Okay, so this past weekend I went to Pamplona for the running of the bulls. I know that this is quite polarizing and lot of people, my friends and family included, are completely opposed to it.
In all honesty, I was quite apprehensive about the whole thing myself.
The reason I decided to go, was because I didn’t feel comfortable having an opinion about something I;
1. Knew very little about.
2.Hadn’t experienced firsthand.
I also wanted to understand why this particular occasion was so important in Spanish culture.
What most people don’t realise is that the festival is held to honour St Fermin, the patron Saint of Pamplona. It’s a week-long celebration, which has run uninterrupted since 1592. As per my understanding the tradition came to be because of two factors. The first is because San Fermin is said to have been martyred at the age of 31, when he was tied to a bull and dragged through the streets of Pamplona. The second is because of local routine. Farmers herded their bulls, using tactics of fear and excitement to hasten the process, to slaughter through the streets of Pamplona. Witnessing this, youngsters would often try and show off their bravado by running in front of the moving bulls – eventually the craze caught on and thus the birth of The Running of the Bulls.
The festival only gained popularity internationally because of Ernest Hemmingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises”. I’m told that Hemmingway’s writings romanticize the whole affair and I’m keen to have a read of his work, because there was very little that was pleasant about the proceedings.
For the most part, what I witnessed was one big party. I camped 30 minutes outside of Pamplona, with about 1400 other people, and woke up at 4.30am daily to be ready for the day’s festivities. As partying continued until around 3am, sleep and sobriety were two very vacant concepts.
Each day the bull run began at 8am. Hordes of people from around the world gathered to spectate and participate in the run. Who would willingly risk their lives to take part in such a thing, you ask? A lot of people. I don’t have actual figures for you, but by my estimation at least 150-200 people per day actually ran. Since 1910 (which is when the records began) 15 people have died, but hundred are injured annually. In order for a victim to qualify as a death due to the festival, the participant actually has to be pronounced dead on the streets that the run takes place on.
So, you could die in a nearby hospital, but not become a statistic for the Running of the Bulls, which leads me to believe that the mortality rate is actually a lot higher.
Whilst I was there, one participant was speared through the lung (narrowly missing his heart), and another through the scrotum (ouch). Ask me if I have any sympathy for the people who get injured, go on, ask me.
Nope. Nada. Zilch. Not even a single fibre of me feels any sort of compassion for these, for lack of a better word, idiots.
You know who I do feel for though? The bulls. I’m not opposed to the run. What I do feel sick about is what happens afterwards.
The same six bulls that are herded through the streets of Pamplona during the run, are later slaughtered in front of a crowd of thousands. At the bull fights, a “courageous” matador takes on a worn out, exhausted, debilitated bull in front of a roaring crowd. Soooo brave, right?
Once the bull is almost dead, the Mayor decides whether the matador’s efforts have proven valiant enough to award them either one or two of the bull’s ears.
The matador then proceeds to cut off the ears of the dying bull and celebrate his victory, all whilst thousands of people cheer wildly.
Needless to say, I couldn’t bring myself to attend the arena.
I wanted to observe the event objectively, and I’m positive that I didn’t achieved this, because I’m sure you can all tell exactly how I felt about it.
I did speak to someone who had a different point of view, for which I am thankful.
This is Sam.
Sam showing me the six bulls to be slaughtered later that day
Sam is from California.
This is the second time he has attended San Fermin’s feast and he loves it. He was genuinely excited to tell me about why he found the whole thing so fascinating.
Sam is by no means a monster. Oddly enough, he actually owns an animal hospital and cares deeply for them.
When I asked Sam how he could possibly enjoy such an event, he simply replied “we are a part of history”. Sam believes that the running of the bulls wont be around for much longer and that one day, we’ll all have a sense of pride in being able to say “yep, I was there”.
I can identify with this belief. There’s a sense of exclusivity in witnessing something that many wont be able to, and, although I didn’t enjoy it and I won’t be likely to attend again, I’m glad I was there.