T for Tom

It Is About Living and Dying – Running From More Than Bulls

Posted in Europe, Prose by johnsontoms on July 12, 2013

They say Hemingway was obsessed with death.  For a man so nobly concerned with the modern toils of heroes to have killed himself after spending a lifetime conceiving the greatest of colossuses only to whither them to bones, it comes as an easy observation to make.  To have given us Frederic Henry and Robert Jordan, two of his greatest heroes manifested of his own image, and to have provided them with only loss, suffering, and ultimately death, is an indictment on the statement of the creator’s soul.  Think also of Santiago for whom we met at the end of days, nearly ridden to the ground for his failures and who for as long as we know him quarrels at the lines of a marlin only to see his fate left in the bones on the sand.  Or to have written a novel for his truest passion and to include in its title “Death.”  For this it could be construed easily for Hemingway as a life spent dying. But for those who find it, and I assure you Ernest Hemingway did, it is about living. It is about living and dying. A parallel birth of two extremes in constant dissolution yet infinitely romanced, at once warring and at peace – their cosmic values for it are then irresolutely entwined. The greatest of lives and the most rich with living often succumb to the most electric and brutal of ends.  But for sake of the former we must suffer the latter, a goal I perceive as worthy of honor.

I know this in my own way now. Not nearly as well as Mr. Hemingway but in ways recently similar. The perceived keystone change in his life came at the events that inspired his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.  I speak, of course, of the Fiestas de San Fermines.  I know now, of course, because like him I set out on foot ahead of the bulls to see their passing and get a chance to place my hands on the fury of beasts.  And where Hemingway ran with no modern records of safety during los encierros, I had the benefits of los medicos y los policias to guide the herd through a time-tested route where few among millions have ever been seriously injured, even fewer have died, and the chances of falling under those storming hooves seemed nearest to none.  I was wrong.

When it turned to look at me I knew it would be quick.  The new steps would occur in less than a half of a second and all that remains are a few mental snapshots obscured in my memory.  The animal pausing long enough for me to approach from behind, my arm extending to touch it, the eyes that met mine as it whipped around, the head lowering, and the man to my side that got dragged to the ground in the horns because he jumped in front of me instead of away.  I leaped over the head of the beast that was slamming its victim downward and didn’t look backward until I reached safety and that’s when I knew that to be alive was to be nearly dead.  It wasn’t until later that day that I learned I was dealing merely with an ox.  I hadn’t yet even seen a bull.

We woke up at 530am and in an hour started on foot.  We arrived an hour early to run.  We knew there were people everywhere but we didn’t know the control measures.  After trying two gates and being unable to even reach the fence line from the crowd we watched at a third to see the gate open only for those people leaving.  I spent the next minutes on my toes trying to see in.  At that moment I saw the most beautiful girl in the festival – amongst a sea of millions, in a crowd of typical Spaniards with their dark skin and deep brown eyes, she smiled at me with her glowing blue eyes lost behind the soft blonde hair that fell like waves tossed in the wind over her shoulders. We joined everyone that turned toward the street when the fireworks went off.  Screaming swelled. From behind the people on the fence all I could see were the faces of those on the balconies watching something pass through the street down below that I couldn’t see or hear from the mass of the audience in my way.  It was gone, I had missed it, and the girl walked away.  Without any idea, lost in confusion and mostly regret, we walked toward the ring to find a crowd outside a series of closed doors, as expected.  Only those with tickets were allowed passage, though we saw a few jump and run, and when we began to walk away, another swell of noise.  Our reaction was GO GO GO as the doors all opened.

Racing into the crowd and up the stairs was like all those scenes in the movies, the sun flooding so brightly down as we peered over the shoulders in front to reveal to us a gladiatorial landscape, the entire audience wearing white and ensconced in cheering on the tons of runners who taunted a horned animal below. It took me a few minutes to learn where to move because processing the scene required the extent of my will to focus.  The frantic swell and swarm of hundreds of runners moving around and away from the ox with the fluidity of a school of fish chased undersea, the number of rows that separated me from the ring below (seis), the possibility of the police stopping people from jumping in and the fact that I saw none doing it, the spaces in the crowd that might give chance to climb below, the black man in the ring, long dreadlocks flowing behind a hulking body of his own, staring down three times the beast with horns and holding still to grab its horns upon charging, throw his legs over and flip with the force of the oxen tossing him over its head to land, stagger to his feet with fists clinched in an outpouring of excited terror that he had survived, the rain of whistles and cheers that anointed him el rey de los toros, the red and green flags of Navarre county that alternated their way across the partitions of the ring, and the white, sweet white light that poured in like the sun must seem in the open air of outer space so deeply contrasting what can be seen and what cannot be seen that to focus on both sides of the light in the stadium simultaneously seemed impossible.  But there in the shade near to where I had raced into the front row was a boy jumping down into the ring at the objection of no one.  GO.  And I went down.

The sun so bright.

The sun so bright.

Amongst the runners I couldn’t see the animal, only the rush of people that would split to one side and then another. This happened a few times before I looked at mis hombres Micah y Artur and said with all eloquence, “fuck it, I’m going in.” I was in a half sprint immediately because I didn’t want to think about the alternatives of giving in, of having fear. The speed was meant for me to find the animal but quickly I learned that it would find me. As soon as the crowd would indicate to move in my direction the people in front of me would split and the charging beast would indicate otherwise. I couldn’t get in too close before the animal ran to the other side where it was corralled and the runners were left alone in the ring.  Panic, confusion, did I miss it again? Would this prove to be my only opportunity to run or to even be amongst the taunting runners at the end who braved to slap the beast and I miss both? Catching my breath, merely seconds after the animal ran past me, thinking of the electricity in my veins, the reserves not yet spent and gaining a feeling of remorse when the pen was opened and above the shoulders of the massed runners I could see bodies enter the air, thrown up by whatever had just come out of the gate. More cheers flooded down as the runners scattered at this new, more wild thing that was parting the masses like the Red Sea.  Whatever this thing was, it was angry.  In merely a blink I saw it now, black, taller than the last and with hideous eyes that spoke of its own terror, and I saw him again, and then again, because he ran only at full speed and in all directions.  Watching the first and getting into the ring with another I was learning and guessing that the animals would stop and in whatever direction they were facing would put their head down for a charge to that side.  It made for a sort of figure eight around the ring as the size of the crowd controlled the movements of the beast as much as the movements of the beast controlled the crowd, a delicate tango between two compelling, different bodies of fear.  And when the beasts would stop for that split second, that’s the chance to touch it. This new thing with its larger, more upright horns never gave anyone that chance and when he did finally appear to stop he would as quickly spin around, dead in place but facing the other direction before anyone could move, bucking its head in all directions so fast that to be near it seemed idiotic or fatal.  No one could get near it and it never rested.  If I were lost in the back of the crowd in the ring I would lose sight of it and be caught in its way before I could react.  To avert this I did the only I thought possible – get to a position where I could always see it.  This meant to get close to the animal and run with it, a decision I made with more intent for survival than for daring.  A chance! It finally stopped to catch its breath a few feet from my position, facing the other direction.  I and the few others around me didn’t hesitate to recognize this as our opportunity and lunged forward with arms outstretched to swat at its hind quarters.  But rather than landing squarely like a palm on a cheek I could feel the grace of the hairs with only my fingertips because the beast had swung around to face me, to see its aggressors, to exchange blows.  And while my forward momentum from reaching out had me just over its path and leaning into its glare, it glared back.

