Our editor, who is on holiday, has asked me to step into the breech to do a little roundup on the years events in Pamplona to accompany Joseph S. Furey’s “excellent” article in the Daily Telegraph magazine today. (We suspect he called it excellent because the article says of him, “Alexander Fiske-Harrison… a stone-cold pragmatist with a poet’s heart.”)
So here, courtesy of our friends at the Diario de Navarra, is the San Fermín news roundup, forgive the pun. (An encierro – the word we translate as ‘bull-run’ – actually translates as ‘enclosure’, ‘corraling’ or… roundup.)
1.4 million people attended the Fiesta that is the feria de San Fermín, an increase of almost 90,000 people on last year (although last year was cold and wet which may explain a lot.) Despite this, the number of recorded complaints to the police were down from 532 to 429.
Despite this increase, which meant that, for example, the number of spectators at the fireworks increased by 14%, the number of runners was down 2.9% to 16,629 overall, 497 less than last year.
The fullest day, Saturday, July 11th saw 2,576 people running, as compared with the fullest day last year, Sunday, July 13th, which had 2,924. According to City Hall, 54% of runners were from outside Spain, of the remainder, 14% were from Navarre, two thirds of them being from Pamplona itself.
This year saw the fastest encierro, which was by the bulls of Don Eduardo and Don Antonio Miura, who covered the 848.6 metres in 2 minutes and 2 seconds, giving them an average speed of 15.56 miles per hour. (It is worth noting that David Rudisha, the holder of the 800m world record – 1 minute 40.9 seconds – averaged 17.73mph. However, he is neither as fast at the beginning nor as slow at the end.)
This year also set another first: on the day there were the most runners in the streets, there were the least bulls in history. A cárdeno oscuro meano – basically ‘dark brown’ – 535kg, 4 year, 10 month old bull called Curioso I (Nº 34.), from the ranch of José Escolar Gil, decided that it didn’t want to run and returned to the corrals alone and had to be later transported by truck.
Despite the fact that there were only ten horns in the street, there were still the most horn wounds of any day – again showing that the people are the issue, not the bulls – with four that day out of the total ten this year, along with 42 other hospitalisations. (Newspapers like the Chicago Tribune should fire which ever staffer writes articles saying there were none.
This still makes it a remarkably clean year which owes a great deal to the courage and skill of the pastores, ‘herdsmen’, who run in their green polo shirt with their long ash canes, and also the efficacy of the police.
Editor’s [pedantic] Note [from his email]: Please remember to say the pastores’ canes are ash. People keep writing that they are willow or bamboo, which is completely wrong. The canes are made from the common ash tree, Fraxinus excelsior, for the historic reason that that is what the lances used before the canes were made from. ‘Ash’ is Old English for spear, just as ‘Fraxinus’ is in Latin, from which they Spanish word for the wood, fresno, derives.
Speaking of police, under the new system of fines, 9 were issued this year: 3 for attempting to film or photograph the encierro from within, 1 for running towards the animals, 2 for citing the bull to charge, 2 for touching the cattle and 1 for blocking the exit of other runners through the barriers.
This brings us on to our concluding point. It should be obvious that the current asinine habit of photographing and filming oneself doing everything from having breakfast to actually dying had to be countered by an increased vigilance by the police within the encierro: people focusing on their phone have added a third entity to their field of focus when their should be only two – Where are the bulls? Where are the other people? – and as a result, things like the below happen. I believe this young American man lost his spleen.
However, it is easy for policing to go too far. On the second day of Pamplona’s encierros this year, a policeman came over to Joe Distler before the bulls were released to give him a fine incurred the day before for standing on the same spot on calle Estafeta, next its corner with calle Mercaderes, as he has for the past few years. He is in sleeveless red in the photo below. As you can also see, he forms no obstruction to other runners nor distraction to the bulls, something which none other than Miguel Reta, the pastor for that section of the encierro, and a breeder of bulls himself, pointed out.
If you don’t know who Joe Distler is, his attachment to and commitment to the encierros of Pamplona are explained by one simple fact. He first came to Pamplona in 1967 after reading Robert Daley’s Swords Of Spain, missed 1968, and then returned to run in 1969, met Matt Carney and began running with him, and didn’t miss another encierro until 2013. There is a big thing in Pamplona about the democratic nature of the run – runners are not toreros, they do not wear gold and lead their team and have their faces on posters, there is no escalafón – leader’s board – of runners nor any remuneration. In one of our editor’s commentaries for NBC’s Esquire Network, on which the running of the bulls is televised in the United States, he spoke half-jokingly off this. (Madrid-born runner David Ubeda had earlier that day been seen adjusting – ‘doffing’ – his trademark cap while running on the horns of a bull.)
However, it is worth pointing out that Joe Distler ran on the horns of the bulls, leading the herd, for practically all of his three and a half hundred or so mornings, usually alongside his friend and mentor Matt Carney, and often with Pamplonicas like Atanasio and Miguel Ángel Eguiluz. A few photos over the years are shown below.
To try to fine a runner of that experience for being a danger in the encierro is… well… one is reminded of the famous case of the then Formula One World Champion, Alain Prost, who was stopped and charged with speeding on a French motorway. Prost had been caught in his Porsche 911 Turbo driving at 230 km/h on roads with a speed limit of 130km/h. The sentencing judge, clearly both a reasonable man and a fan, summed up the trial with the following memorable words:
“I realise M’sieur Prost that at 230 kilometres per hour you are safer than every driver in France at 30, but the law insists I fine you – so I will fine you 10 francs.”
(Which was worth £1 or $1.50 at the time.)
So, despite the chaos they create crossing the border on Bastille Day weekend, perhaps Pamplona has something to learn from the French after all…
P.S. If you want to read a similar ‘Bullfighting Roundup’, go to The Last Arena here.