Festival of San Fermin-Running of the Bulls

I was not overly impressed with Pamplona, the Spanish city that plays host to the Festival of San Fermin, or Running of the Bulls as it is known to the majority of the world’s population.  I was on my way to Barcelona having just come from the seaside resort town of San Sebastian, and had stopped in Pamplona for a much needed break. The festival itself goes from noon on July 6 to midnight on July 14 and for a week there is nothing but parades, fireworks, bullfights, running of the bulls, and of course in true Spanish fashion, heavy partying.
I arrived in Pamplona about noon on July 8. By American standards, the day had long started. By Spanish standards, the new day had yet to begin judging by the number of festival party goers (you can spot a festival participant as they are donned all in white, save for a red scarf) that were still sleeping off the partying and drinking they had done the night before, passed out on street corners and on benches around the city center. Unlike in other countries including the United States, in Spain you can just go into a bar and use the facilities without feeling obligated or required to buy a drink. One result of this is that the restrooms are usually disgusting. As this was 2003, the European Union smoking ban in bars and restaurants  had not yet gone into effect so in addition to the bar reeking of smoke, there were cigarette butts littered everywhere on the ground, and the smell of alcohol and some other unsavory odors also wafted through the air. As I had just turned 18 and this being my first time in Europe, I was somewhat taken aback by this, although three years later when I lived in Spain during my semester abroad there, I certainly grew more accustomed to these things. 
Earlier this year I blogged about whether or not bullfighting was a cultural past time, as many Spanish claim it to be, or a cruel sport (you can read about it here). As much as I dislike bullfighting (when I lived in Seville I opted out of attending a bull fight), I dislike the Running of the Bulls even more. To me it is stupid and reckless, the worst kind of thrill seeking activity since 15 people have died in the almost 90 years record-keeping has taken place, with more than a hundred injured from falls during the running each year. (In the 400 years of the festival’s history, thousands of people have been injured.) Bulls are unleashed from their corrals to charge towards the bullring. Later in the day the bulls face death against the matadors in the bullring. The last death to occur was in 2009 when a male runner was gored in the neck. Los locos (the crazies), or revelers as I’m sure they would like to be known, can either run ahead of the bulls or watch from a semi-safe distance just off the street (not as if a bull has never strayed from its course either). The running starts at 8 AM for eight consecutive days but only lasts a few minutes.
This past Saturday marked the first day of the Running of the Bulls and to start things off a 73 year old man was gored in the leg. Likewise a 21 year old Japanese runner was dragged on the pavement downhill towards the bullring by what appeared to be a bull’s horn hooked through his clothing and suffered back injuries. 
Most Americans became acquainted with the Festival of San Fermin after Ernest Hemingway immortalized it in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. It’s about a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris who travel south to Pamplona to partake in the festival’s activities. Hemingway became fascinated with bullfighting and visited Pamplona nine times. There’s even a statute of Hemingway at Cafe Iruna, an establishment frequented by Hemingway when in Pamplona, and also a popular spot for his characters in The Sun Also Rises to drink and socialize. The city itself unveiled a statute of Papa Hemingway outside of the bullring in 1968, seven years after his death, in honor of the man who through his writing brought the culture of bullfighting to the American people’s eyes.
“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games”-Ernest Hemingway

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  • Reply
    JoAnn M.
    July 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    I have a lot to say about this subject! Although I have never personally experienced the Festival of San Fermin, I think your description is accurate. Usually people tend to glamorize it.

    The sad look on that poor bull’s face says it all.

    As a supporter of animal rights I couldn’t agree with you more about bull fighting and the running of the bulls. In my opinion, they are primitive and stupid. I don’t know how anyone can call bull fighting a sport and I don’t know how the Spanish government can condone it. I commend Catalonia for banning bull fighting, however, few of its citizens voted on the ban and it was considered a political move symbolizing its independence from Madrid.

    I don’t understand why anyone is shocked when one of these idiots gets killed during the running of the bulls. What did they expect? They act like the bull deliberately set out to kill someone.

    My definition of “sport” is any activity where all parties participate voluntarily. Whenever animals are forced to participate, it is not a sport. People don’t realize how many dogs and horses die or are critically injured in “sanctioned” events like horse racing and greyhound racing.

    I wasn’t surprised by your description of the willing participants at the “festivities”. I don’t understand people who enjoy drinking themselves into a stupor. I guess every country has their lowlives.

    Unfortunately, people like Hemmingway have romanticized bull fighting, the running of the bulls and hunting and ignorant people feel the need to participate in these activities.

    I respect the fact that everyone has their traditions, but when they cause pain and suffering to people or animals I draw the line. Some traditions should remain in the past.

    You would think people would have more sense in the 21st century.

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    July 12, 2012 at 2:28 am

    You could not have said it any better! And yes, it’s sad that the underlying reason behind the region of Catalonia banning bullfighting was to simply detach itself more from Madrid.

    Yes, Hemingway was definitely from a different time, a time I feel has long passed and is no more. He glamorized bull fighting and he certainly glamorized hunting animals for the sheer sport of it when neither belong in the 21st century.

    Generally the idiots that drink themselves silly are also the ones running from 300 pound dangerous animals. I feel that other regions in Spain may ban bull fighting but I see the running of the bulls continuing on for a long time. I definitely would not return to Pamplona, bulls or no bulls πŸ™‚

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