When the animals are about to strike their heads tilt downward and to the side.  The force generated at the bulk of a scared animal that weighs over 1000 pounds is more frightening when its intent to harm is aimed at you.  I got to this position in a matter of milliseconds, passing through the entire range of human excitement and terror as quickly our heart can beat once.  Reactions are impulse and mean nothing, the decisions our bodies made not concluded through reason or thought – there is no thought, just… electricity.  When I jumped to the right at that moment it may have been because my left foot was already planted or it may have been because the beast had spun counterclockwise, forcing me away to my right.  It could have been that by spinning around that direction the thing had pinned us to the wall and jumping right for me was a step forward now. Whatever the reason was that sent me that direction, it was the same for the man to my left who now passed in the bull’s path toward me.  That decision put him in between the horns, had him dragged to the ground, and left me with enough room to place a hand on the wall and leap over the combination of man and beast that tussled now on the ground at my feet.  Never looked back while running, not making a noise save for the heaves of the lungs.  Stopped to feel the sun come down and kiss my sweat-covered skin, dust-covered skin, to look up and squint through the rays and distinguish the bluest of skies above me, the ring all around, the frenzy, the noise of the lust of the crowd and the floor of the ring that had no air, all sucked out by the whimsical lot of fools that wanted to touch a pair of horns, maybe something greater.  It all slowed down and I stood there feeling alive.  I was electric and I was at peace.  And I was still in the ring with a horned animal.

After being nearly gored in the ring.

After being nearly gored in the ring.

To say that it was an ox or something other than a bull, or to mention that only 15 people have died in the past 89 years since records were taken of the bull runs, or hear that most all injuries occur from the feet of the crowd and not the bulls, these things make you think it won’t be absolutely horrifying.  There is no exaggeration meant when I say that I didn’t know I was putting my life on the line.  It all happens so quickly that there is no time to realize it could be the end of your life.  But as easily as the terror enters your path it leaves again.  In the end, the animals are as afraid as we are.

It’s a mortal dance at the heart of it all.  It’s the cosmos swaying with the pull of a cord.  That this chance at glancing certain fatality comes only with an animal partner is the assured crescendo in an already fortissimo fugue.  Falling from the sky or swimming deep in the oceans or scaling the icy cliffs can all be equally ruinous, but their waters are navigated solely on the hands of the man at sea.  He who imparts on these acts of bravery is testing his limits purposefully but stands as the only thing responsible for a doomed fate, should it arrive.  But to run from the bulls is to have the marrow of your bones tested by an outward lethal force, the marriage of chance and skill, art and circumstance.  You can run, but it can chase you.  You can jump, but it can jump for you.  You can try, but it may not be enough. So do not think that this tradition is carried out for its sole attraction or bemusement.  It is carried out because merges life and death.  It is enacted year after year as a celebration of the brutal elements of living of earth, and for those that have seen it, for those that organize it, for those that participate, there is no other answer to the charge that it is cruel or unjust – it must continue.  Everyone in play, from boys and girls to oxen and bulls, they all stand a chance at surviving the game of chess, the players all pawns moving in an en passant to escape the enemy but still claiming a victim, for the collision of such forces always has a victim.  We have not lived on this planet so long to still deny the dynamisms of conflict that are as present as the sun always shining on some half of the earth at all times.

Isn’t that just it? That sheer chance, a roll of the cosmic dice, produced for us a place so pure and bountiful that its harmony is seized only at the persistence of collision? Our fate is certain – we will all greet the grave.  The equal forces of existence and nonexistence are constantly battling over control of the universe, and in the middle men and women struggle to avoid certain fate.  A fool’s struggle.  If we exist only to come to an end, what is the point? “Life has to be given a meaning for the obvious fact that it has no meaning,” muses Henry Miller.  “Something has to be created, as a healing and goading intervention, between life and death, because the conclusion that life points to is death and to that conclusive fact man instinctively and persistently shuts his eyes… Death then has to be defeated – or disguised, or transmogrified.  But in the attempt to defeat death, man has inevitably obliged to defeat life, for the two are inextricably linked.  Life moves onto death, and to deny one is to deny the other.”  How sad then, how utterly tragic that the whole of the human race save for a few martyrs have lived then in sincere quietude to avoid a fate that is quite literally unavoidable?  It is the most powerful scripts of the tragedians to quilt together the path of the doomed hero, the Greek titan that suffered at the hands of the gods for something as simple as seeing his home just one more time.  We weep for the notion that our souls have something in common with Odysseus or Santiago, or even Raskolnikov, Thomas Sutpen and Jay Gatsby, or that possibly like the Oblonskys we too have everything in confusion.  To be like these heroes makes our insufferability and pious crawl toward death a bit more heroic.  But such a thought, that this silly, stupid, inane, useless life we lead, the kind that involves the office and the cubicle and the computer and the 24-karat diamond engagement ring and 8-cylinder, 240 horsepower fuel-injected block and the three seasons, 24 episode marathons in front of the television and the late night tacos after the bar and the stored up vacation days to hit the beach only to go back to work again, that life, that utterly vain and callous life spent doing nothing, could even be close to something heroic is confusion of the highest order. And if we are confused it is only that we serve notoriety to those that live long and those that robustly serve up caution to be as saviors and saints, these men we call sainst informed of the risks and still choose the safer path, one that is beset by the herds of men seeking to avoid the awful fate of death at the cost of an awfully robust life.  But is not more awful, not more wretched to see an entire life wane by untouched, unlit by fire, unmoved by any gravity to either side of the balances of life and death? To wilt away in the neutrality of fear? To deny life by denying death is to fall into the patterns of the wicked notions given before us.  It’s taking at face value the morals of the unbrave who gave us birth into this despicable world survived only with gallantry.  There are none yet for the recent generations who have come close to anything brave and we continue to berate those that try as outliers of a system that rewards only those who fall in with the tactics of cowardice.  It is a true spirituality to embrace only the learned life, the kind that can only be reckoned from a charge towards the gates of life by charging at the gates of death; an acquittal from denying that we will crumble to dust elicits the truest understanding of God, renders the powers of the phantasmic and supernatural real and human, and there in our hands are the reins to Hell’s chariot.  The only rigid grasp of the infinite lies in the gripping of mortality, but even that can be confusing when so many misunderstand being mortal.  Erich Gutkind offers a definition of mortality by way of explaining the Hebrew etymology of eternity*, which is that of victory rather than duration: “to die means to be cut off, it does not mean to cease.  One who is bound to others is free from the fear of death, for fear has its roots in separation. Where there is fear it is quickly followed by the flight to possessions.” But to hold onto things rather than seek the nectar of life, to be avoiding death by accumulation of mere things, that he concludes is a fate worse than any: “Far deadlier than any bodily decay is the death within our souls.”  Thus is the true spirit of the bourgeois, of which we all belong.

