¡Viva la Fiesta, Viva San Fermín! A Summer in Pamplona
At night, the mountains surrounding the city of Pamplona are blue-black, the ancient evergreens bowing against the wind whipping up from deep in the valleys. Normally, Pamplona is a calm city, lulled into a dream like state by the tolling of church bells and the steady beat of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. During the first week of July, however, the city expands rapidly, filling with sangria, bulls, and people, in preparation of the fiesta of San Fermines.
In the center of the nine day fiesta of San Fermines are the Plaza de Castillo and the Plaza de Toros. Deep, deep into the night the party spins on, the incessant sound of dance music reverberates off the tightly packed buildings. Los gigantes, giant puppets, dance in the street, their papier maîche faces nodding in time with the inherent rhythm that pulses through this old city. The crowds dance in sangria soaked streets, onwards into the early morning. At six in the morning, people start forming queues along the streets to watch the bulls run after white clothed wannabe matadors with red kerchiefs flying.
The bulls run by in an instant, the hooves scrape against the grey stone paved street and a cry goes up from the crowd. Then there is nothing, people wait for a moment in a kind of sacred silence. Then, the crowds turn and it’s over. It ends so soon, so quick. The sun rises.
At ten in the morning, you rest your head against the window of the city bus to go back home. You like it like this, the feeling that you conquered something in the darkness of the night, before you collapse like some fallen Achilles into your bed.
You rise at maybe five in the afternoon, only because you are hungry and so you eat your desayuno, your breakfast, of tortilla con patatas, a kind of omelette with potatoes. You take a shower to wash the sweet smell of sangria off. You dress in your white clothes, tie the red kerchief around your neck. Then, you lay in wait.
At nine in the evening, you go out, meet with your friends and sit at Cafe Iruña, the same café Hemingway sat at during San Fermines. It is old, some kind of twentieth century relic with gold foil, chandeliers, and marble counters. You eat pintxos and wine and wonder if Hemingway ever felt this tired during the party. So, you stay like this all night long, drinking, laughing, and eating. Eating and drinking and falling asleep, half tortured and half at peace. So, day after day continues like this for nine days.
On the last night of San Fermines, the party pours into the square of the town hall. Everyone sings and yells, their voices rise above, their legs flail wildly to the beat of some samba, of some tango-disco mash up. All are incredibly drunk in the midnight hour. All are past their limit, after nine days of parties, the candles in their hands quaver as people pack tighter and tighter until you-cannot-breathe. You know this will all be over soon and you will be glad for it, to have a real rest. Still, you lament with everyone else as you sing Pobre de mi, poor me, the party is over and no one knows what the morning holds.