In Pamplona at the moment, we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the publication of Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises (a.k.a. Fiesta).
There are several activities organised, and a large exhibition in the Plaza del Castillo of photos from when he visited Pamplona – of him, and taken by him and his friends.
Some of the places he stayed are still here, under different names to those used in the novel, some have changed.
It was interesting to see that Heminway, though he never ran with the bulls himself, did get gored by a baby cow, which they release in the plaza after the encierro.
I was struck by a quote they have printed on one of the posters, which he wrote to a friend: “Pamplona is the most enjoyable place you’ve ever seen.” It was true then and it’s true now.
And my good friend JD Martins would agree.
Have you had One Night in Pamplona?
In the thick of the festival of San Fermines now.
A couple of dangerous and incident-filled bull runs the last two days. Reminds us that this is not a joke, and it reminded many of us of the way the bull runs used to be – before anti-slip coatings and better street surfaces.
I’ve been busy with kids and having meals with friends on our street, and have only gotten to see the fire works once, the bull runs on the telly, and haven’t been near the bull ring yet. It reminds me of a poem I wrote during my first San Fermin festival – exactly 20 years ago (my mother-in-law was astounded when I told her we met that long ago!).
Lines Written in Pamplona
I have held my red bandana aloft,
Tied it round my neck
And worn it proudly:
Opened champagne at noon;
Held a candle at midnight.
Sung and danced and drank and walked and watched
And smiled in between.
But to experience San Fermin;
You need to have no need for sleep,
A body unaffected by alcohol,
The pulling power of James Bond,
The stamina and sperm count of a bull;
A bottomless stomach, to hold all there is to taste,
The ability to float above the crowds, so dense;
Yes, that was in the days when you could take a bottle into the packed Plaza Consistorial – and I was a young man!
Now I spend the afternoons doing thinks like bringing my kids up on the big wheel and having a picnic as the heat of the day dies down.
And another poem, before my first ever San Fermin lunch, of which my son just shared his first ever this year – he’s 7 months.
Lines Written in a Spanish Home
A stranger sitting at a Spanish table,
Eating things he never thought of
In ways he never knew,
Listening to the lunchtime
Talk of the household,
In another language he does not know;
But understanding something of the banter,
Wishing he could speak;
If, he could
Live like this.
Things are all set here in Pamplona for this year’s famed “running of the bulls” festival.
The barriers which will keep the bulls from the public on their way through the town are in place, the TV cameras are set up along the route, the stages are constructed in various plazas.
La Plaza del Castillo, with San Fermin figures over the band stand and the stage ready for concerts.
Bull Run Barriers along Santa Domingo and the Town Hall square, with some tourists taking in the scene.
Today is the day of the Peñas. This afternoon we were treated to a parade of giants, and this weekend many folk are getting a head start on the carousing. I’ll hear how hard the party is later tonight as the stragglers stagger home past my bedroom balcony.
Giants dancing along Calle Estafeta.
The corner of Mercaderes and Estafeta will have bulls rather than giants taking the corner come Thursday morning.
I’ve written about the fiesta before, but a few things are worth mentioning this year –
The new city council have taken the pains to put recycling dumpsters in place as the replace the vacuum refuse disposal system for the festival, which is a great thing for the environment, considering the enormous tonnage of trash produced during the festival.
They have also decided to spray hydrophobic pain on the walls of many streets to discourage the out of hand urination that takes place – believe me, I’ve seen some stuff, and it’s just ridiculous, so I hope it’s a help, so when we walk through the town with our kids in the morning, we’re not jumping streams of urine.
And as one of the characters says – if you want to run with the bulls, you have to stay more than one night. Study the route, figure out where you want to run, read about it, watch the videos of the previous runs, and get to bed early the night before. It’s no joke. You wouldn’t want your One Night in Pamplona to be your last night on the planet.
The heat here disappeared and a storm saw the start of the school year last night but the next festival in Pamplona is already setting up…
The city of Pamplona used to be divided into three Burgos. This is mine.
The celebration of the privilge of the union of these three (592 years ago) takes place on the 8th of Sept. Small San Fermin, or San Fermin txikito takes place at the end of September.
For me, September started with dental surgery, but I’ll save you the photos of that…
Anyway, ’twas a good summer.
Apart from sitting on the beach and visiting home, I watched three seasons of Mad Men, read half of MR James’s Ghost stories, and all of Lonesome Dove, wrote a novella, and almost all of a novel (still not ready for submission, albeit) I put on a few kilos, saw several species of raptors every day and a few foxes and roe deer around, but got few decent photos, made a saw horse (as well as cut and constructed a few walls of logs) and mounted a headboard in the village house.
What I haven’t done is write many blog posts, but I hope to rectify that this autumn..