Throughout Pamplona existed the opportunity to reach forward at that new spirituality, to grab immortality by losing all possessions and running quite literally toward the horns of the beast, but all around me I saw orchards of reluctance springing up.  Even for those brave enough to test their mettle during the runs often did so at the patterns of culling those possessions that Gutkind says relieve our sense of being cut off.  By saying “we’ve done the impossible” we can slip back into the comfortable confines of the resting bed of the weary to erode with the sands of time knowing that we lived once.  I’m telling you once is not enough.  Doing it once is not a lifetime spent in bravery.  And in this day and age true bravery is revolution.

Txupinazo, opening ceremony with 15,000 of my best friends.

Txupinazo, opening ceremony with 15,000 of my best friends.

There in a city of a few hundred thousand existed for a day nearly millions.  The sight was incredible in the dictionary’s sense of being beyond belief.  Within every footstep and every corner of the streets that maze through the city were thousands of revelers of the festivities, there in their white shirts and white pants, the red bandanas wrung around the necks and often the red sunglasses whose lenses were plucked from the frames to be worn only as a further assortment of red on a field of white white white white, everyone wearing white.  It was beautiful, serene, majestic, almost holy.  Every person had their individual manner of making the ensemble their own.  I wore my blue flowered scarf rolled up and tied around my head, as usual, and often walked around without a shirt on.  Even on the last day when I opted also for suspenders, hung down from my waist when I removed the white shirt following the run.  For this reason I got a lot of color in my skin and learned just how curious Iberians could be about tattoos.  For the women however their first and most utilized way for individualization was the size and cut of a pair of old jeans to reveal the ass cheeks.  And I can say assuredly that there is no level of shame amongst them, many turning their jeans into shorts that rode up like damn near like a thong.  It was titillating, but then again it also was no different than the rest.

There has to be a real search for the juice of the fruit to see the smoke from the fire.  It would be easy to get lost in the rivers of sangria to miss the murky truths of the celestial battle underneath.  The festival begins with the Txupinazo, a celebration of the festival itself without any bulls.  Simply, the mayor de la ciudad pops off a firework to signal the beginning of the festivities which mostly means “let the drunk begin.”  This happens in the town hall, Plaza Consistorial, which is about 75 meters by 20 meters.  But damn near every one of the revelers wants to be present, and that means about 15,000 people jammed into the space.  The math on that breaks down to about 7 people per square meter, or, so tight you can’t breathe fresh air because the bodies are packed so heavily that the heat and stench of shit piss and sangria wells up in a cloud above the crowd.  Everyone gets by on the 1-liter bottles of sangria, all the same bottles, and drinks to excess antes de mediodia.  The girls begin to jump on the shoulders of the men and it quickly devolves into low-grade sexual assault, the game of “you can’t get up on the shoulders if you’re not taking your shirt off” becomes “we’re ripping your shirt off.”  And it doesn’t stop them, they keep jumping up there and laughing while clutching their chest to tease the masses that maybe their breasts won’t come out, an inevitable falsity.  The least that can be done in any situation is to throw sangria in all directions until the shirts fade to a soaked shade of pink, the skin dripping with the sticky sweet wine more than sweat from the collusion of bodies.  This goes on for hours before the mayor comes out, the focus of the crowd switching from one atrocity to another.  It’s more colorful still in the depths of drunkenness when, say, a woman steps out on an overlooking balcony from an apartment in the buildings but does not unveil her bosom, and soon the sangria bottles take flight.  It looks like an open bag of popcorn popping over a fire, nearly hundreds of plastic bottles flying up and down in one direction until the crowd gets what it wants.  Cheers of songs, singing, goddamned singing of that groove line “Seven Nation Army” that has so swept the European nations, and devolution of the worst kind as if lurking amongst the rats of a sewer.  The crowd is so tight that any movement creates a push so intense that it seems like being pushed into a wall by a thousand people.  The feet are so tight together that people lean over and on top of each other because there is nowhere to step.  Worse yet, my shoelaces had come undone in the scrum and every time someone else stepped on them I was at the mercy of the crowd to stay above ground level.  There were others who couldn’t.  Eventually the mayor came out to the chanting of Viva la San Fermin! Viva la San Fermin! as everyone raises their red bandanas to put them on for the first time.

That's me holding up my bandana.

That’s me holding up my bandana.

And in a flash the crowd begins to spread out to celebrate amongst the streets, to find the bars, to quench the anger of a feisty drunk in the cafes prepared to meet a mob, and the pressure of the outgoing crowd pushed me in a direction other than my choosing.  It turned out to be fortuitous as those watching on the balconies took to tossing water on the already soaked masses below who welcomed the bath like a freedom from oppression.  I was pushed into the next block where a group of onlookers on the balcony had arranged a running hose and a few buckets of water, and there we took to dancing in the shower that rained down below.  And like all previous situations, the attractive woman amongst the crowd above who wouldn’t emerge was taunted with chants of “Punta! Eh perra! Viene extiorora!” until she danced her way into the vision of the crowds, eliciting their cheers.  She too began to dump water on us with a smile and the ritual was complete.

Just before the fireworks, I'm behind the Bosque flag.

Just before the fireworks, I’m behind the Bosque flag.

In these rich waters of the murky greens floats the relics of la verdad.  There are not many chances in a lifetime to be so submerged in the presence of the people.  To be so utterly thrust into their whimsy, their phantasmagoric, principled mastication of the realms of the dire, wearied exhaustion and consumption of the soul.  The way without provocation that a mass of so many can simultaneously engage in the act of release, to the see the physical and spiritual exile from the chains of reality if only for a day.  To know that all day and everywhere there are people celebrating for celebrating’s sake, that the cause of the gathering centers around the act of one man taunting death with horns.  Others are living from the relishing that others that might die.  And for many the opportunity to do the same comes from the ability to be put in the way of the bulls also during the runs.  Or even, to create an environment where any such examination of bravado is not out of question.

