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San Fermín 2014
San Fermín 2014

Sunday in Pamplona during Fiesta

  • Tonight is the last real full night of fiesta with a following day of bulls and fights and all the official events still on

Noche de conciertos en la Plaza del Castillo durante San Fermín

Noche de conciertos en la Plaza del Castillo durante San Fermín

13/07/2014 a las 06:01
It may be Sunday in Pamplona but during fiesta a Sunday is like no other. Except for last Sunday maybe, when the chupinazo rocket was fired into the sky and fiesta launched itself upon us. My goodness, that seems like a thousand years ago and I feel like I’m still orbiting some parallel planet.

There was a musical once called, "Stop The World I Want To get Off", and fiesta can feel like that sometimes, and yet, and yet...I don’t want it to stop, I want it to go on forever. 

But tonight is the last real full night of fiesta with a following day of bulls and fights and all the official events still on. But for those of us who are no longer quite the teenagers we used to be, remember how Sunday’s back home used to be so different and special? When everything was closed and it was just one long day of quiet and rest, or pottering around doing stuff or going out on some Sunday adventure or long walk... I wouldn’t mind one of those back, but with a fiesta twist.

Actually, I had one a couple of days ago. Due to the intensity of the first few days of San Fermin I often find that when those mid-fest days fall midweek, especially on the 10th with its "half-past-fiesta" status, they have a sort of old days, Sunday feeling for me. And I use the term "old days" deliberately, because a couple of days ago I really did travel back in time to the Land of Fiestas Past.

The Little People 

In 1984, knowing next to nothing, I arrived in the Plaza del Castillo and plonked myself on the grass opposite the Txoko part of the square. Over the course of the fiesta I met a bunch of people, as you do, and had the time of my life and more. I knew almost nada about fiesta or anything, let alone the lingo, yet knew I’d found my paradise on earth and would learn the language and be back for ever.

Two of those travellers I met I still know now, and there is one local I met that year who I also still know up to this day. We were a mixed group of young, drunk and plaza-living foreigners then, as we had nowhere else to sleep.

Over many nights 2 or 3 girls would come and watch us, sit and talk to us, watch us dance in the square and generally get drunk and make fools of ourselves. Yes, I know, hard to imagine... But  the strange thing about them was that they weren’t even teenagers yet. Anyway, we also weren’t  that kind of person, thankfully, and just assumed that things like this were normal in this strange  town. Fiesta ended and we went home.

The next year some of us who’d met the year before hooked up again in San Sebastian before fiesta or on the same patch of grass opposite Txoko during fiesta, and the original girl from the previous year showed up, this time with three friends. And every night we all made fools of ourselves once more, dancing in the square while they watched us and chatted to us...and fiesta finished and back home we went.

1986...oh my goodness. Although some of us had found a floor to crash on and a place to leave our bags in, that patch of grass opposite Txoko was still our “House,” and that’s where we did most of our Pamplona living. But that year when I arrived with the usual bunch and of course some new folk, the original girl, Yoli, who was by now about 14, showed up with around 12 or 13 friends. All girls.

On the first night they all arrived together, crowding around Ike and I and the others they knew, and one of the guys we’d just met at Txoko and who was there for his first fiesta, James Stitt, just looked at them all with a look of, I don’t know what you’d call it... total fiesta incomprehension... and said something like, "Tim... who the heck are all these little people?!".

And so that was it. They became The Little People. And that year was easily one of my favourite fiesta years ever, because we danced and laughed with the Little People, they took us around town, (I’d never even been to Jarauta) and we had the best time ever. Yes, it must appear strange that a bunch of guys in their early-to-late twenties were hanging around with these girls, (actually, it was them who were hanging around with us!) but we foreigners just accepted it, because honestly, and truthfully, we had never, ever, experienced anything in our lives like Pamplona during San Fermin and just assumed this was normal here.

