Friday 12 June 2015

Ernest Hemingway's "Pamplona in July"

A tranquil, sun baked town for 51 weeks of the year, tourists descend on Pamplona in July.  Hotels are booked, the cobblestone streets are filled, the restaurants are ready.  Every morning for seven days, six bulls, urged on by thousands of adults, will run half a mile through Pamplona's streets on their way to the bullfighting ring.

The Running of the Bulls is a tradition which dates back to 1592 when the locals would honour Saint Fermin by herding six bulls through the narrow streets from the corral to the bullfighting ring.  The local tradition became global when writer Ernest Hemingway visited the town in 1926 and wrote a famous essay about the experience "World's Series of Bullfighting:  A Mad, Whirling Carnival".  Three years later, the essay was published in The Sun Also Rises.

Americans, and others, became curious about "Europe's most dangerous tradition".  They flocked to the Spanish town to participate in the party.  They wanted to know all about the festival that Ernest Hemingway described in such detail in his essay.  They wanted to experience the thrill of running with the bulls; the thrill of the mass of humanity spilling through the streets of the Spanish town.  The less adventurous tourists could stand on the balconies above the streets, at a safe distance from the snarling beasts.

A 2011 survey estimated that over 20,000 people ran with the bulls in Pamplona.  To date, thirteen people have been gored by the bulls and one person was trampled.  But tourists continue to fill Pamplona's streets every July.

Here is an excerpt from Hemingway's essay (

"Really beautiful girls, gorgeous, bright shawls over their shoulders, dark, dark-eyed black laced mantillas over their hair walk with their escorts in the crowds that pass from morning until night along the narrow walk that runs between inner and outer belts of the cafe tables under the shade of the arcade out of the white glare of the Plaza de la Constitucion.  All day and all night there is dancing in the streets.  Bands of blue shirted peasants whirl and lift and swing behind a drum, fife and reed instruments in the ancient Basque Riau-Riau dances.  And at night there is the throb of the big drums and the military band as the whole town dances in the great open square of the plaza."

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