The Road to Santiago.

September 28, 2002

El Consistorial.
El Consistorial in Navarra  

11:00 p.m.: ¡Estoy aqui, en Pamplona! I'm here in Pamplona!
It all began for me — my love affair with Spain, 25 years ago — here in Pamplona. This is the city famous for the Fiesta of San Fermin and the annual running of the bulls. The first time I was here I was 30 and too drunk to run the bulls. The second time I was 40 and not drunk enough. Now I'm in my fifties and I'm walking not running. Besides, there are no bulls here now.

It reminds me of the risqué story of the old bull and the young bull surveying the valley from the hilltop. They spied a herd of cows. Excited, the young bull said, "Let's run down this hill and get some cows." The old bull said, "No son, let's stroll down this hill and get some cows!" The good thing about maturity (that's what AARP calls old age) is that you can take the time to enjoy life.

Actually, it started four years earlier at a poker game in Guam. My brother was a teacher there and several of his colleagues would get together Friday nights for a poker game. As we regaled each other with suggestions of the best party sites in the world (Oktober Fest, Mardi Gras, etc.) we were intrigued by one suggested by Frank (a spitting image of the late singer Jim Croce) — the annual running of the bulls. We were enthralled by Frank's description of a week-long festival that doesn't stop — with people singing and dancing in the streets, running the bulls in the morning, eating sumptuous lunches at outdoor cafes, and attending the bullfights in the late afternoon. After all, we were educated people and had all read Ernest Hemingway. I don't know if it was the beer speaking or the general joie de vivre, but someone suggested that on the 7th day of the 7th month of the 77th year we would all meet in la Plaza de Pamplona and show Hemingway how it was really done! We swore on our mothers' graves, which was real hyperbole since most of them were not dead yet. (Although the thought of such an outing would probably kill them!)

Flash forward to July 7, 1977 we were all assembled — save one, my brother. Now, I'm sitting here again on the plaza. Perhaps third time is a charm . . . .  Oh well, next time?

I came here for the bulls but I found much more. Spain is a wondrous mix of many cultures and influences. European and African, Christian and Moslem/Moor, old and new.  Each era has had its effect: prehistoric, roman, visigothic, medieval, renaissance, imperial, post imperial, fascistic dictatorship, and finally modern constitutional monarchy. An incredible blend of successes and failures that give the Spaniards their unique view of life and sense of the moment — sort of a collective feeling of "been there, done that!" I can best describe their attitude by the expression that "Time is not money, and one cannot get you the other." Thus when I get excited I hear the words "tranquilo, tranquilo," relax, relax. Of course we all know the Doris Day song, Que sera, sera. What will be, will be. Thus, the concept of mañana, which is not a sense of laziness or putting things off until tomorrow, but rather a faith in the future.

As I roamed the streets today, it seemed like yesterday. I quickly headed for the end of the course and the shrine of all papaistas, the bust of Papa Hemingway himself. While standing there I heard someone say, "Excuse, please, speak you English?" Of course I answered, "¡Si!" Then my new-found German friend said, "Your picture, I can take?"  I thought that he was offering to take a picture of me next to the statue with my camera (which had been my desire) when I realized that he wanted a picture on his camera to take home and show his friends the Amerikanischer who looked like Henmingway. I agreed to let him take one, if he would first take one for me with my camera.
Papa and me.
I am often mistaken for others. A few nights ago, a gentleman in Madrid bought me a drink because he thought I looked like the movie director, Francis Ford Coppola. When I was 50 pounds heavier, I was often mistaken for Pavoratti or Sebastian Cabot (in the role of Mister French). My response was to pretend to be hurt until the obligatory drink was brought forth in a gesture of amelioration. Last year while preparing tax returns for H&R Block, several rug rats thought I was Santa Claus. I told them that I was and that I was broke after giving out all those presents!

As I cross one calle (street) I spot my first flecha armarilla (yellow arrow) which is a sign post for el camino de Santiago. I will be following this route a few days hence. So, I walked a few blocks on the way and found where the local refugio (refuge) is located.  I had wanted to leave for Roncevalles tomorrow, but the buses don't run on Domingo (Sunday) so I have to wait another day. The one thing I have had to exercise on this trip is patience. I know I have enough patience but do I have enough, money, insulin, and medical supplies?

Once I get to Roncesvalles, I will head to the Abby and apply for my pilgrim's passport. This is the document which will permit me to stay in the refugios along el camino.  At each stop I will get the passport stamped and then will present it at the Cathedral in Santiago for my diploma compostela; that is if I complete the trip! ¡O jala!  (God willing!)

I'm getting ready for bed but first, I will attempt to transmit my pictures and appropriate verbiage. This gives me some trepidation because it's such a hassle getting and then maintaining my Internet connection. But I'm a stubborn person and I will keep trying until I get though. Obviously, connection while on el Camino de Santiago will be hard to obtain and the updates may not be as regular as I wish. In the least, once a week I will take a lujo (luxury) and stay in a real hotel with a tell phone landline so I can post the updates. So please, dear friends, don't give up on me if there are no entries for a few days.

P.S. When I get back home to Massachusetts I will post some of my old photos of the actual Running of the Bulls and the corrida (bullfight) for present and future aficionados.

Bye for a few days!
Los Corralillos. Where the bulls wait.
Los Corralillos. Here is where it all starts. This small parking alcove is gated off to hold the six bulls and small group of steers which will run through the streets. The steers know the way and the bulls follow. In the off season, the only pull in the place is an occasional Ford Taurus. Behind these walls seven groups of six bull (one group for each day of the fiesta) await their fate.
El nicho.   El nicho detail.
El nicho. This niche holds an image of San Fermine to which the sanfermines sing before the corrida begins.
Along the way. El Consistorial.
Up this street several hundreds run ahead of the herd only to scatter when beasts overcome men. El Consistorial. Anyone who has seen the movie City Slickers will recognize this plaza and the most famous building in Navarra. The crowds surge through the plaza on toward the bull ring.
The back stretch. The red door.
This is the back stretch. Through the red door in the back ground all the animals and the mass of humanity must pass. This is the danger point.
Typical street scene in Pamplona.
  A Pamplonean scene during normal times.
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