San Fermín 2014
San Fermín 2014
olé today!

Weekend is Coming

  • Just when you thought things were calming down, up comes the weekend

Ambiente sanferminero

Ambiente sanferminero

11/07/2014 a las 06:01
Just when you thought things were calming down, up comes the weekend. More bulls, more bullfighters, more bull fights...more people. Imagine if someone decided to invent this now and at the committee meeting said something like:

"Look, why don't we have 9 days and nights of continuous party, and we won’t just make it a religious festival but we’ll invite hedonists (or in Hemingway’s wonderful and apt phrase "international drunks") from all over the world, and we’ll have loud music and bands playing all over town for twenty four hours, oh and we’ll keep the bars open, too, so people have as little chance to sleep as possible, and we’ll bring the best bullfighters and put on some corridas..."

Well, it just wouldn’t happen, would it? It’d be like trying to design the worlds biggest, man-made, accident-just-waiting-to-happen. Especially after some bright spark on the organising committee says; "Hey, I’ve an idea, the bulls that are going to fight in the evening, well, why don’t we let them loose to run through the streets in the morning....?". So of course someone asks: "What on earth would be the point of that?" And so the bright spark replies; "Well... we could let people into the street to run with them..." Brilliant! Pamplona... you couldn’t make it up.

But that’s the point. It wasn’t made up. Like many wonderful things it just evolved over time into the marvel we have today. Some things have disappeared and some have been added but the ingredients that make up the present Fiesta of San Fermin are perfect. Yes, fiesta can bite and hurt in the most vicious way sometimes, but that isn’t fiesta’s fault. It also happens in life.

Most problems and injuries are caused by us, as it’s usually our over-indulgence or under-intelligence that causes problems. Or sometimes, with or without our involvement, accidents just happen. And if you look at fiesta as one big accident waiting to happen, well, it was. And happen it did, and thank goodness for that.


Here we go again...

The Entrada

The Encierro didn’t always cover the same route as it does today, and it didn’t always have the same name, either. So for those of you who having been running the Entrada... this is for you. Actually, I know there are some pretty old runners out there, but none of you are old enough to have run the Entrada.

In Pamplona the first documented corrida dates from 1385, and the encierro as we now know it originated from the necessity to transfer the bulls from out in the countryside to wherever the bullfight was to take place, which in Pamplona was usually the Plaza del Castillo. People didn’t ‘run’ with them as such, but rather just played daredevil, or ‘chicken’ as we might call it.

There’s a better word, and a lovely one I learnt, as it was used in J.J. Arazuri’s ‘Historia de los Sanfermines, Vol 2’. In his chapter on the history of the encierro and how it developed, he writes, "Sometimes the intention of the spontaneous ones (those ‘runners’) was only to excite, touch or to ‘make mischief’ - as we say in Navarra – with the fierce animals...". ‘Ciriquiar’ is the word (as a Navarran) he uses for making mischief, and I love it when I learn a new word like that.

I also love the idea that this extraordinary thing called the encierro came about because of mischief-makers. I hope up in that great fiesta in the clouds they can see what they’ve gone and done...

So the sudden appearance of the bulls around town and the transferring of them to the where they were going to fight became known as the entrada. So when the Plaza del Castillo was used as the bull ring, getting the bulls from the field out of town to the square in town was called the entrance.

And those ‘spontaneous ones’ just carried on doing their stuff. Making mischief! The word ‘encierro' cropped up for the first time in 1856, when the Estafeta was used for the first time. Before this, when the bulls were kept to the north of town, they had run past the town hall, entered the beginning of Mercaderes and then turned sharp right into Chapitela, the short street that leads up to the square, and the improvised bull ring.

But in 1856 the new, (nowadays referred to as the ‘old’) properly constructed and well built Plaza de Toros had already been in use for a couple of years, and so to get the bulls there they decided to use the Estafeta rather than the square, as it was nice and long and narrow and hence easier to get the bulls into the ring at the top and to the right of the street.

And the Encierro was born. The Estafeta wasn’t used exclusively though until 1867, but that is a whole different bulls "tail"...which I hope to return to in a couple of days.

