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Monday, 04 December 2006

Spain: Reading Hemingway in the Land of Contradiction - Page 4

Written by Evan Thoreau Heigert
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The train out of Barcelona leaves at a quarter to noon. On the wall of the station, the iron clock reads 11:23. I turn to the line of dusty travelers in front of me. This is going to be close. I reach the window

The next morning I wake before first light. The bus leaves at 5.30. Dozing passengers bounce in their seats as we roll through the Basque highlands. I stay awake, watching my reflection in the dark windows. The blackness soon gives way to a deep grey that reveals the outlines of distant mountains. At half-past six we are rolling into the outskirts of Pamplona, Iruña in Basque. This is the home of the world-famous San Fermín festival, the pride of which is the legendary Encierro, commonly known as the Running of the Bulls.

townLa Fiesta de San Fermín consists of a weeklong orgy of booze and bulls in celebration of the city’s patron saint. During this week in mid July, the tiny provincial town nearly quadruples in population. It’s a chilly pre-dawn as the bus dumps us out in the middle of a large square. Everywhere revelers are decked out in the fiesta’s official garb: white cotton pants and shirt with a red handkerchief around the neck, perhaps a symbol for the end-result of the bullfight.


Today is the final day of the festival and it shows. Thousands of drunken partygoers stumble through streets littered with the debris of a week well spent. The town itself is a conglomeration of narrow medieval streets, snake-like alleys, and dirt tracks. I wander for twenty minutes trying to find the race route, assuming I can just follow the crowd. But the whole town is one giant crowd, literally every street is packed with white-clad men singing and fighting.

A couple of dubious lefts and I come out in a wide canyon between buildings. Along the street a gang of men work feverishly in the coming dawn, fitting hundreds of heavy timber posts in gaps between the cobblestones. workersI have found the course. For nearly 900 meters it twists and turns through the narrow streets, starting at the Coralillos de San Domingo and spilling out finally into the bullring across town.

I walk for a few blocks along the timber rails that separate spectator from bull, stopping where the course makes a left-hand curve. I had been debating whether to run or not for days, but finally decided to remain a spectator rather than a target for a quarter-ton muscle with horns. route


I find my perch on a post offering a view of about twenty meters in each direction. The wooden barricades slowly take shape as the morning sun rises above the buildings before me. People begin filling in behind the partitions and runners slowly walk around, talking, sharing advice, stretching. Loudspeakers across the city blare warnings in five different languages: “Do not run if you are physically unable… do not attempt to run the entire course… if you fall, attempt to protect your head and vital organs…” I begin to feel relieved I’m not taking my chances with the bulls.

(Page 4 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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