Monday, July 13, 2009

The running of the bulls in Pamplona

AOG, Madrid

Last week Spain witnessed once again the spectacle of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, so beloved of Hemingway. Have you read "The Sun also rises"? It occurs during the San Fermín festivities starting on the 7th of July of every year.

Unfortunately, this year there was another death. The first in 14 years.

This time it was a young man,
Daniel Gimeno Romero, 27 from Alcalá de Henares, just outside of Madrid, was one of more than a dozen people rushed to hospital after one of the most dangerous runs in recent years.

A video on the Cuatro television station website shot by an onlooker showed Romero on the ground and trying to scrabble towards the thick wooden railings that mark the edge of the course as the bull turned back on the runners.

As he sat up and turned around, the bull lowered its head and rammed a horn into the join of his neck and shoulder.

The animal, named "Capuchino" managed to pierce the poor guy's jugular with one of his horns. Spanish television showed the last minutes of this guy's life throughout the day. Sad.

Given the danger of the event, and the fact that many of the runners are drunken foreigners, I am truly surprised there aren’t more deaths per year. Fighting bulls are huge animals known for being bad tempered and ready to kill. Hence why they are bred.

I suppose that back in Hemingway’s time, the world he lived in needed things like this sort of event to make one’s life more interesting. Today, however, tradition aside, I’m not entirely sure why this is still going on.

To say nothing of bullfighting, which I am opposed to 100%.

This is what Hemingway wrote about it back in 1923:

... It was really a double wooden fence, making a long entryway from the main street of the town to the bull ring itself. It made a runway about two hundred and fifty yards long. People were jammed solid on each side of it. Looking up it toward the main street.

Then far away there was a dull report.

"They're off," everybody shouted.

"What is it?" I asked a man next to me who was leaning far out over the concrete rail.

"The bulls! They have released them from the corrals on the far side of the city. They are racing through the city."

"Whew," said Herself. "What do they do that for?"

Then down the narrow fenced-in runway came a crowd of men and boys running. Running as hard as they could go. The gate feeding them into the bull ring was opened and they all ran pell-mell under the entrance levels into the ring. Then there came another crowd. Running even harder. Straight up the long pen from the town.
"Where are the bulls?" asked Herself.

Then they came in sight. Eight bulls galloping along, full tilt, heavy set, black, glistening, sinister, their horns bare, tossing their heads. And running with them three steers with bells on their necks.

They ran in a solid mass, and ahead of them sprinted, tore, ran and bolted the rear guard of the men and boys of Pamplona who had allowed themselves to be chased through the streets for a morning's pleasure.

A boy in his blue shirt, red sash, white canvas shoes with the inevitable leather wine bottle hung from his shoulders, stumbled as he sprinted down the straightaway. The first bull lowered his head and made a jerky, sideways toss. The boy crashed up against the fence and lay there limp, the herd running solidly together passed him up. The crowd roared.

Everybody made a dash for the inside of the ring, and we got into a box just in time to see the bulls come into the ring filled with men. The men ran in a panic to each side. The bulls, bunched solidly together, ran straight with the trained steers across the ring and into the entrance that led to the pens.

I don’t think anything has changed.

In all, 15 people have died at the Pamplona event over the past century. The last fatal goring was that of 22-year-old American Matthew Tassio in 1995.

In case you are wondering, “Herself” refers to Hemingway’s wife, Valerie.

No comments: