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Running with the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain


 
July 7, 1923
Ernest Hemingway   (1899 - 1961)
 
Hemingway's Bulls
 
by Steve King

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On this day the running of the bulls begins in Pamplona, on the first morning of the nine-day Feast of San Fermin. Hemingway first went as a twenty-three-year-old writer still a month away from his first, small book (Three Stories and Ten Poems), and so still filing stories for the Toronto Star: "Then they came in sight. Eight bulls galloping along, full tilt, heavy set, black, glistening, sinister, their horns bare, tossing their heads...." His first wife, Hadley was with him; they had semi-joked that the bullfights would be a "stalwart" influence on the baby she was carrying. He would be named "John Hadley Nicanor," the last coming from one of the bullfighters they were most impressed with on the trip, Nicanor Villalta.

On his second Pamplona trip, in July of '24, Hemingway jumped in the amateur bullring -- he never ran before the bulls-and did so again on his visit in '25. The people and events of this trip would become The Sun Also Rises, the first episodes of which he began to write by the end of that July. It was on this '25 trip that he saw the teenaged sensation Cayetano Ordonez, the novel's Pedro Romero:
    Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves like cork-screws, their elbows raised, and leaned against the flanks of the bull after his horns had passed, to give a fake look of danger. Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling. Romero's bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let his horns pass him close each time. He did not have to emphasize their closeness.... Romero had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum of exposure, while he dominated the bull by making him realize he was unattainable, while he prepared him for the killing.
And so the "grace under pressure" ideal was born, providing a measure for the mess which the other characters seemed unable to prevent in their lives, and for all that Hemingway would live, write, and perhaps die by.

That Dangerous Summer is Hemingway's chronicle of his return to Pamplona thirty-four years later, for the '59 running of the bulls-his last, given his suicide on July 2, 1961. He had already found the event marred by tourists in '25; now, and largely because of The Sun Also Rises, it was hard to move, let alone find any "purity of line." But not impossible:
    Pamplona was rough as always, overcrowded with tourists and characters, but with a hard core of all that is finest in Navarre. For a week we averaged something over three hours sleep a night.... I've written Pamplona once and for keeps. It is all there as it always was except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there nearly four decades ago....
Today hundreds of thousands will be there, with more trampled by the crowds running from the bulls than by the bulls themselves. And Papa probably wouldn't think much of the new, non-bull alternatives that have evolved: the running-in-underpants celebrations, both organized and impromptu; the fountain-jumping at the St. Cecilia, a fourteen-foot leap of faith; the running-in-front-of-the-bus, which always occurs on the first morning after the festival, for those who can't bear to see it all end; the running-of-the-stair, a sequence of celebrations occurring over the previous months (January 1, February 2, March 3, April 4, May 5, June 6), for those who can't wait for July 7 to arrive.

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Related authors:  A. P. Herbert, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Janet Flanner, John Dos Passos, Michael Palin, Morley Callaghan, Raymond Carver, Sherwood Anderson, Sinclair Lewis, Sylvia Beach, Thornton Wilder, Wyndham Lewis
 
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