Monday, July 23, 2012


Saint Fermin isn't a patron of the arts. His cloak protects against close calls, and I have plenty of those. And look what he did for Hemingway. Maybe he'll be willing to help another Ernest write a novel.

Luckily, in this day and age, I don't have to actually go to Pamplona. The interwebs have provided ways for me to take in the the fiesta and still be there for my shift at my day job. I am a Walter Mitty of the Information Age.

PETA's pre-fiesta protests were disappointing again. Gone are the days when they were like the climax to surrealistic, sadomasochistic spaghetti westerns. They brought back exposed breasts, but kept the black loincloths. And I noticed fewer participants. I would be sad if this tradition faded away.

Crowds getting out of control caused the Riau-Riau, a march of Pamplona city officials, to be canceled due to a near riot triggered by orgiastic behavior – women riding on men's shoulders, breasts shown and touched – after the opening Tuxpinazo rocket launch: the Tuxpinazo begins a high that for many people will last the whole week, according to

Attempts to ban fountain jumping did not curtail the dangerous activity. Some traditions can't be stopped.

In the first encierro, a bull hooked a man's shirt and bandana, dragging him for 39 meters. It was like an old-fashioned men's adventure magazine story.

On the second day the bulls from Miura – infamous for killing matadors (one killed Manolete) – did a badass run, though there were no injuries. There were injuries during other encierros.

There were runners with cameras strapped to their heads, though I haven't seen any of their videos online yet. More women are running. And people of color. Also folks with gray and while hair. One guy had a red turban.

More and more, I see the aspects of a religious ritual: Some runners jump up and down like pogoing punk rockers while waiting for the bulls, while others sing to the effigy of Saint Fermin. There is a strong compulsion to touch the bulls, and run with a hand on the bulls back or holding a horn. Pagan bull worship is alive and well.

Some people cower in the awesome presence of the bulls. At the beginning of the encierro, you see them, hesitating, deciding not to run, or letting the bulls pass and running behind them. One guy with a camera strapped to his head froze, his mouth open, hands shaking beside his face as a horn cut by him. Others fell and curled into fetal position. Another crawled and tried to hide behind the legs of people who were frozen with terror, leaning against a wall.

I don't think any less of these folks. Here in the artificial environments of 21st century civilization, we lose touch with nature, forget what it can be like and how powerful it is. These people may have gotten scared, but they got face-to-face with the Beast. I congratulate them.

The final day was dominated by Juan José Padilla, back from having lost an eye when he was gored in the face. Now he wears an eyepatch. El Ciclón de Jerez now flies the skull and crossbones. He kills magnificently without binocular vision. The crowds treat him like a saint who was resurrected from the dead.

Gracias, San Fermín. I am inspired. The sci-fi/dystopian ideas are raging across my synapses.

It's all about crowd control. Which is mind control writ large. Which is what religion is all about. Politics, too.

That's dangerous territory. And that's where I need to be.

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