Our first night in the city was spent familiarizing our way around so that we might better be prepared for the frenzy ahead and in the wanderings through the street we encountered an enthusiastic bloke from Ireland here for his second run in as many years.  The lad was our age, blonde dreads pulled up in a bun and without a shirt, speaking through a thick accent and drunk that were both appropriately Irish.  He made quickly apparent that his experience in the runs before made him somewhat of a savant, an idea that I was not quick to absorb but neither hasty to dismiss.  To learn something from a soul who had at least run once might reveal to me something necessary that cannot be learned from observation or research.  “Rule number one,” he shouted out the side of his mouth, “if ya go dow’un, stay the fuck dow’un.”  I thought he meant from the bulls but his repetition of the phrase implied that for any reason not to get up.  “Rule number two, if it’s your first run, dow’unt run the curve,” he said more somberly.  “Dow’unt run the fucking curve.  You’re not a fucking hero, dow’unt run the curve.”  As we plodded through the inquisitions and information we reached a more subtle moment in his haranguing of the festival, one of proud dissonance if someone can be so delighted to know something that seems wrong.  There is apparently something called the fountain jump amongst those who’ve heard of its existence.  It is exactly as it sounds, people jumping from a fountain.  Although it’s more of a monument than a statue.  “Something that all the locals hate is the fountain jump,” he shouted while pointing down the block.  “The Aussie’s came up with this fucking great idea of falling off this fountain into the arms of their drunk brothers, I mean a literal fucking fall off of a fountain into four guys holding their hands together,” he said.  The pantomime included slamming his hand into the ground with a loud slap.  “Literally more people get hurt on the fountain jump every year than the bull runs.  I mean you’re falling arms wide on the pavement at full speed, it’s fucking stupid.”  And so I knew where to find myself after the Txupinazo dissolved, and so coincidentally was pushed directly there in the proceeding minutes.  And what a fucking idiot to get on top of this concrete ball and do a trust fall from 20 feet up.  In the condition everyone was in it was a nigh miracle that no one died on that day.  I saw a man get lifted up, give himself a half-hearted esprit tu santé before tossing his cigarette, placing his hands across his chest and falling into the arms below.  God they caught him but he hit them with a force like a car crash. It may have been the most daring thing I saw all weekend and one fountain jump was enough.  For the day, for my day, it was nearly all the rest of organized gatherings for me on that day.  The rest was spent in a merry wandering about the town with the muse of San Fermin.  God, what a muse.

The streets were made of large, slick brick stones that made for a marble-top similar to skating on ice for the first time.  The tide of booze and excrement from the horde covered the street entire and left no space in the city the sanctity of going untouched.  It reeked of the stench of a waste treatment facility on a hot day and yet the people seemed not in the least bit phased.  The merriment continued at full speed, a raging, pulsating gush of vivacity that spread from the town hall in all directions like a wild plague picking up more victims as it sprawled outward.  There was so much white and red, not a single person daring to wear anything other.  And for everyone there was rejoicing.  It was impossible to not be elated at the massive undertaking.

It was a massive undertaking all at once, after all.  That so many could so impulsively join in a swarthy jamboree was a marvel worthy of highest praise of historical reflection.  But that too for itself is astonishing and depressing – the behavior is so coordinated, so predictive, so ostensive that it can make for anyone present enough distraction to disguise the beauty below.  We were there to put life on the precipice of judgment.  But for too many it was just another check in the list of bourgeois accomplishments that reflect on a life well lived.  If only they knew that a quiet death indicated a quiet life!

Everywhere short white shorts that carried the beautiful, tanned legs of the whores that wandered around, eyes peering out at the gathered multitudes who served back the obvious mark, the competition of each other to out do and be outdone by the best, to drink and dance and drink and drink and drink drink drink and throw the glass on the ground it was too far away to the trash can and too easy to buy a drink from the outdoor bar or the waiter walking by or the storefront next door or from the beggars and residents who pulled wheeled suitcases that dolled out una cervaza por uno euro and moved onto the next one who would be in need of the intoxicating distractions of this given modern life, unable to create for themselves the distractions that could so easily be found if we just looked.  If we just looked at the absolutely intoxicating rhythms of the local Spaniards who at the end of the night in Plaza del Castillo danced in unison to the traditional flutes and snares piping out the songs of the land, the coordinated fashion that in circles around the hundreds-old gazebo in the center of the square where the players played, the sounds sounded and the rays shone outward like a beacon to indicate to the dancers when to raise up, when to drop down, and when to circle one another like bees on the petal.  How so many could at once be drawn to the music like flies to the light was a remarkable sight to see, and how so many knew so well the movements without instruction was also a stupendous thing to behold.  To join in for a few minutes when the dance became a race, the partakers raising their bandanas as if to create a tunnel of bridges for others to pass through while the snare drum hissed like a snake, the sun downing now at half-past 10pm so late that the blue still seems deeply plush as it descends more and more over the plaza square now beaming with orange-tinted lights in a myriad of white bouncing over the golden tinted streets.  Majestic, surely.  Noble even, and in some ways of nobility.  This is the nectar of the hedonist gods.

Separating the men from the gods at San Fermin were the bull fights.  An honest to god bull fight, matador vs. toro.  On this day I was repeating ad nauseum “I will not live my life in regret for having missed the bull run,” and satiated a little bit of the remorse by attending the opening bull fight.  Even that didn’t seem real, and after having nearly been killed by what I thought was a bull in the ring, it peaked my interest what matrimony would unfold in the right on this night.  We found a scalper during the day and set about preparing our minds and bodies until the doors of the arena would open (read: drinking).  I purchased 2 1-liter bottles of local San Miguel birra and walked to the gates.

…Something here needs to be said of the casual nature of the Spanish.  I am still unsure if it is owed to the nature of the festival or to the spirit of the Spanish people entire, but I as I mentioned before I spent the festival shirtless.  It was just more comfortable and often easier to clean since, as I’ve mentioned, wine was being tossed onto everyone all day and night.  I had a cigarette burning in my mouth, large glass bottles of beer in each hand, and walked right up to the gate to hand over my ticket.  I purchased a seat cushion and made my way up the stairs to the upper level looking like a mixture of unkempt homelessness, beach hair, covered in wine and tattoos, smoking and carrying open alcohol containers, dirt head to toe, and no one said anything or gave more than a glance my direction.  It was as easy as “caul es la dirección” and “el asiento está arriba” and there I sat in waiting.  I understood this visual statement of mine to be unusual, even just slightly, but to seem as if it was completely acceptable at all times or even just during the bull fight, was quite bewildering…

We found our seats among the upper rows but were pleased to have good sight lines to the ring below and bit of shade.  Reading earlier I had learned that throughout the festival there existed cliques known as peñas in the Festival which could be described as something of a fraternity that gathers once a year to organize music and parties for its members.  The peñas battled each other throughout the day for notoriety, a battle that was always fought on the field of drunkenness.  We knew they were entering the building when the marching bands started ringing throughout the halls of the arena, soon followed by the color-coordinated groups that wore distinctive hats and carried large signs for their publicity.  Each member of a peña wore the ceremonial white, but instead of a red bandana might wear, say, blue for one whole group or green for another.  I say all this because at the bull fights, their challenge of bravado is waged in the sun.  Down on the first rows of the stadium situated on the eastern side where the sun bore down, it was there that they consumed heavy amounts of alcohol and danced to the traditional rhythms of the horn sections of their peña.  In total there were about six peñas and three bands amongst them, all playing over each other.  The beauty of it climaxed as the groups inflated balloons of their distinctive color and began to throw them into the air, creating a color wheel across the stadium sections left to right, a whole section of yellow balloons and a whole section of green balloons and a whole section of blue balloons, all dancing in the air.

