Friday, July 11, 2008

Interview with Basque television

Another interview from Eitb24, the Basque television network in Pamplona, describing my visit to the city. In it I watch the Procesión de San Fermin from a balcony, and then pay a visit to the Casino above the Cafe Iruña where the artist/impresario Mikel Urmeneta welcomed me to Pamplona and offered me one of his new creations, a drink made with frozen wine, Coca Cola and carbonated candy poppers! The drink is called Kulumuchu and is served in a chilled lemon peel. Afterwards we paid our respects to my bronze abuelo in the bar El Rincón de Hemingway. It's a great likeness of Ernest (and a great bar, for that matter) and well worth investigating.

Entrevista en El País

Here's an interview that I did with the Madrid daily "El País". The reporter (Quino Petit) and I talked about the morning's encierro, my impression of Pamplona and the Fiesta and about my book, Strange Tribe.

Ernest was not your grandmother!

I did quite a few interviews while I was in Pamplona. Another fellow member of the Peña de los Gatos did the organizing, but after the first few on television started to come out everyone else, it seemed, wanted a piece of the action and my appointments at that point started to snowball.

One of the side effects of all this media attention was that towards the end of my stay people started to recognize me on the street, which for me was very unusual. Here in Montreal where I live my anonymity “es total”, but in Pamplona people would stop me on the street or in bars and want to shake my hand or offer me “un buen scotch como gustaba al abuelo”.

Me with a bronze statue of my grandfather Ernest at Cafe Iruna in Pamplona
Photo by Jonathan Knowles

Then there were those who weren’t so convinced. One guy in particular, who had certainly had more than his fair share of gin and tonics, saw me while I was having a drink with some friends and told me point blank as he held his glass level with my nose “El Grande Ernest no era tu abuela!” (the great Ernest was not your grandmother). “Tienes razón” I told him (you’re right), “He was my grandfather.” At which point he started to laugh and gave me a big bear hug.

All of this reminds me that one of the most beautiful things about San Fermin is the people themselves. The warmth and general good cheer that you feel there is immense. And while nothing is perfect, I had heard of fights and two of my friends were pick-pocketed, on the whole it was a great experience.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dos Mundos

Even if you’re not into Corrida, the bullfights in Pamplona are a must. In fact, you don’t have to be an aficionado, or an expert in the use of the muleta or a partisan of the tremendistas, to understand what’s going on up in the stands. The Fiesta may be a party for everyone but that doesn’t mean that the political and social divisions of this beautiful town cease to exist for a week. On the contrary, in the Plaza de Toros the uneasy war of nerves between the left (mostly Basque) and the right continues in the cheap seats of the Sol Tenidas and the much more expensive areas in the shade, or Sombra. The well to do of Pamplona sit in the Sombra and many of them are serious fans of bullfighting, pious Catholics, and politically conservative. They believe in their King and a united Spain and if they were Americans they probably would have voted for Bush.
Those in the Sol seats wouldn’t have anyone to vote for this year in America, or any year, for that matter. They’re anarchists at heart and they love to mock, ridicule and/or disturb the powers that be whenever they get the chance. Most of them belong to a peña, a kind of social group, which during the Fiesta morphs into a serious partying machine with its own band, songs and subversive banners. The peñas are enormous, mobile entertainment brigades and when they go to the bullfights they bring their bands and food and wine and the area that they occupy becomes a vibrant sea of music and color.

Fiesta is a time when everyone can truly express themselves and if that means creatively and, often times, humorously thumbing your nose at power and the people who oppressed your fathers and grandfathers, then you can do that in Pamplona, at least once a year, every year, in the second week of July.

Monday, July 7, 2008

El Encierro

La Fiesta es un deporte por hombres valientes! Without a doubt La Fiesta is not for the faint of heart. Stamina, and industrial quantities of it are required. It just doesn’t stop and eventually the moment of truth, in this case “siesta” hits everyone. People fall asleep wherever they are and stay that way until their body has dealt with the liquor or fatigue and they pick up again where they left off as if nothing were.

This morning I watched the Encierro, or running with the bulls, from an apartment that had a great view of the Plaza Consistorial. From there I could see thousands of young men and women waiting for their collective appointment with destiny or even, perhaps, with death.

Every now and then a bull will kill a runner. It doesn’t happen that often, but I’m sure that the potential risk is one of the major attractions of this event. I don’t know if my grandfather ever actually ran in an Encierro, but whether or not he did, it’s certainly thanks to him and his novel, The Sun Also Rises, that so many runners still see it as a “must do.”

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Gora San Fermin!!!

Feliz San Fermines, or Gora San Fermini, as the Basques say! The Fiesta has begun and I have to say that it is a party like no other on the face of the Earth. I was lucky enough to stand just under the balcony of the beautiful baroque looking building where the mayor traditionally opens the Fiesta. It was a good vantage point in that, for the most part it was out of the firing zone of champagne and red wine that was dousing everyone in the plaza. The noise was deafening with choruses of Olé, Olé and a song in Spanish that went “Algo, algo (something, something) I think I’ve lost something, but I can’t remember what the hell it was!”

It’s a celebration that lasts an entire week, and I remember that at one point, as the crowd in the plaza seemed ready to explode, a few minutes before the mayor announced the beginning of the fiesta, a local man turned to me and said with a big grin on his face “and this is only the first day!”