The Running of the Bulls

This week Pamplona (a city in the northern region of Navarra) celebrates the festival of San Fermín–the famous running of the bulls that Hemingway immortalized in The Sun Also Rises.

It’s a huge party, with tourists from all over Spain and the world pouring into Pamplona to watch or to participate–thanks in large part to Big Papa Hemingway.

At eight in the morning, everybody gets together in some narrow streets in the center, and everybody runs with the bulls into the bull ring.

It only takes a few minutes, and usually nobody is seriously hurt, even though most of the people involved have been drinking non-stop for days. According to wikipedia, only 15 people have died in the encierros since 1925, which makes it less dangerous than most “extreme” sports.

You can watch an example of an encierro on youtube:

The bulls, as you can see, aren’t really trying to kill anyone, and nobody seems to get hurt. Cows are, after all, herbivores. Running of the tigers? That’d be different.

Later in the day, a bullfight is held in which the same bulls from the morning are brutally slaughtered for the entertainment of a paying audience. It’s a lot of fun, and I highly recommend the experience to anybody who’s not particularly squeamish about seeing a lot of blood.

Bull vs Man events of this sort have several thousand years of history behind them. There seems to be a bullfighting reference in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known works of world literature. So the Mesopotamians were doing it. And the Greeks and Romans were entertaining themselves with all sorts of bloody spectacles way before the birth of Christ.

These days, though, it’s much more fashionable to be anti-bullfighting. The ritual has been prohibited in some places, notably Catalonia. A lot of people are proudly anti-taurino. They’re happy to eat a hamburger, though. They only object to animal cruelty in certain situations. Bah, humbug!

And a lot of people, incidentally, are proudly anti-Hemingway. Big Papa, of course, did a lot for Spain, and a lot more for literature. But some people (wrongly) consider him to be a misogynist and aren’t amused by his masculine worldview.

Well, allá ellos, as they say. To each his own! I’ve read old Ernest’s Short Stories many times. The one called The Capital of the World is amazing. Read it and then let’s talk.

If you want to see the running of the bulls in person, and much closer to Madrid, you can go to San Sebastián de los Reyes from August 26th to September 1st 2013, where they do what is known as “Pamplona Chica.”

You can get up there by Cercanías train, it’s around an hour from Atocha station. They run the bulls at 8 AM just like in Pamplona, so you have to wake up early!

cartel encierro san sebastian de los reyes 2013

The official poster for the running of the bulls in Sanse. By Antonio Ruiz Cerdán.

They do similar encierros in many other Spanish cities also, so if you have a chance this summer, check one out.

And while you’re at it, go have some sherry at La Venencia, a bar on calle Echegaray or some suckling pig at Restaurante Botín. They’re two great places that Hemingway helped to make famous.

You haven’t really lived till you’ve spent a hot summer afternoon drinking sherry and eating Campo Real olives before stumbling home for a siesta. Just trust me.

Well, that’s it for today. Keep it real, you cruel bull runners and hamburger-eating animal rights activists.

I’m out.

P.S. This article called A Farewell to Spain was going around last week… In my personal not-getting-paid-to-blog-for-Huffpost opinion, the author is 1) an insufferable whiner, and 2) a terrible writer. Apparently, she’s also very proud of herself for spending years living in Spain without ever going to a bullfight. Well, whatever. I hope they’re saving her a spot in liberal heaven.

P.P.S. Here’s a pretty good NYTimes article about Hemingway’s Madrid. Have fun!

Daniel
 

How did I end up in Madrid? Why am I still here 12 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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