Running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.  An exclusive report from the Hemingway Resource Center.



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Hemingway Resource Center>Exclusives>Feature Articles>700 Yards In Hemingway's Shoes by Bob Orlin

The Fiesta of San Fermin, Pamplona's Running of the Bulls has changed since Hemingway first experienced it. Where there were once open doorways and steps that a wayward bull could maneuver, they've put up barricades. Where once a few Spaniards, ne'r do well's, titled Europeans, and ex-patriots ran with the bulls, now there are tourists from all corners of the world. Where before they ran to show off their machismo, or like that Lost Generation, out of boredom, now they mostly run because of Hemingway. But, while many things have changed, just as many have remained the same. The singing of the prayer to Saint Fermin, the all night partying, and the thrill of being pursued through the streets of Pamplona by an animal which, if your luck has gone bad, could maim or even kill you.

The weeks prior to our departure were filled with endless hours of viewing videos of ESPN2's The Running of the Bulls and Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, absorbing myself in the lives of Jake Barnes, and Lady Brett Ashley, with packing squeezed in between.

The day finally arrived.  On the first leg of the trip (Orlando to New York) my wife Debbie and I went over our itinerary. We were going to visit and do everything that Hemingway had. In Madrid, Chicote's Bar (the Fifth Column), Sobrino de Botin (The Sun Also Rises), The Prado to view Hemingway's favorite painting, Andrea del Sarto's Portrait of a woman, and time permitting, a Bullfight. And then aboard the train and onto Pamplona to experience Pamplona itself. The Txoco bar, the Hotel La Perla and the Iruna Cafe, all in the central Plaza del Castillo, the restaurant "Las Pocholas" in the nearby Paseo de Sarasate, the Hotel Yoldi, the Bull fighter's hotel par excellence, the streets of Pamplona and the bullring. Then again we would board the train, this time bound for Paris and a visit to Hemingway's first home, a fourth floor walkup at 74 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, his attic studio at 39 rue descarts, Harry's New York Bar, The Ritz bar, the Cloiserie des Lilas, Brasserie Lipp, La Coupole, and the Hotel de Crillon (more precisely the bar at the Crillon). And finally, at the end of our odyssey, on to Key West and it's Hemingway Days Festival, and on to my quest to become 1999's Papa Look-alike winner.

The second leg of the journey (New York to Madrid) was taken up with re-reading The Sun also Rises.




We arrived at the train station, tired from our whirlwind marathon in Madrid, but stepping onto the station platform was like an amphetamine. I now belonged to that "Lost Generation", no matter that it was some 73 years later.  It was like going back in time for me, Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohen, Mike Campbell, Bill Gorton and Bob Orlin. I couldn't wait to see my old gang�s haunts.

At the Yoldi Hotel we feasted on fried olives, Machegan cheese and Valdepenas wine with the Matadors, Morante de la Puebla, Miguel a Bellan Emilo Munor and Vicente Bejarano, who later that week would be gored in the Plaza de Toros.


The Opening Ceremonies

The "Chupinazo", the rocket signaling that the Fiesta has begun, bursts over your head at noon on the 6th of July and you don your scarves, but the Fiesta started hours before as the crowds in the Town Hall Square doubled and re-doubled every 15 minutes, Champagne, eggs and bags of flour in hand.  As the drinks are consumed so are the revelers, they begin pelting everyone with eggs, shaking champagne bottles and shooting the contents into the crowd and sailing the bags of flour into the air, so that by the time the rocket bursts overhead, everyone is covered in a smelly batter-like substance. 

In less than 24 hours I would be running with the bulls. I thought it was a good time to go over the course, the run I would take and to pick my point of entry before I was too drunk.


The Course

The total distance is just short of 900 meters (about a 1000 yards). Just at the starting line there is a small niche built into the wall which holds a small statue of San Fermin. Here, the runners who are bunched together, sing to the saint: "We ask San Fermin, as our Patron, to guide us through the Bull Run and give us his blessing," to ask his protection just before the bulls are let loose from the pen.

The run starts at the bottom of a sloping street called Santo Domingo. This first stretch, of some 280 meters (293 yards) goes up as far as the Town Hall. The stretch widens as you move into the Ayuntamiento square and onto a short street called Mercaderes. This stretch is about 100 meters long (110 yards). At the end of Mercaderes Street you take a sharp right turn into a street called Estafeta. Estafeta is a long narrow street of some 450 meters (480 yards). Next comes Telefonica. Just in front of the Telephone Exchange, this is a short stretch of about 90 meters (100 yards) which opens out at the end of Estafeta Street and leads to the corral at the entrance to the bull ring. And finally, the Callejon, the narrow corral leading down to the entrance to the Bullring.

I decided on Mercaderes. The Bulls begin to slow down somewhat here because the run is on a bend so the Bulls tend to pull towards the right side of the fence brushing against the sidewalk of the street. Because it's the longest section of fencing along the route, you have a good change of making a quick exit through it. You need to add to your odds when your only defense against an animal in excess of 1000 pound is a rolled up newspaper and Saint Fermin.


The Run

The running of the bulls begins on the 7th of July, and takes place at 8 am. At that time a rocket announces the gates to the Bull pen are open, and a second later all the Bulls are gone. The run lasts 3 1/2 minutes but that's in real time, in emotional time it lasts all day. Hours later your heart is still pounding.

That morning found me at my chosen spot along Mercaderes, indiscernible from the others dressed in white shirt and pants, red scarf and sash and a rolled up newspaper; it was 7:15.  At about 7:30 they start announcing the warnings "Do not run toward the Bulls, or behind them. Do not touch or distract the Bulls. Do not push or elbow other runners. When you enter the Bull ring move quickly to one side and get behind the barriers as soon as possible. And most important of all, if you fall protect your head with your hands and lie still, don't get up until the bulls have passed."

At 7:55 the first prayer to Saint Fermin went up from the crowd of runners, then another at 7:57 and finally the third and last at 7:59. At 8 am the rocket announcing the release of the Bulls exploded overhead and all hell broke loose in front of City Hall Plaza.

It was less than a minute before the Bulls reached my position, a minute that felt both like a lifetime and a split second. Before you even see the Bulls there are signs of their approach, from up high on the balconies comes a rising crescendo of voices and cameras going off, and as the Bulls get closer the sound becomes deafening.  Now mixed with the noise from above, comes the din made from the runners and the Bulls and Steers thundering down on you, and even the sound of your own heart pounding.

I stepped out into the crowd and was off and running.  It began as a run, but after only seconds I was just being pushed along Mercaderes by throngs of people fleeing the horns of the bulls. This lasted only a few seconds as the crowd in front raced up Mercaderes towards the Bull ring.  Now the course opened up, enabling me to slow my pace and wait for the bulls to catch up (which didn't take long).  I felt them more than heard them.  I began to run faster and faster trying to keep ahead of the ever closing tonnage of flesh, horns and hoofs. They had just about caught up to me at the end of Estafeta and were hot on my heels about 60 yards up Telefonica before I bailed out, climbing through the barriers, winded and not able to go another step. I had planned on running maybe 200 yards but surprised myself when later I calculated my run at about 700 yards.

Inside the barriers the Cruz Roja (the Red Cross) was busy administering aide to my fallen compatriots, as I walked back along the barriers I saw the effects of the run.  As you're running your focus is on staying ahead of the bulls and you don't notice what's happening around you, but it sunk in as I walked back and saw the bleeding injured (some from falls and others from the Bull's horns).  I counted myself as one of the lucky ones that Saint Fermin, and maybe even Papa himself, smiled upon that day .





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