But the real beauty had not yet begun.  After the groundskeepers had finished raking the sand and painting circles in the sand, the mayor took his seat at the grand stand as processional leader and in came los matadores y los banderilleros y picadores.  The suits were as fantastic as any you may have seen in film or in Bugs Bunny cartoons, and every bit as bright in the evening sun.  In turn they walked toward the mayor to take a bow, walking to one side and then another back toward their places where the matadors grabbed their capes and began to practice their veronicas.  It took only a minute and the groundskeepers again came out to rake up quickly the footprints in the sand, leaving the ring empty.  And without a sound or so much as a horn, the first bull came charging out into the ring.

The greatest art in the greatest cathedral.

The greatest art in the greatest cathedral.

He was huge.  The bull stood to the shoulders of the matador and would charge from 15 meters out, chasing after the capes that were shook from side to side.  In the early stages, the “first third” of the fight, the matadors would simply goad the bull toward their direction and against the wall, a team of three matadors working to get the bull to run from one side to the next.  Occasionally one might get within a few feet but there were no passes, no veronicas.  But as soon as we began to wonder what would happen or when the fight would start, out came the picadors.

Picadors ride on a horse.  The horse is covered in what looks like yellow leather sheets, strapped and tied from the top of the horse down its sides and wrapped under its stomach on all sides front and back.  Its eyes are blindfolded and the picador carries a long spear.  The spear is used to slice the bull’s neck when it charges, because without failure the bull would immediately charge the horse.  Worse yet, the bull would size the horse up and slowly turn its head to the side, plunging horn first into the ribcage of the horse with such a force that the horse and rider would be lifted into the air.  As the bull’s horn got stuck in the side of the horse, the picador would reach down and stab the tuft of muscle atop the bull’s neck until it would release.  This must be done a minimum five times before the picador can exit the ring or the bull will be returned to the pen to be saved and the fight is over.  But after this bull had been stabbed the requisite number of the times and finally released the horse, the picador slowly trotted the horse away that for as long as I could tell had no indication of what had happened to it, not making a noise.  I learned later that it was only in 1935 after hundreds of years of fights, that it became law to protect the horses with the shielding.  Before then the horses were blindfolded and forced to take an almost certain fatal goring from the bull, and the picadors job to survive the ensuing scrum and wound the bull the appropriate times.  But that no longer being the case the horse just walked away.  Remarkable.

Into the “middle third” as the bull was a bit slower now and the banderillos grabbed those sticks.  I don’t know what they’re called but you have an idea of what I mean.  The sticks that are about one-foot long and are stripped with color, of which I learned indicate where the banderillero is from.  Two matadors would guide the bull into the center of the ring where the banderillo stood with the hooked sticks.

It was like coordinated ballet seeing their moves.  Coordinated ballet with a bull, but a pairing of which seemed nearer to art than slaughter.  After the bull was guided into the center of the ring the banderillo would call for its attention by shouting and raising his arms at 45° angles, the hooks facing inward.  In that position the banderillero resembled a striking snake, and in that position he would stand as the bull charged him full speed.  Just as the bull approached he would begin to take just a single step or two to one side without turning, and just as the bull lowered his head to plunge forward the banderillo would jump and lean far enough over to stab the hooks deep into the open wound at the top of the bull’s neck, dancing away unharmed to the roar of the crowd.  This would happen at least three times until a total of six hooks hung from the wound atop its shoulders, its speed rapidly decreasing, its charges numbering fewer and fewer, provocation needed more and more to get the bull to charge.  At its slowest speed now the matador would emerge.

The "death third."

The “death third.”

The matador’s entrance to the ring for the “death third” was like that of a painter approaching the canvas.  His steps were smooth, the shoulders square and the object, the bull, square in his sights.  And from only a few feet away from the bull the matador would reach out the cape to his side and lower it to the ground.  When the cape just grazed the sand he would shake it violently, the bull charging head first at the moving object, the matador moving in a veronica to the side by merely rotating his hips, not taking a step in any direction.

It was as they say an art of the highest form.  Like the tides rise and the currents move underneath, the music of this nature was iridescent in the shade of the arena, a transfixing waltz between matador and bull, man and animal, life and death.  The blood flowed now along all sides of the bull, weakened to a point that even its rage seemed not enough to keep the will to survive in volatility.  ¡Olé! and to the side again, ¡olé! and again turning, the bull charging, its movements in a circle around the matador that did not budge from his spot.  The knees locked, his legs straight as trunks planted in the ground, only his shoulders whirring around and his sight changing from forward to backward as the beast circled his moves following the cape from front to back to front again until the matador would place the cape behind his legs and walk away from the bull, chest filled with air and chin pointed upward to goad from the crowd the swell of cheers that filled the space up to the sky, the bull left to pant and breathe heavily to even just remain on its feet.  Then the matador would return and this time walk right up to the horns. ¡olé! and rotate and ¡olé! and spin and then stop with the cape behind his legs, the bull directly in feet, to begin to shake his legs back and forth asking the bull “would you care to dance?”

Such life at the hands of death.  If the bull in this state just once thought to expend its energy both would be lost there in the sand, in the center for thousands to see.  But the music went on, up and down there in the ring with no noise but loud enough for all to hear and see, this was the waltz that packed the house, this was the meal that served the multitudes, this is the art that will live on to be appreciated for generations to come because only a man tilted on equal parts genius and madness could manifest such magnificence and audacity, such equilibrium of living and dying.  The barks of the matador could occasionally be heard, his calls the sirens of the living who were afraid not to die.  ¡olé! and a turn, ¡olé! and the matador was away again to taunt the bull without so much as looking back because his gallantry had no limits, his acumen no threshold, his flare for the spectacular evinced in the daring dance of the dead performed by the living.  I have never seen a man so alive before, and he was by all rights on the verge of death.  There was one who got on his knees there before the bull.  The matador got down maybe inches from the bull’s horns and placed his eyes at the bull’s level, on his knees with arms outstretched, walking on his knees back and forth.  He looked as if in a vigil with the devil, and I couldn’t tell if he was praying to survive or to be gored.  It wouldn’t have mattered either way.

The matador would eventually walk to the edge and exchange the blade by which he held the cape for a sharper sword, walking back to the bull.  This time there would be no veronica, there would be no ¡olé! as he stood right before the bull with shoulders squared at each other.  The matador raised the sword to his nose, pointing it outward at the bull, holding the cape just below and in front of his legs.  With a single shake of the cape the bull would lower his head for the charge and there the matador would take one step to the side, lowering the sword into the wound and gouging downward with all his force until all of the meter-long blade was sunk into the bull’s girth, only the handle remaining to be seen.  Standing there now, spitting out chunks of its lungs and heart, it took seconds for the bull to lose its footing and drop to the ground, dead.  The bull had been killed and the dance was over.  A team of three horses came out and dragged the bloody carcass away leaving a trail of blood in the sand that would be raked haphazardly by the groundskeepers.  And just as quickly as it ended out charged another bull and the ballet began again, this time from the top.

