Summer is festival season in Spain. And that means one thing – lunatics willingly placing their kidneys within a hair’s breadth of an incoming bull’s horns. Sad but true. When people think of festivals in Spain, they think of Pamplona’s running of the bulls.
The running of the bulls takes place each year during Pamplona’s Festival of San Fermin, in honor of the city’s patron saint. The Festival has been held since 1591, but was “outed” internationally by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.” It has since become a magnet for knuckleheads worldwide.
The running of the bulls (known in Spanish as “el encierro” – which translates to “the enclosure” or, as I prefer to think of it, “you’re trapped, you bloody fools!”) starts at 8:00am during each morning of the Festival. This is an important point. Pamplona’s running of the bulls is not a once-per-year event, but rather occurs every day for a week. If you are not killed or maimed during the first morning, you still have seven more chances to get it right before calling it a year.
The streets are closed off and up to six bulls are released from a pen. The bulls then make a raucous two to three minute charge through the streets of Pamplona – admist cheering crowds – before emptying into the bullring stadium where they are met by the calming influence of a group of steers. Now, this event would be exciting enough as it were, don’t you think? But then add to the mix several hundred crackpots – many of whom are fresh off a night of debauchery – poised directly in front of the gates when opened. We now have an event that might cause even Evil Knievel’s heart to palpitate.
In the interest of full disclosure, Pamplona doesn’t have a monopoly on such foolhardiness. Many towns throughout Spain, both large and small, have a running of the bulls event at some point during the annual calendar. For those towns that do not run with the bulls per se, there are many analogous (and, from the bull’s perspective, equally antagonistic) variations on the event. In my own town of Cabanillas del Campo during its annual July festival, bulls are set loose in the local bullring so that the townsfolk may have the pleasure of leaping in, running for dear life across the ring’s diameter, and leaping out the other side. Other towns tie sparklers to the bulls’ horns and set them alight. Still others herd the bulls off the edge of a pier in furtherance of a bovine synchronized swimming display.
But back to Pamplona. The six bulls that run through the streets each morning are destined for the bullfight to occur later that day. We can make several generalizations about such Spanish fighting bulls.
First, they are big. “Enormous” would a better word. Anyone contemplating a run with these buggers should first find himself a bar in Spain that has the head of a fighting bull mounted on its wall. Stand next to it and take a good look. Your first reaction will be, “Jesus, that head is huge!” Quite right! Now just imagine the rest of its body. Do you remember how surprised you were the first time you stood next to a real, live horse? Remember how you thought to yourself, “I didn’t realize they were this big.” Well, a horse is a malnourished Chihuahua when compared to a Spanish fighting bull.
Second, they are strong. Spanish fighting bulls are a giant mass of muscle. Their necks, shoulders and hump are particularly imposing. A Spanish fighting bull can slide its horns under the belly of a fully grown horse, and lift it off its feet using only these muscles. Now imagine if one of those horns got a hold of a human…even one of those Big Mac-engorged, US-type humans. The bull would flick him into the stratosphere as effortlessly as a Polish-American plumber flicks a Marlboro butt out the window of his 1984 Chevy Impala.
Third, the bulls are fast. Much faster than you or I. ‘Nuff said.
Of course, this all begs the question, “Who is crazy enough to run with these monsters?” The Spanish? Some do, but most don’t. The Spanish are, by an large, content to play spectator. After all, why have your morning coffee and cigarette disturbed by a horn through the liver? Nope, a large chunk of Pamplona bull runners are foreigners. Especially, tourists and backpacking university students who have come to the Festival with a chip on their shoulder, an elevated blood/alcohol content and a misguided perspective on their own mortality.
Since record-keeping began in 1924, thirteen people have been killed running with the bulls in Pamplona. But as someone once said, there are things far worse than death. Running with the bulls leads to plenty of bruises and broken bones and to be fair, I’m sure these injuries hurt like a bitch. But it is the horns that are of foremost concern. Gorings comprise the most serious injuries suffered in Pamplona each year, and the bulls’ favorite targets are the runners’ thighs, groins, buttocks and rectums. A bull’s horn in the rectum! This makes death seem a lot less frightening, don’t you think?
But despite all this, the popularity of Pamplona’s bull run continues to grow. And this year, there was no shortage of participants…or casualties. Set forth below is a summary of the serious injuries suffered at this year’s event. You may think me cruel for making light of such human tragedy, but I disagree. If a person is given the choice between breakfasting at a cozy Pamplona bar or placing his body before the path of a charging bull and he chooses the latter, then he is fair game to be made light of…regardless of the state of his rectum.
DAY 1 – JULY 7:
Eight people were injured; none seriously. No gorings.
DAY 2 – JULY 8:
Various participants were hospitalised with bruises and other traumas, but no gorings
DAY 3 – JULY 9:
A 22 year old Spanish man was gored in the right thigh by a bull’s horn. The wound was 15 centimeters deep. And so we begin this year’s goring season!
A 27 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a lumbar contusion. Note to self: When a bull is breathing down your lumbar, step aside quickly.
