Festival of San Fermin despite being wanted by police, military and secret hit squads from Madrid.

We were enthralled by Matt’s understanding of the locals and his advise about fiesta and how to run bulls. Later on Matt recited ‘The Raven” by Poe and the room fell silent. He then started to sing an Irish song, “Wearin’ of The Green”. I handed Matt a refill and he asked about me and how I came to Pamplona. I told him about my Dad and my uncle who were both Marines. My Uncle Jim Dwyer was a veteran of the battles on Tarawa, Wake Island, and Guadalcanal. He knew and was friends with John Basilone. He was punished after Guadalcanal for beating up an artillery Major in the middle of battle because he was shelling his troops. He had been The Sergeant Major of Guantanamo Bay for two years when he was forced to become a Lieutenant just before the attack on Guadalcanal. Punishment took a crooked turn, and he was promoted to Captain but given command of a naval Brig in San Francisco. He hated this assignment and drank himself out of the Marines. Matt asked about me; my education, what I was doing in Germany for the US Army, my trip through Africa, and what I thought about Pamplona. Then he asked how my run was today and I told him about where I was and what I saw and where I ended up. He was clapping me on the back and saying my baptism by fire was special and I would never have another first run or be as scarred again because now I was a “Veteran”! He was leaving to go to the corrida and said he would see me in the morning in the street and gave me an abrazo fuerte. He reminded me of my Dad and had certain mannerisms and a cadence in his tone of an old Marine. A confident bering and square shoulders and a clean pressed uniform with ribbons and medals. Matt had a gift for making you feel important when he talked to you. It was part of his charm and he was good at it. He would put both hands on your shoulders and look you in the eye and then say his piece. It was easy to see why he was so admired.

Soon it was time to leave for the bull fights. I didn’t have tickets, so we got more beer and went to the park and took a nap. Robert found us later and told us that our car had been broken into and some of our bags were stolen. I lost one out of two bags and all my clothes. I had hidden my documents and money and valuables in the car and they weren’t taken. I had the clothes on my back and a jacket. A friend let me put my bag in his hotel room at La Perla. Shred also had most of his stuff stolen. We wandered through the town and back down to the mussel bar and the statue where people were diving off. GT called this part of town “Apocalypse Now”. It was darker and dirtier than the rest of the old town and is near where the Punk Rockers sleep on the sidewalks during fiesta. We stayed out all night and spent a few hours in a hard chair, napping before the run.

The horror of the day before was today’s headlines. My picture was on the front page of Navarra Hoy with Townsend and a suelto coming at us. There many pictures of townsend being attacked. It made clear how lucky I was not to have been gored.

We all gathered in front of Ayuntamiento and waited together. Matt came over greeting all of us and saying “Suerte”. He told me that he had seen the newspapers already and saw my picture standing near Townsend and to find him after the run to  talk about it. We walked up the street as a group and Matt stayed at the bottom of Calle Estafeta. I went back to where I was the day before. Shred was across the street from me with Bomber and a few others, near the bus stop and Bar Fitero. The first rocket went off and 6 seconds later another. All the bulls were now out of the pen and running. A minute later we heard the crowd screaming at the bottom of Estafeta as the bulls rounded the curve and started up the street. The sound got louder as they got closer. I saw the lead bulls all in a tight pack quickly coming toward us. The pace of the herd is out running anyone in front it and parting the crowd. I don’t see an opening and the pack passes by so quickly that when I start running they are all ahead of me and I am trying to catch up but miss my shot. I run with the crowd and into the arena to see the bulls exit the plaza into their pens on the otherside. It was a fast time of 2.08 minutes. Clean and quick. We stayed in the plaza for the vacas and then went back to Txoco for a drink and a head count. I now understood how special my first run was because of how different today’s run was.

I saw Matt with his pena brothers in front of the Txoco. I was sitting with Art and Tim and Curly and GT. He came over and joined us. The conversation quickly covered the days uneventful run. Rapido y limpia. When the bulls are moving that fast it’s hard to get in front of them to set up for a run. None of us got any time with the bulls that day. Matt turned the attention to that days paper and my photo on the front page. “Your in a bad spot there, against the wall with a suelto looking at you. Pretty exciting first run though, eh?”. The whole table laughed. “Next time, if you can, take the middle of the street instead of the sidewalk, you have more room to move.”. “Can I run with you one of these days?”. “Well , sure. Why not!? Maybe tomorrow, we’ll play it by ear.”.

We spent the day swimming at the waterfalls and napping in the sun. My car mates were talking about leaving Pamplona early and driving to the Montreux Jazz Fest in Switzerland. I was against this idea and argued with Robert, but he who rents the car and has the keys, makes the rules and after the next days bull run my ride would be leaving with or without Chris.

The next few days were a blur of bars and naps in hard metal chairs. I ran each day but never got to run with Matt that year. I was sleeping in doorways and the park. After the runs I hung out with Curly and GT and Art and Tim and Jerry. All my buddies from Garmisch were gone. My clothes were dirty and stained with red wine and blood, I had been wearing them since my first day in Spain. The morning of the 14th I got a ride out of town with Jim from Heidelberg. At the French border I switched with him and drove north. We stopped outside Paris for a short break and saw the fireworks of Bastille Day over the city. When we reached Heidelberg he dropped me off at the train station and after stopping in Munich and enjoying a bratwurst and Helles at my favorite Kiosk in the Hauptbahnhof, I was back in Garmisch that afternoon.

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


“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 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.



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.