It went on this way for six fights, the matadors doing their part to raise the stakes each time, one banderillo making a fatal move and finding his skull under the bull’s hooves, carried away to a fate no one could be sure of.  There was never any sign or indication, no noise from the arena to indicate any kind of start or stop, any kind of grade the mayor may have made on the performance below, only the roars from the crowd for the matadors who danced with death on that day.  Each performance would last about 30 minutes in total, and each one passed the same way from stage to stage as the bulls charged full of life into the first third, and by the death third had given its body up to sacrifice.  The ritual is not unlike the Mayans who played games to determine who would live and who would die, the Egyptians sacrificing cow and lamb for rain, the Jews sacrificing lamb for eternity, the Romans sacrificing gladiators for spectacle, or any those of ancients who sacrificed their own to the gods.  The gods in this spectacle were nameless, but the wages were the same as had been for thousands of years.  Man needed death to be alive.

…We woke up at 5am the next day having retired early after the fight.  Missing the bull run was not an option, I repeat, missing the bull run was not an option.  But even without el encierro en la mañana my sentiment would have remained the same.  The sobriety of the festival, seen now through the bull fights, was beginning to sink in.  And as much as I wanted to dance my own way through the golden streets at night to be amongst the people, it was hard to feel at place with the celebrations going on, now knuckle-deep in the mire with fights each day.

Even as we walked within a few blocks of the arena by 615am we entered a running pace to get inside those fence walls.  Being on the outside of the fence was unacceptable.  I had come across the earth, flown across Europe, and driven across half of Spain to run from those damn bulls and I was going to run from those bulls dammit.  I would not live a life in regret to have come so close and done nothing, to have gone so far and changed nothing in myself.  I needed this more each minute.

When we saw the arena we saw also the fence and as Artur began looking for the gate I shouted, “just climb the fence, there, there!” and we jumped through the beams.  Standing there in between the sides of the fence brought about a sense of relief.  It was if I had arrived and in the hour-and-a-half between then and the start of the run I would let nobody remove me from the bull’s way.  We started walking down the route toward the beginning to get as much in the way as possible.

With everything we had learned and heard of the run’s, we knew we needed to be somewhere on either side of curva del muerte, Dead Man’s Curve.  Dead Man’s Curve took up the 50-meter space between two 90° turns, one left and one right, that formed an S-shape in the route starting at the town hall.  It was Dead Man’s Curve because a running formation of fighting bulls at full speed weren’t the best at taking turns, instead smashing into walls and crushing whatever got in their way.  Wisely we didn’t want to be this, but the timing of avoiding it would take a bit of play.

The bulls were released in two groups of six.  A firework would be fired to signal that the first bull of the first group was out of the pen, and a second firework would be fired to signal that the group had left the pen entirely.  The same series of fireworks would be fired for the second group, usually about 20 to 30 seconds later.  This meant that if I ran with the first group of bulls at town hall, before Dead Man’s Curve, I would have to chase those bulls and get through the group of about 1,500 runners all the way through Dead Man’s Curve and down the remaining 600 meters of road into the ring, all before the other group of bull’s could catch me.  I didn’t see that as a likelihood and we decided to start after Dead Man’s Curve.  Avoid the whole thing entirely.  I kept hearing the Irish lad saying “dow’unt run the curve” and took his advice in whole.  We would not be running the curve.

Just before El Encierro.

Just before El Encierro.

Other groups of Americans picked up on our voices, or maybe it was my suspenders and headband, or maybe it was nothing at all, but there formed a smattering of some 10 Americans all discussing the best ways to survive.  None of us then the weight of the words we chose inadvertently, words like “not dying” and “surviving” and “running away” and “jumping for safety” we callously tossed along as if we knew that those words should be taken as precisely as they are written – not to die on this day.  But the groups all reached the same conclusions, even with a few who had run before.  Monday’s running group would be the largest and to avoid all issues, we’d start ahead of the curve.

Starting ahead of the curve did a few other things for us.  It allowed us to get a chance at seeing the forces that were coming our way and allowed us to get into the ring before the second group of bulls could run us over.  Of course all of this is theoretical, but we hoped its practice would executed the same way.  But as the minutes waned we heard that the police would sweep the runners out of the road if they didn’t start before Dead Man’s Curve, to give the cleaners a chance to clear the road of any debris.  So we watched in the middle of Dead Man’s Curve as the police piled into the road and begin to take their spots along the fence.  We felt we were safe enough until the most blessed man I’ve ever met approached me, and in broken English with a Spanish accent said, “if you want to run, you must start before the curve,” and he pointed behind us.  “The police will move you out, you must start there.”  He smiled and picked his camera up again to start taking pictures and all we could do was thank him before running into the large group of thousands that had found a way to smash into the alley between Plaza Consistorial and Dead Man’s Curve.  We jammed our way maybe a few feet into the group when the police on the other side where we had just run from began to sweep the crowds out of the road.  What a blessing.

It was here that we waited to run, wondering if we would get the chance to spread out along the road once the sweeping was done, or if we would have to run the curve.  It was also here that the most hilarious thing of the whole festival took place.

It’s common throughout the festival to rent balconies for any number of the events that take place, so that tourists might get a better view of what’s going on below during the runs, the parades, the street music, any time of day.  Of course the runs are the most popular attraction, so as we stood there crammed into the mass of would-be runners, we had above us for each of about four levels up a household’s worth of onlookers.  On this morning directly above us stood a very attractive brunette woman of maybe 30-years old, turned slightly to the side as she spoke with whom I could presume was her mother.  As the crowds began to cheer and whistle at her, she only laughed and looked up to the floor above thinking that we were not taunting her for wearing a skirt and for standing above us.  Even as one man in the crowd with us began to point directly at her, blowing her kisses, as the crowd noise erupted in cheers and applause and shouts of “eh punta” she again kept looking up and laughing thinking that she was not the object of our affection.  (If you’re wondering, the panties were white, normal cut, no thong, but god she had beautiful legs).  After five minutes or so, the man to her right turned to her and whispered in her ear while laughing.  She entered the building and never came back.

With about ten minutes to go the runners were allowed to disperse along the route.  We started our walk past Dead Man’s Curve with not regrets for anyone that may call us pussies.  I may go back and run Dead Man’s Curve, but not on my first run.  And just as we began to get past I saw the police gripping people by the neck and tossing them out.  These were people holding up cameras.  Strictly forbidden it was being enforced with physically tossing people through the fence.  As Artur came up to me with his camera and say “I’m glad I’m putting this away,” he didn’t put it away fast enough and got an arm around his throat until he was shoved through the fence.  I stood there trying to goad him back, as I thought the police were not looking behind the fence to catch him if he jumped back, but did not.  That left Micah and I to wander up the road for the hands of fate.

