Danny and I took a slight detour from Barcelona. We had to stop in Nice in order to switch trains, and we decided to catch a night train out of Nice to connect directly to Pamplona, Spain for the Running of the Bulls! So while in Nice, we used the afternoon to catch up on a few things. I needed to go to Council travel to change my flight ticket from NY to Miami so I could hang with Greg for a few days. Then we saw the Modern Art museum that we missed the first time in Nice. We finally hit the beach at 3pm and stayed till the sun went down. I must say, stopping in Nice was a wise decision. I forgot how beautiful the South of France really is. It’s just like Beverly Hills on the beach! If I could I would travel along every inch of coastline on every continent – I truly love the ocean! It was a wonderful beach afternoon layover before our night train to Pamplona.
Friday July 13th, 1990
Well right now I am recovering from the craziest festival this side of Mardi Gras. Before I begin to go off on what happened during the last 24 ours, I have to tell you about how backwards and old-world Spain is. I could not get to a U.S. phone operator from any payphone and the operators at Hotls shut down at 9pm – never mind any of them that try to help – so all communication with the US is cut-off! I tried so hard all day long to get through to my mom for her birthday and I’m really upset that I could not speak to her. This place is absolute mayhem!
There are people everywhere passed out stone cold in and on the streets – everywhere! The festival of San Fermín in the city of Pamplona (Navarre, Spain), is a deeply rooted celebration held annually in July. It has become probably the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain. Over 1,000,000 people come to watch this festival – and there is so much overflow from available hotel rooms that people literally sleep in the streets. We woke up at 6:30am from a park where we slept last night. We found a tiny patch of grass near a tree and huddled together to sleep. I used my sneakers as a pillow. My friend was not so lucky and his sneakers were stolen during the night.
Every Spaniard wore the same exact thing – all white with a red scarf. Everybody was completely drunk – even the 12 year olds! I saw the funniest thing ever – two 14 yr olds lying face down on the pavement and all of a sudden, one gets up, staggering of course, and vomits all over his buddies back. Poor guy. Millions of people flood the streets – just like Mardi Gras and they sing and dance traditional Spanis songs and chant in drunken revelry. There is something to be said about a town where you can watch an 80 yr old woman dance in a festive trance at 4am! It’s hard to believe the festival of San Fermin lasts 24 hours a day all week long! Nobody sleeps, and if they do, it’s because they drank till they dropped. We wandered into one of the many squares and then a parade marched right into us. Most of them beat drums and and the intensity and volume could shatter windows – and this was at 3am! Nobody could possibly sleep – who wants to? Every has their own private bottle of Spanish wine, it’s celebratory madness!
The purpose of this event was in origin to transport the bulls from the off-site corrals where they had spent the night, to the bullring where they would be killed in the evening. Youngsters would jump among them to show off their bravado. Spanish lore says the true origin began in North-eastern Spain during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle in order to sell at the market, men would attempt to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement. After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created and stands to this day.
photo by AP
Well, now I must tell you about the scorching hell it was to get here. We planned to take a 24 hour train from Venice, bu tthe train systems in Spain are so unreliable, inefficient and slow that it took us 2 days of slow, stop & go, swelteringly hot, smelly, rickety, uncomfortable, sauna trains. Luckily we met some Tulane friends and downed a few bottles of Spanish wine half-way to Pamplona. Now when I think of Spanish towns, I imagine them lost in time and trapped in the 17th century. They have almost no modern technology or conveniences and boy was it hot here. But when the we finally got to Pamplona we were thrilled beyond belief. Our entire trip was planned around the “Running of the Bulls.” All the travel across Europe was designed so that we could run with the bulls around this date – and wow, was it worth it!
photo by AP
When we woke up from the park after another crazy night of celebration, we walked to the main street where the bulls ran and then into the Arena for a real Matador Bull fight! The main run was only 1/4 of a mile down a very narrow street closed off to outside “jumpers”. The length of the run is 826 metres (903 yards). It goes through four streets of the old part of the city (Santo Domingo, Town Hall Square, Mercaderes and Estafeta) and a section called Telefónica before entering into the bullring. Spaniards run in front of the bulls while they charge from behind, bucking Spaniards clear into the air. They do this show off their bravado. It’s completely insane. Some would get trampled, some would get gored. The narrow street funnels into the main Bullfighting stadium
photo by AP
photo by AP
The whole ceremony is very brief, which is not what I expected, but the tradition is fasinating. But the actual Running of the Bulls ceremony was dwarfed by what I witnessed later that afternoon. I witnessed the sickest sport in the world – “The BULLFIGHT”!!! It was a grand ceremony, and the last day of the festival and the President of Spain and the Spanish Aristocracy was watching from the royal box. All the matadors were decked out in their finest costumes.
photo by Rafa Rivas, Getty Images
A bull is then released into the arena. The sheer size of the bull is shocking to see. The horns were long and sharp. The actual game is so cruel and depressing and moved me considerably. I could not believe what I was witnessing. The matadors taunt the bull, while knights on horseback (wearing a steel protective shield), stab a massive jousting dagger straight down into the shoulder blades of the bull. This initial plunge into the bull tears the muscle and slows the bull down enough so the grand matador can taunt it. His taunting is the is the focus of the show/exhibition. Finally when the matador has completely humiliated the bull and it’s strength is completely exhausted, the matador raises the killing sword and drives the sword directly into the animals brain. Then two more matadors come running out to make sure the bull is dead by driving two additional daggers though his brain. The bull then kicks straight out and becomes completely stiff. About 2 gallons of blood begins to shoot out of the bulls mouth. Three great horses come to drag the bull out the arena while the matador receives roses and wild applause from the crowd. There are 6 bullfights in all, and all die the same humiliating and torturous death. It’s so shocking, however while inside the coliseum, you are taken over by the grand sense of the awe of the sport.
photo by AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
Here is a photo I captured during the part of the ceremony when they drag the dead bull away and clean the blood.
To see an excllent photographic play by play of the Festival Di San Fermin, see this amazing Boston Globe review.