I did scribbled a few more poems, one about mountain biking, which I didn’t do enough of this year, really – sticking to my desk instead.
Here are a few more of these…. two are inspired by having a child ask the questions we never got good answers to in our day… at least I didn’t.
Along Hallowed Paths
Old friends we seldom saw
Except in photos or in a bar,
But who shared a hobby, such as
Biking or hiking, where we are alone,
Never enter our thoughts upon the
Mountain; only when we return to recount.
However, now they are gone from those
Groups in the bar relating their days in
The saddle, their face comes to mind any time
We sit upon a mountain bike, it seems,
Every crazy climb and mental descent,
Every path picked over rocks and
Gravel track or long asphalt road
Through fields and forests
Is hallowed ground.
Dogs don’t go to Heaven
They told me dogs don’t go to Heaven.
If so, then much less the wolf,
Nor would the fleet deer flee.
If there are no dogs allowed,
Then neither birds nor bumblebees
Enter, I’m sure. Who visits flowers, then?
None need, for they are also absent.
Mountains there are equally bare
Of the forest that covers the one before me.
When they tell me of Heaven, I can hardly
Imagine how the water flows and falls there,
Or why one would swim in the wide blue sea
Without a fish to see.
They tell me
Dogs don’t go to heaven, so I’ve decided
That’s not somewhere I’d for ever want to be.
Thoughts on Obvious Questions Reappearing as a Parent
Why did Cinderella have to go home by midnight anyway?
What kind of fairy godmother gives a taste only to take away?
Was it because young ladies do not linger out all night?
Yet for the rest the party was in full swing when she took flight.
Control and strict rule sets of the time seems to be at base,
For readers to learn early how a suitor should give chase
And girls be given freedom only in small doses, lest
They reject the men who’d take them and clutch it to their chest.
The Poplars and the Church Tower
The church tower of Olleta has stood five centuries
In the fork between the river and the gulley;
The row of poplar trees four fewer, but for forty
Years now have stood a few feet taller; a monument
Of Nature making the village square shadier.
But they won’t stand longer,
For they’re coming down this week;
Some to make room for renovations to the church wall,
Lest it fall in ruins – after all, ’twasn’t built to last this long –
And the rest to return the view
Of the sun-drenched sandstone
From before it was shielded by such tall trees;
Proving man prefers to gaze upon
The wonder of his own creation.
Sometimes it feels like a nuisance, as a writer, to be a poet too.
So many hours can go by just making some short poems as perfect as I can make them…
But you can’t escape the way the writing comes.
Here are a selection of this summer’s work…
The Weight of Centuries
From the hilltop, the plain extends into haze,
A mosaic of mixed farming and forests
Even against the noise of the swish of
Windmills, the insects persist, cicadas trill, drill
Butterflies flutter across this pre-alpine meadow
Which has persisted despite pine plantations
Roads cut into the red earth
I sit on a fallen stone wall on which so many days have stretched,
Spying small valleys into which vineyards have been etched
And I feel the weight of centuries.
I have returned from my homeland to my adopted home
And wonder now where to take my holidays.
I watch tourists of my same shade trail past
This terrace exploring the old town of Pamplona,
Its small cobbled streets, of which I live in the thick.
It’s a privilege to drink this beer here, in holiday clothes
With nothing to do but write and raise my child, and
While aware this is my own particular “first world problem,”
I wish still to somehow, for some days, “get away from it all.”
The ultimate experience of
A walk into the wilderness
For most – that stroll in swimsuit
Along the surf alone
While the family builds sandcastles,
Untethered to anyone – is now tainted
By the telephone taken along.
Last Bastions for All to Admire
The last bastions of utter luxury
And we can look upon them
What it must have been like
Who were able to enjoy them
Before the rest of us arrived
Upon the sand.
In an Old Farmyard
Sun warms a wall, formerly whitewashed,
Now sand blasted to expose the beauty of
Raw stone and soft mortar in irregular mosaic.
Similar pillars stand centuries, supporting
Painted red gates that seldom open upon
A lane left to the birds and other wildlife,
Now a road to nowhere in time, like byres
And empty stables into which swallows
Still swoop to suspended nests of soil through
Slit windows, simply monuments to former toil.
At the Waterfall
Waterfall echoes white noise,
Breeze whispers through oaks.
Observing butterfly lawn,
Lounging on picnic blanket
Under piebald white and blue sky,
But unable to block out banal
Banter and utter bollox of
The barbequing family
Who parked their car beside us.
I’ll Take the Moon
Over festivals all very stimulating,
With curves as wonderful as any in creation
During a night as long as stars can sustain,
A concert of the songs of our
Latest pandemic’s potentially greatest loss,
A spectacle of lights and dazzling objects,
I’ll take the moon,
Rising orange in third quadrant
Past the Pyrenees.