As we got about 50 meters past Dead Man’s Curve we slowed to a stop.  The impulse to keep going had filled us as hundreds of runners went walking past us closer to the arena, some slowly, some at a trot, some running.  We were approaching three minutes to the fireworks to signal the start when people started running at full pace.  I couldn’t believe that so many people would be taking off ahead, but then, maybe I didn’t know the depths of fear.  Maybe this was only possible because I hadn’t yet tapped the true bottoms of terror to know what I was doing.  And as we moved to the side of the road that was maybe five meters wide, we watched the runners going by.  I told Micah to stay nearer the middle of the road to avoid being pinned against the wall by other runners as the bull’s passed, but a man overheard us and told us quickly, “no, get over here and let the chicken runners be the one’s in the middle of the road when they come by” and I knew he was right.  The people that were running now and the people that would freak out at the sight would be the ones to get run over, not me.  And so I stood about a meter from the wall and waited.

I began to jump up and down and laugh, slapping my legs with the rolled up newspaper I was holding.  I began to laugh and laugh and laugh more and more as the seconds ticked down and more people began to run by me.  I couldn’t help it, knowing that death in the form of horns would be running at me full speed.  I had no idea what it would look like or how fast it would be but there I was anyway.  And just then Micah remembered to watch the cameras.  We couldn’t see over the crowd of runners to know when the bulls would hit the corner, but we could see the television camera two floors up.  When it turned, the bulls were turning.

That’s when the firework went off.  There were screams and people began sprinting up the road.  The screaming went on as people shuffled by but through the noise Micah and I shouted “watch the camera! Watch the camera!”  People were running at a faster rate now, the noise swelling almost to a deafening roar.  The road was dark because the sun hadn’t risen over, and staring at the camera in the sun at the end gave me tunnel vision.  It was pointed out to the left but just then it dipped down to look just below and began to rise up in my direction.  Here they come.

In that moment there is no fear.  The time for fear has passed and I was left an alarming sensation of wonder, the kind of hyper-tensified alertness that strikes an animal in the wild.  It became thoughts of “have I done enough?” and “what will the look like?” and “where do I go?”  The thunder of noise rushed toward me and all I could see were the people, the white shirts and spots of red among it that formed a wall in the road racing my direction.  I had no idea if the people were ahead of the bulls or not. Soon enough I had all my answers.

As the mass approached within five meters or so the people split rapidly toward the walls and without great focus I could see a huge brown and white boulder barreling toward me.  The horns stuck out wide and straight from the skull of the bulls that were running down the street two wide and three rows deep.  Within less than a second they were on me and I did as I was told, as I had read, as I had heard: I hit the fucking wall.  The people along the street did the same thing, but we all reached this conclusion more out of survival than any amount of preparation could allude.  Having stood nearer to the middle of the road I was on the outside of the rows of people scratching for bricks to climb, myself nearest the bulls.  I stood with my back to the people as if a man standing on the precipice of a cliff would keep his back to the rocks.  I remember being shocked at that moment to learn that the bulls were outfitted with giant cowbells, and as they galloped by the noise became a mixture of giant hooves slamming against the ground like a thousand bass drums coupled with the booming CLONG CLONG CLONG CLONG CLONG of the cowbells, and as quickly as they had appeared the horns were racing by within maybe a half of a foot of my exposed torso, and then they passed me.

Survival kicked in again as I turned into the road to take off after formation of the animals.  Though I had planned to follow them anyway, it felt in that moment, in that split second of time, that a decision had made – I could wait here for the chaos to subside, but this chaos would proceed to the second formation of bulls.  I wasn’t waiting around for that.

Neither were the other hundred or so people in my immediate area, all reaching the same conclusion at the same time, to run fucking run.  As closely as we could to the tail of the bulls we poured out into the street to give chase, and it became apparent then what the greatest danger was – other runners.  By luck and chance my position nearest to the bulls against the wall gave me the advantage of the taking the first and clearest step into the street, finding a line in the middle to book it for all hell or find out how close the second bulls were.  I hadn’t taken a single step, the tails of the bulls almost within my reach when I saw the first of the runners to be pushed into the way of the storm, a man hitting the side of the bulls and going down to the ground, rolling into the fetal position as the 1200lb animals stomped and jumped over his body.  In my peripherals I could people struggling to get released from the crowd along the wall as they too tried to join the chase and we were left to jump over the mass of bodies that began to form along the road, some tossed to the ground by the feet of the bulls and many others thrown down by the people nearest them.  Worse yet, the road was still slick from the alcohol that had rained down on the streets for two days and as we reached out with our legs to take each step it became a game of skill to stay on our feet, bystanders in our way notwithstanding.  At about twenty paces as the street turned uphill I was forced to run on my toes to avoid going down, to keep from ending up on the ground under the feet of the runners and soon after the hooves of the second animals.  It was in this moment that I knew now what the Irish man meant by “if you go dow’un, stay the fuck dow’un.”  There is no getting up in this heat.  The few brave souls that tried to get up were immediately trammeled again, and I thanked the ones who stayed down by jumping over their bodies further on toward the ring.

The route's entrance to the arena.

The route’s entrance to the arena.

At about 250 meters the route entered the intersection just before the arena, and though the fences we ran in didn’t widen, the buildings outside the fence gave way open space.  People here were able to sit along the fences that we ran inside, and it felt like celebrating a victory as the voices cheered.  The need to laugh overcame me and for whatever reason I turned around to run backwards and see for once the mess I was in.  It was beautiful.  I could only take a few steps before other people were running into me, forcing me to turn around.  But in those seconds I felt like I was in the presence of the Lord, the entire spirit of the human race unfolded before me, the universe collapsed here and started again with the fever pitch of death.  We had run.  Or were running, as we came upon the entrance to the ring.  Down the slope and I was into the arena full of spectators, the noise and ambience of which made me feel like an Olympic champion taking the platform.  Dashing off to the right I turned around and not five seconds behind me the crowd split, with a group just at the entrance to the ring all hitting the ground – the second group of bulls were jumping over these people into the ring and with as much speed as the ones I had passed were across the 100 meters of the ring within a second to be corralled in their pen at the end.  It became a sea of joy in that building.

The ritual had only just begun and soon enough the oxen were released one by one as they had been the day before, in fact it was the same oxen as before.  The brown with the lopsided pair of horns coming out first.  Attempting to give him chase I learned immediately that the number of people in the ring on this second day easily tripled the amount of the first.  On the day before when I was nearly pummeled by an ox there were spaces along the wall to jump, the crowd not so thick you couldn’t get a look at it before it speared your way.  But on this day there were no spaces.  The people were lining the walls so heavily that to get out demanded great inconsequence, and seemed nearly impossible.  And as the first ox left the ring after a few minutes, I learned that his replacement was the bastard that nearly killed me.  That big, black, hulking mass of anger was back out in the ring.  I made one attempt to get at him and very nearly got thrown to the ground by the people around me.  So many in fact that it was impossible to make a move toward the beast.  Instead people were just standing around waiting for him to approach, their only guesses of his movement the people spreading to one side and then the next and often that indication was inaccurate.  I feared then more greatly in that crowd than I had at any moment.  Panic overwhelmed me that I couldn’t see the thing that wanted me dead, nor could I escape.  I started running along the walls until I came to the matador’s exit, pushing my way through against the weight of the revelers there watching.  I found a small patch of wall to look out and made peace that I had survived.  It would be enough to watch the rest from safety.