Also, we were not that kind of person, so these girls were always perfectly safe with us. Occasionally over the next couple of years one of them would tell me that their parents were in the square, and when I’d ask where, they’d point...and there, only a few yards away, would be a couple at the old railings that surrounded parts of the plaza, keeping a very good eye on us all! I’d go up and say hello, and surprisingly they didn’t seem to mind this drunken foreigner and his friends spending the nights dancing away with their daughters. (Years later, I asked one of them, Sonia, why they hung around us so much and weren’t they ever...afraid?) And she said, "No, we always trusted you, we always knew".

And so it carried on for the next few years. The Little People became famous amongst the gang and especially to the newbies picked up on the journey. But it couldn’t last and as they got to be 18 or 19 their little group, what the Spanish call a cuadrilla, broke up as they got boyfriends and jobs or went to college or moved away. But for several years that giggle of girls were shining diamonds of light  during fiesta, in a city that, let’s face it, for 9 days has more glittering gems in it than anywhere on earth.

The Little people were pure party gold, and they still are and they always will be. And a few days ago, some of us relived the old days and got together for the first time again since one of them got married in the mid-nineties. And the gold still glittered as brightly as ever and the magic was still there of course, because in this city of sweet sorcery, that magic never, ever loses its lustre. The Little People... pure Pamplona gold.

Fiesta or Feria Tale of the Day

Of all the spontaneous stunts or pre-arranged pranks that have happened during fiesta, I think my favourite is the day Superman came to town. July 8th 1979 was the anniversary of the awful riot that happened the year before, when a young man, German Rodriguez was shot dead by the authorities.

This caused the whole of the rest of fiesta to be suspended. This is not the place to go into the reasons behind it, suffice to say that Spain had only recently become a democracy after the Franco era and things were a little unstable in places. So one year after the shooting, the town was on a knife edge and inside the bull ring no one knew what might happen as the anniversary came around. One man, Fernando Lizaur Gomez decided, as it was the year the ‘Superman’ film had come out starring Christopher Reeve, to become Superman and fly around the ring.

Some American friends had brought him over a costume from America, and with the help some friends who worked in the bull ring, he was smuggled in where he remained hidden until the second bull was on. The bullfighter was having trouble with this bull and it was at this point Fernando made his way from where he’s been hiding and suddenly made his entrance, jumping up onto one of the balustrades, cigar in mouth and pose perfect.

Well, there was widespread laughing and cheering, especially when he suddenly leapt of the ledge, where the crowd caught him and he began to ‘fly’ around, as he body-surfed the crowd.

Someone then noticed a lady in a wedding dress, (this is a Pamplona bullfight, remember!) whereupon he ‘flew’ towards her. The crowd demanded that they kiss, and sure enough...Meanwhile, the bullfighter, Francisco Nuñez, known as ‘Curillo’, was having problems killing the bull, 'Ollero'. So, of course, the crowd began to chant, "Let Superman kill it!" This obviously caused a problem.

To save time, Fernando asked different sections of the crowd if they wanted him to do this, and of course they all did. While all this was happening, Curillo managed to despatch the bull, and for once, it was Superman that was saved! The joke went on after the fight, including a wonderful episode when Fernando popped home to see his mother, who had actually been listening to the commentary on the radio. "It was you! My son".

Later on, a bus driver even joined in on the joke as a scene from the film was recreated, where superman saves a bus and its passengers from plunging into a ravine. ‘Superman’ stopped a local bus in its tracks and ‘lifted’ it up. By his actions with this truly moveable farce, Fernando had created a happy and joyous event, in stark contrast to the tragic events of the year before. Only in Pamplona...

Escape of the Day

As fiesta winds down I just want to say what fun I’ve had doing these little ‘Escape of the Day’ vignettes. They’re not meant to be in depth, obviously, just a personal little guide of mine to some of my favourite places close by. In today’s world with information at your fingertips, it’s all so easy, which is probably a good thing if you need a break from fiesta.

It is a big region, this Navarraland, and there is so much to see and do that you could spend a lifetime and still not see it all. Personally, I am trying to though! So for today’s escape, although I have been there, I haven’t been in them. It’s one I’m saving up. So I’ll just write one word and you can do the rest: Zugarramurdi!
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