I hope North Korea fires its first ICBM directly at the GPS satellite. There is no way I could have gotten to the Pamplona bullring based on its directions. And when the helpful people at the tourist office (conveniently located along the way) pointed me in the right direction, it bore little resemblance to the arrows and insouciant tone of a GPS clearly in the advance stages of dementia.
Even with tourist staff help (could the problem be me?) I walked in circles, until I turned one corner, and there was the bullring in all its radial majesty. I instantly became verklempt. Hemingway was here. Dead drunk.
Hemingway's mug is all over this part of Pamplona. Were he alive today, I'm sure he wouldn’t be able to pay for a drink (same as the old days, when he couldn't). I stood on the corridor where the bulls and the survivors of the run leave the street and enter the arena. At the gate I noticed a table had been set up, and for five euros (senior rate), I had a self-guided tour with audio of arguably the most famous bullring in the world.
The tour begins with a film montage of actual footage of the Encierro, as the ritual of the running is formally known. Hemingway is name -dropped throughout the tour, as he had made several trips to the festival of San Fermin, beyond the one depicted in his debut novel. His last was in 1953, I believe, when he was still in reasonable mental health, and was a year away from the Nobel Prize. I wondered as I looked at the photograph of him in the crowd whether I actually saw some of the vacancy in his gaze that would eventually overtake him in a few short years.
Of the bulls at Pamplona, Hemingway had written:
It was a corrida of Miura bulls in Pamplona. They were enormous roan-colored bulls, high on their legs, long, with huge shoulders and neck muscles and formidable horns. They were the finest-looking bulls I have ever seen and every one of them went on the defensive from the minute they came into the ring. You could not call them cowardly because they defended their lives seriously, desperately, wisely and ferociously, taking up a querencia soon after they came into the ring and refusing to leave it.
The tour of the bullring’s facilities concluded, I took off to walk the street where the bulls ran, following the street all the way down to the pens the bulls had been held prior to fight day. It was hard to imagine I would have ever been so young and stupid to have run this narrow street, chased by raging horns and hooves through areas where there
were no doorways to duck into. Then I thought of alcohol. Ah, now I see me running for my life, uselessly covering my skinny ass with a hat, and crying for my mother. I saw her in a window overlooking the scene, shaking her head and throwing up her hands in resignation.
It took a couple of glasses and a tapas or two before I could settle myself, and give thanks for never having the money, when I was vagabonding back in the 70s, to come to Pamplona.
At least it had finally stopped raining. The
sky was blue, the sun was high, and life was still very, very good.