The Running of the Bulldog

I like this story just because it has a dog in it. It is just one of those little footnotes, or perhaps that should be paw prints, to Pamplona’s encierro history. In 1958 on the 11th of July it was the turn of the Miura bulls to run. All went well for most of the bulls as they ran as a herd and arrived in the ring. Except one animal that had stayed back at the Town Hall.

This bull had to be coaxed and guided by the pastores using their ‘varas’, the long thin stick that the herdsmen use on the run. By the time it got to the ring it was tired and afraid. Minutes passed and it just couldn’t be persuaded to enter the tunnel leading to the pens. It was then that one of the pastores, Esteban Irisarri, had an idea.

For some reason his little shaggy dog, 'Ortega', was nearby and it was soon brought into play. Following instructions from his owner, the dog was directed towards the bull and aiming itself at the animal, ran and jumped and bit it on the nose and feet, thereby somehow directing it towards the tunnel to the bull pens.

Well, the crowd were astonished, (any of you who know what a fiesta crowd is like when something out of the ordinary or funny happens knows exactly what I mean!) and gave the dog a huge ovation.

A group of lads, deciding a bigger tribute was needed, caught the dog and paraded it around the ring, to no doubt even louder cheering and applause.

This, incidentally, apparently makes it the longest recorded bull run ever. Since the bulls had left the corrals in Santo Domingo, until little Ortega managed to get that stray bull safely beyond the sand, about half an hour had passed.


Ortega the Bulldog

Escape of the Day


La Concha beach

There’s only one place it can be, having mentioned how Pamplona’s (and many other towns too) main plazas were used as bull rings. Especially as it makes the perfect peaceful escape before the frenzy of fiesta at the weekend. It just has to be beautiful San Sebastian. Okay, it’s not actually in Navarra, but it used to be, 500 hundred years ago...

Only an hour away by bus, and then a 20 minute walk to the beach, (but please check the weather there because those dividing mountains between the two cities can make a heck of a difference) I’ve loved it ever since I first set foot there in '84. And I’m not the only one.

After a few hours on the beach, what could be better than a stroll around the old town, sipping and snacking. While you’re there have a look at the Plaza de la Constitucion. If you look up at the balconies and walkways you’ll see numbers above the doors to the outside overlooking the square.

They were, in effect, the place numbers for the bull ring. After lunch there is still time for some more hours on the beach. Bliss. And once you’ve got back to Pamplona, that still leaves the whole night ahead for fiesta. I’ve nearly convinced myself, you know. Hasta luego...

Fiesta or Feria Tale of the Day


A Fairytale in New York

Tales of the day actually, or rather facts, because as we hurl headlong into the wildness of the weekend, with all the goings on and the things that happen, I thought I’d just lob a few things into the mix.

The vaquillas, the ‘little bulls’ that are let loose after the run, were first officially introduced as we know them now, with caps on their horns, in 1963. They were described as vaquillas ‘emboladas’– meaning they literally had wooden balls over their horns. Before that...ouch. But they’ve been around in one form or another probably ever since bullfighting began. Though generally not dangerous, a young American man was left paraplegic a few years ago, so beware.

The Chupinazo... well, that seems so long ago now. Originally some rockets were first recorded being let off in 1901, in the Plaza del Castillo. In 1941 it was decided to let them off from the balconies of the town hall, and it’s been that way ever since. What a jolly good idea it was!

When the Giants and their troop of big-headed Cabuzedos, Kilikis and Maldikos were taken to New York in 1965 for the World Fair, the American King and Queen had to be left in Pamplona. Because, they were black. Hard to believe in this day and age but they were less enlightened days back then. Thank goodness times have changed. The stupid thing is, those contracted to ‘become’ the entourage who followed the Monarchs You couldn’t script it...

The infirmary in the bullring is the only one that has two operating rooms. This is purely down to the encierro and the potential for multiple injuries. And finally...for those who like these things, especially a certain Swedish friend of ours: Pamplona’s river is called the Arga. But what did it used to be called? Answer tomorrow.

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