For the next hour a few more oxen were released one by one.  The runners in the ring were a mixture of people who knew what was going on, and people who didn’t.  From the size of the crowd it were probably more of the latter.  The English speaking tourists who would stop inside the ring to take pictures with each other while the ox kept fucking raging around.  It was sport to which runners would not realize that it was coming in their direction, and the reactions they made.  Most immediately jumped for the wall, but given on this day the amount of people keeping escape closed, the runners would instead just jump in our arms.  It went on like this until el encierro had finished and the people began pouring out into the streets.

They took with them a bit of life.  At least that’s what they gave me.  The tingling that superwhelmed my body last time showed up again this morning, but it brought along with it relief.  The sun seemed a bit brighter, but only as exit music for a trio of non-heroes.  We weren’t anything spectacular.  We had merely run.

It didn’t feel real in some ways.  To swim the ether from the goddamned bottom wells of fear, fear so deep that a calm cleanses the senses, up to the very mountains of oblivion and life so rich that the feeling of immortality must be swatted from the face like flies.   I was nearly frozen in the Spanish heat.  The steps guided me home but the heart raced along as if the run had never ended.  The spirit soared to gain witness over the city entire with its millions running mad, mad they ran into the third day like the first had never ended, God had instead said that the first day will be extended first to 48 hours then to 72 hours then infinity as the streets entered the rain cycle from dry to soaked, a heavy precipitation of booze and filth poured down at interval hours when the drunks weren’t eating.  I’m sure that no one slept on these days.

To sleep would be asking too much.  The things we’d miss in sleep would deprive the barren spirit inside the bones.  How could I be expected to see around me so much life and say to it that I would not imbibe?  We were here to drink rich in the waters of life welling from the springs of death, that was the play.  The play that death could deal for us so much life.  That for the bulls, that for the runs, that for the fights, that for the brazen intoxication that could last for days, that for these things we would be rewarded with a cosmic breath lasting unto forever.  Untold wealth filled the pockets of the poorest of men in these days.  It’s a shame then that it must end, but I believe it ends because we let it.  This could go on forever if so many wanted to be so rich, if so many would give up on running from death and just jump out in front to see if it would race by or gore them with horns.  The life that does so is not without a purpose.  It is balanced.  It is about both living and dying.  To deny death is to deny life.  And so we run.

Which way do you run?

*which of course I read about in a Henry Miller essay.

The beauty of Spain.

The beauty of Spain.

Non-sequitur Thoughts

The sun continued to beat down on us as we walked to the apartment and eventually shower and pack to leave.  These are always the worst moments for me, the end of freedom’s succulent nourishment.  To return to some modicum of life that we call “normal,” and most refer to as a job.  It would be too much to ask everyone to just live and let live.  But then that would also mean to die and let die, and that’s the great paralyzing fear after all.  We have to meddle too much in the deaths of others, as if necessary to perpetuate some great sense of morality that to this day cannot be confidently defined or explained.

Heading back east from the Navarre mountains we passed into the scorched middle north of Spain that resembles a western film, complete with ghost towns and half-erected adobe buildings lining the road.  It made a five hour drive peaceful, calm, and beautiful.  It was honestly the first time I had received so much sun (apart from the absolute burnt deserts of the Middle East), and it felt like home.

For that reason and all the reasons in the 13-thousand some words before, I do want it to be home one day.  Pamplona has surpassed St. Petersburg in my list of future homes.  Though St. Petersburg is still the golden city, Pamplona had the serene combination of size, spirit, and sentiment that just felt like a comfortable place.  Though these days during San Fermin were bordering on the lunatic fringe, the rest of the city seemed congenial and welcoming.  Enough history to be rich with life, but not too much to be overrun with discontent.

It helped also that my broken Spanish actually fucking worked in this country, or at least here.  I couldn’t give a full dissertation on quantum physics, but I knew enough to easily solve my problems.  If I needed gas I could ask for directions, if I needed food I could easily order and be polite about it, if someone asked me where I was from I could answer, give my name, my friend’s names, and talk about what we do.  That also felt like home in a way that I haven’t been able to find yet in Europe.  I had been avoiding Spain for the same reasons that I’m done with Germany – it just feels like America, full of contemporary problems and stubbornness.  But I was wrong – Spain is nothing like America and for all the better.  To then be able to dive deep into its world with the foot in the door of language, the decision is all too easily.  Pamplona, you will be my home.

Spain also has the best damn food traditions I’ve run across yet.  I love you Baltic people, but your food fucking blows.  Spain is where it’s at.  It’s quite simple – take something you like, either fry it or bake it and serve it with a beer in the morning on small platters meant to be eaten like appetizers and call it tapas.  Tapas are not one particular thing, but many.  My favorite were the tortillas stuffed with cheese and tomato, rolled, and fried.  But there were also olive tapas served with cheese, churrito tapas served with sugars, and many other assortments that no two alike resembled.  The idea is to foster conversation amongst people at the bar and it was fucking awesome.  By night it would devolve into an outdoor bar where instead it was beer and pinxas (pinchas), which was simply a standard tapa served cold on bread.  And so outside everyone would just sit and eat and drink and smoke cigars and let the sun go down slowly.  It was the most wonderful way to eat I’ve ever seen.  Not behind closed doors like everyone else, but honestly meant to bring people together.  I loved it.  If you could get around how rigid the hours are, you know by living there and making it a habit, it would be the most fantastic lifestyle.  So I’m going to do it.

And because of the rich amount of sun it was common to see people anywhere, literally on any patch of grass that could be found sleeping.  Hey! There’s grass, let’s go to sleep.  Everywhere.  And then of course the girls would wear whatever they wanted, which was close to nothing, so that’s a plus.

Oh, and if you don’t like tapas, I had some of the best pizza, almost as good as Italy but not quite, so there are options.

And there’s mountains in the background and just an hour away there’s surfing in San Sebastian.

And everyone smokes.  Spain loves to smoke.  I’m trying to quit yet but there’s something comforting about a country so set its ways.  Every time I hear someone bellow “QUIT SMOKING” I just want to punch them and yell “I DON’T TELL YOU TO STOP WATCHING TELEVISION SO SHUT THE FUCK UP” because let’s face it television will kill you quicker.

But I can’t stop talking about the sun.  Goddamn it was so bright, the sky so clear and blue.  If gravity had unhinged I would have thought the sky as water and tried to jump in.

And it just felt inviting.  It looked like it was built to be beautiful.  That’s a sincere difference from the rest of Europe that was built to be either grand and powerful or safe and efficient.  Beauty is somewhere in between and Spain found it.

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