A 22 year old Louisiana man was gored in the left knee. Congratulations Bubba! You are Pamplona’s first US casualty of 2004. If past festivals are any indication, you won’t be the last.
A 22 year old British man received a “slight” horn wound to the groin. Slight? You must admire the British for their unflappable, stiff-upper-lip mentality.
A 53 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a cranial contusion. Ouch! And he thought his hangover was bad before the run began.
A 58 year old Spanish man was gored in the left forearm. Spain’s pensioners seems especially well represented this year. What would possess men in their fifties to run with the bulls? I’m only 37, and it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve made an all-out sprint for anything. I envision a confused tour guide in a yellow nylon jacket unwittingly leading a busload of middle aged tourists into the path of this morning’s charging bulls. This is the only explanation that would make sense to me.
A 25 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a contusion to his right thigh. At least we’re returning to a proper age group.
A 21 year old man of unknown origin was hospitalised with a sprained knee. Unknown origin? I guess he didn’t tell his mother where we was going this morning.
DAY 4 – JULY 10:
A 44 year old Spanish man was gored in the ass. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
A 30 year old Spanish man was gored in the right leg. His ass escaped unscathed.
A 40 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a trauma to his left arm.
A 20 year old Michigan man was hospitalised with multiple contusions. This should make for a good tale when he returns to the frat house in September.
A 25 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a sprained left ankle. A sprained ankle? Oh, you poor wittle baby. Please have the nurse bring him some milk and cookies.
DAY 5 – JULY 11:
A 36 year old Spanish man was gored in the left buttcheek. The wound was 5 centimeters deep. He further suffered a neck and head trauma.
A 29 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a contusion to his right knee.
A 42 year old of unknown origin suffered a broken left arm.
DAY 6 – JULY 12:
Today’s run was extremely dangerous. It resulted in many runners being gored. Details are as follows.
A 56 year old Spanish man was gored twice in the right knee. One of the wounds was 15 centimeters deep.
A 24 year old Spanish man was gored twice; one in the right arm and again in the right armpit.
A Spanish man of unknown age is (as I write this) undergoing surgery for “various horn wounds.”
The fate of these three men highlights a very important point about running with bulls in Pamplona. There is no “one goring per person” limit. If the bull is in a foul mood or just plain doesn’t like your look, it can gore you as many times as it wishes. I’ll bet you never thought about that. This presents one further argument for planning a beach vacation in 2005.
A 25 year old Spanish man suffered a 10 centimeters deep horn wound to the buttocks.
A 24 year old French man was gored in the right knee.
A 29 year old Spanish man was gored in the right thigh.
A 26 year old Spanish man was gored in the left thigh.
From this list, we can surmise that bulls prefer thighs and buttocks. It’s fortunate for all Pamplona runners that more bulls are not “breast men.”
A 47 year old man of unknown origin was hospitalised with a trauma to the lumbar.
A 50 year old New York man was hospitalised with a trauma to his leg.
A 24 year old Pamplona man was hospitalised with a knee trauma.
A 40 year old Colombian man was hospitalised with a contusion to his knee.
A 49 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a fractured left arm.
Another Spanish man was hospitalised with a cranial trauma.
Incredible, isn't it? All this pain and suffering in the name of fun and/or machismo. You'll note the conspicuous absence of women from this casualty list. I think that says a lot about the inter-gender intelligence gap. I feel fortunate to have a daughter...yet fearful about to whom she might marry 25 years from now.
DAY 7 – JULY 13:
There were no gorings or serious injuries during this morning’s run. This is a welcome relief after yesterday’s carnage. Never let it be said that 13 is an unlucky number.
However…that’s not to say that there were no injuries this morning.
A 40 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a cranial trauma and a scalp injury.
A 27 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a minor cranial trauma.
A 20 year old Spanish man was hospitalised with a minor contusion to his right knee.
THE FINAL DAY – JULY 14:
A 43 year old man of unknown origin/identity was hospitalised with a 10 centimeters deep horn wound to the buttocks, and a slight cranial trauma.
A man of unknown age and origin was hospitalised with a contusion to his arm.
A 51 year old Miami man was hospitalised with a light trauma to his right knee.
CLOSING THOUGHTS ON PAMPLONA 2004:
The vast majority of injured bull runners at this year’s Festival were Spanish. There are two possible explanations for this: (a) the Spanish are becoming more reckless as their country becomes richer and more modern; or (b) American tourists all stayed home this year to work on John Kerry’s election campaign.
Given the strategic location of most horn wounds this year, there is arguably a large, untapped market in Spain for Kevlar underwear.
The Pamplona city council rejected, by a vote of 14 to 1, a motion that future Festivals of San Fermin shall feature a daily “Running with the Yorkshire Terriers.” Sorry. I made that up.
Wise parents in the Pamplona area will encourage their children to pursue careers in health care – or alcohol counselling.
Of all the beasts in the animal kingdom, humans are the only one that will risk life and limb for something as unnecessary and nonsensical as running with the bulls. We clearly have no business ruling the earth.
Woman smart; man stupid.
Damn! I can’t wait for next year’s Festival.