When in Pamplona....
by John Marr
For 51 weeks of the year, Pamplona is a sleepy provincial capitol in northern Spain. But in the remaining week, all hell breaks loose for the Festival of San Fermin. Population doubles as visitors from all over the world descend upon the town for eight days of sangria-soaked revelry.
The eight-day festival is best known for the "running of the bulls," immortalized by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. Each morning, the six bulls for the evening's fights run through the streets toward the ring in the center of town. Accompanying them are about a thousand brave, insane, or simply drunk runners. This brisk morning jog is not without its hazards: on the average, one runner is gored and several others butted or trampled every morning. And that's when the bulls behave; when they get frisky, several dozen runners end up in the hospital.
This year, the city fathers printed a booklet with safety rules in six languages. It may not make the running of the bulls just an exotic workout, but hopes are that at least it will reduce the carnage due to stupidity.
Participants must be over 18 years of age
Teenagers might get away with it (it's not as though they're carding) but officials put their collective foot down last year about age restrictions when a few women showed up to run with babes in arms.
If you are not running, do not block the front fence or the space between the fences. These areas are needed by the runners
There's nothing like trying to take shelter from 1,000 pounds of enraged fighting bull, only to be blocked by some clown who wants a ringside seat.
Do not wait for the release of the bulls in house doorways, on corners, or in shops and bars
Every once in a while, instead of running in the middle of a street like a good bull, one will decide to "clean the wall," running his horns along the buildings on one side of the street and sending any loiterers flying like ninepins.
Do not overcrowd house balconies.
As if the runners have enough to worry about without spectators falling from the skies. In 1992, a 20-year old Miami woman broke her ankle falling out of a tree.
Do not run if you are not fit. You will be a danger to yourself and others.
In 1969, a man who made the mistake of running with his arm in a cast took a tumble and wound up skewered on a bull's horn and smashed into a wall. And as the run attracts more and more tourists going through mid-life crisis, it's only a matter of time before the course claims its first heart-attack victim.
Do not carry anything when you run.
Runners have attempted to tote everything from cameras to 5-kilo garlands of garlic, all of which have a distressing tendency to go flying when the bulls catch up with them.
Remember that it is impossible to run the whole course. Choose the stretch you plan to run ahead of time. Do not cross or stop in front of other runners.
The bulls do the 800-yard course in about three minutes. That's not bad for a runner on a flat track, but this route is winding, hilly, and crowded. Runners who miscalculate get caught in the crush at the bullring entrance just ahead of the bulls. One slip means chaos; people have been asphyxiated, trampled, or simply gored as the bulls have plowed through the human pileup.
Do not run towards the bulls or behind them.
There is a contingent of hard-core, mostly Spanish, runners who actually dash towards the bulls at the start of the run, only to pivot and reverse field at (hopefully) the last minute. This quaint tradition goes a long way towards explaining why virtually all fatalities have been Spanish.
Do not challenge, touch, or otherwise distract the bulls. This can be fatal.
In 1985, an American who made the mistake of trying to lure a rogue bull away from a crowd wound up with a horn in his butt. But the occasional tourist who plays matador by waving a towel faces bigger problems. If the bulls don't get him, the police, spectators, and runners surely will, as this spoils the bulls for the evening's fights.
Do not push or elbow the other runners.
The most widely flouted rule. As the half-dozen fighting bulls bear down on a pack of runners, niceties like this are the last things on anyone's mind. People push, shove, and elbow each other, adhering to the overriding law of Pamplona: survival.
If you fall during the running, protect your head with your hands and lie still until all the bulls have passed
Sudden motion attracts undue bovine attention, turning a simple trampling into a major goring. Matthew Tassio, a 22-year-old American college student, made the mistake of violating this one in 1995. After getting decked by one bull, a second one gored him as he tried to get up. He was the first foreigner killed in the history of the festival.
When you are inside the bullring, move quickly to one side and get behind the barriers as soon as possible.
The occasional bull that is not quite ready to go into the pen can have a field day in the ring, tossing people right and left. One veteran of the 1990 run described it like this: "...people lifted off the ground, flung away like rag dolls, dashed to the ground, and trampled." As a young Hemingway wrote in 1923, "It's the Pamplona tradition of giving the bulls a final shot at everyone in town before they enter the pens."
Do not touch any wounded runners. Leave this to the health workers.
After 600 years of the festival, Pamplona has the first aid part down pat. 200 medical workers are strategically stationed along the coursegored runners can be on the operating table in minutes. And Spanish doctors know their puncture wounds. One American felt he had sufficiently recovered from his goring by the end of the week, so much so that he snuck out of the hospital and ran with the bulls on the last day of the festival. </end>
John Marr is the editor of Murder Can Be Fun. He lives in San Francisco.
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