Pamplona is gearing up for the Fiesta, the annual festival of “the running of the bulls,” made internationally famous when Ernest Hemingway set his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises – also called Fiesta – there. The 8 day homage to San Fermin kicks off on the 6th, and the city is preparing for the influx of tourists from every other corner of Spain and the earth. The giant big wheel is in place, the funfair setting up, temporary bathrooms have been trucked in, the carpenters are fixing the barriers along the streets in preparation for the stampede, fences are being placed around decorative park gardens and potentially dangerous city walls, bars and shops are stocking up on booze and grub, as are citizens, and, most importantly, the access permit for my car to drive through the pedestrianised old town has arrived!
As a writer, writing in the English language, and living in Pamplona, – probably the only one (and if there are more, hit me up and lets start a group!), I suppose I am to a certain extent expected, if not actually obliged, to mention the festival that is about to kick off here, which Papa made so famous all those years ago.
As a fan of Hemingway, I am delighted to live here, and to be able to experience the festivals each year, and in perfect comfort, too – anyone who’s been here will have seen the extremes that some visitors go to, sleeping rough in the parks, if they sleep at all. While I don’t have views of the Encierro route, I have friends who do and usually get an invite once a year, and I live just a hundred yards from the Hotel Perla where he used to stay, and I’m sure he strolled past my door back in the day, when there were horses stabled downstairs from my apartment. I have written I’ve written poems and parts of my novels in the cafe Iruña, where he wrote himself, and I am actually writing this post sitting in the Hemingway corner of said café, though I usually write at home nowadays.
I was a fan of Hemingway even before ever visiting Pamplona, and it was exciting to follow in his footsteps. He did a lot of things that I like to do, too. I am not a good angler, I must confess, and war holds no attraction to me in any way shape or form, nor do I wish to have more than one wife, and of course I hope to be in control of my suicidal tendencies as a pensioner. But I like to fish, to hunt, to travel. I had read most of his novels and stories before moving to Madrid years ago, and Death in the Afternoon helped me understand the reason why I was fascinated by the bullfights. I also love to write, of course, though I have long since stopped trying to write a sentence like him. I have my style and it’s basically splurting words and hoping the editor doesn’t want to cut too many. One of these extra bits that will probably get cut, is a tangential short story I invented as part of a novel, Five Days on Ballyboy Beach, which will be published later this year. It concerns the hero, who had come to the festivals with a friend to run in front of the bulls, finding the experience both frightening and exciting – a ludicrous enterprise to be taking part in yet at the same time impossible to pass up, or leave once entered upon.
But of course, most people who go to Pamplona and even those who run the bulls don’t feel such sensations because they are too drunk to realise the danger they are in (and the drunks still get in among the throngs of runners despite the efforts of the police to prevent them – they might not be falling down, but they wouldn’t get into the driver’s seat of a car…) or just too ignorant to know that is going on. I could tell stories of the idiocy I’ve seen, but there will only be more this year.
There are two things that are clear to me living here year round, and having attended more fiestas than Hemingway ever got to. One is that if Hemingway never came here, he’d still have written the Sun also Rises. It would have had some other festival as the setting – but Pamplona is, at the end, fairly incidental to the story; he could have set it in any other festival in Spain or stayed in Paris just as easily, and it would have been just as good a novel.
And if Hemingway never came here I’d still be living here. I’d still be a great fan, still love the bullfights, but my wife would still be from here, and I’d still have fallen in love with her, and our life’s journey would still have pointed us back here to settle our family. I’d just enjoying more locally -focused festivals every July.
Don’t get me wrong: Pamplona is a lovely town, and San Fermin is the best party on the planet. I encourage everyone to come at least once. But if it wasn’t so famous the locals might be able to actually run with the bulls instead of battle with the throngs of tourists on a one-day trip to stand like sheep on the street dressed in a stupid t-shirt the tour company game them while the bulls go by… (Full disclosure: I only ran once and don’t intend to run again, and you can enjoy the festivals immensely without ever even smelling a bull never mind seeing one.)
And if you are coming to town this summer – whether for San Fermin or on your way along the Camino de Santiago – then let me know and look me up. I’m the guy who cycles round town (seemingly too fast, but it’s all under control, folks) with the WWF (don’t forget they get 10% of my royalties!) stickers on the back of the child seat! I won’t be cycling much during the fiesta (when you see the crowds you’ll see why), but there’s a black and white cover of Leaving the Pack on my building… If you have Leaving the Pack on your ipad or whatever, I’ll give you a signed cover (3×5″)postcard, and you can buy me a beer!