Monday, July 14, 2008

El Doble

Yesterday was the 84th anniversary of the first recorded death in an encierro during the Fiesta de San Fermin. Esteban Domeño was mortally wounded by a bull in Calle Estafeta and I know about this not because I’m any sort of historian of these tragic events but because of a chance encounter I had.

I was walking down Calle Estafeta towards the curve and had stopped to look at something in one of the stores when my friend, Josep Molina, tapped me on the shoulder and said that there were two filmmakers up ahead that I should meet. It was eleven o’clock and I had already done three interviews that morning but Josep promised me that this had nothing to do with the press or photo ops. They had an interesting idea, he said.

Sergio Oksman and Carlos Muguiro, in fact, were shooting a film about my grandfather and had been inspired by a photograph taken just moments before Domeño’s death in Calle Estafeta. In the photo another young man, Pablo Guerendiain, has been wounded by the bulls and is lying in a fetal position just in front of the store that his father owned. At the same time all this was happening, and just out of the picture, my grandfather was probably watching the bulls and the runners from the balcony of his room in the Hotel La Perla. It was where he stayed when he came to Pamplona and while no one can prove that he was actually there that morning, Ernest had a talent for always finding the best place to be, whatever the occasion, and you really couldn’t find a better observation post than a balcony on the second floor of the Hotel La Perla.

The film then explores the idea of the “double” or what normally lies beyond our field of vision and how often in life what we can’t see, the hidden part of our existence, is as interesting and important as what we do see. In this case we have two young men who compliment each other, Pablo Guerendiain, immobilized and looking at nothing as he prays that any remaining bulls will ignore him, and Ernest Hemingway looking at Pablo and taking in the rush of events that would leave another young man dead on the cobblestones.

Sergio and Carlos sent me a treatment of their story and as I read it and looked at the photograph that had inspired them I thought that it had a lot to do with Ernest’s theory of writing, i.e. that ninety percent of any tale lies just below of what you can see. It is the hidden element of our day to day existence, the unconscious undertow of emotions and events that pulls us along. It is something that we rarely see and when we do we are shocked to have it there in front of us, this shadow of ourselves, a true reflection of who we are.

My memoir, Strange Tribe, from this point of view is another examination of ones “doubles”. I needed to understand my father Gregory and what had gone on between him and my grandfather before I was born (outside of my field of vision), to see how their battle had impacted on my own life. I needed to see clearly the tragic story of two men who were so similar and who loved each other so much that they reached a point where communication was impossible. A family history that perhaps isn’t so different from many others, universal in its own way.

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