Pamplona offers danger, fun, Hemingway legacy NOT JUST A BUNCH OF BULLS

July 11, 1991|By Pamela G. Goldman | Pamela G. Goldman,Special to The Sun

Pamplona, Spain - Hemingway called it "the wonderful nightmare." And so it is.

When the rockets went up this week signifying the start of the Feast of San Fermin, Pamplona was just as Ernest Hemingway wrote of it nearly 70 years ago -- a city without limits, where people danced in the streets day and night and shared bottles of red wine with strangers, where the music started at 6:30 a.m. and, except for a brief afternoon siesta, people played until dawn.

"We are usually a quiet city, except during Sanfermines! Then we have the world at our doors," said Miguel Angel, an aged concierge at La Perla who worked at the hotel during the years of Hemingway's stays.

If you can pinpoint the beginning each day of this non-stop celebration and opening of the bullfighting season, it would be the morning encierro -- the running of the bulls.

Starting at 8 each morning, thousands of people wearing scarlet scarves and sashes -- from the corral on the edge of the city through a maze of narrow streets in front of six charging bulls. The whole pack runs a half-mile to the bullring, located on a square named for Hemingway in the center of town.

Hundreds of thousands more people are crammed onto small balconies with wrought iron railings, and behind wooden fences along the path to the bull ring.

The run requires a measure of insanity. "It's a rush," said Jeffrey Salcaz, a first-time runner from Los Angeles. "It's do or die."

For others, the encierro is a tribute to the bull, and requires great courage. They run out of a sense of respect for the beast's power, and its place in Spanish society. Ignacio Estrella, who has run with the bulls for 28 years, said, "Like many Spaniards, I run in awe of the bull. And with great joy."

Each year hundreds of runners are trampled by the charging bulls. Many more fall on the damp, stone streets and cause pile-ups, which are potential targets for the animals. Some are gored by the bulls' horns. Death is not uncommon.

This week a Norwegian man was seriously injured when a bull's horn tore through his thigh. And although women are not permitted to run, there are always a few who disguise themselves and enter the encierro. Despite the danger, the number of runners grows each year.

And so does the number of tourists. Some come for the celebration of Spanish heritage. Band members play folk music in the city's plazas, and Spaniards converge to do regional dances. Cured hams from Seville hang in bars. There are bullfights every evening.

When the week is over, Pamplona returns to being a small, industrial city. Most of its population of 180,000 work in the large automotive manufacturing and service plants owned by Seat and Audi.

"People come to the Fiesta to see Hemingway's legacy," said Rafael Moreno, owner of La Perla. Mr. Moreno is the great-grandson of Teresa Craz, the original owner of La Perla, who helped Hemingway find lodging during his first trip to Pamplona. At the time, in 1923, he was not yet famous and did not have the money to pay for a room at the hotel.

"This came to be his place," Mr. Moreno said. "His life in Pamplona revolved around this corner of the square."

Three doors down from La Perla is the Cafe Iruna, a bar Hemingway frequented. Outside, people sit in folding chairs at unsteady tables drinking coffee or sipping brandy. Just like Hemingway did.

"Now the city is filled with Americans," said Fernando Hualdo who works at La Perla."But as soon as Fiesta is over they go to Burgete," the town just north of Pamplona where Hemingway used to fish.

"Always they go in search Don Ernesto," Mr. Hualdo said.

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