Jeffrey Pipes Guice

New Orleans
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Running With the Bulls

The Feast of San Fermín: July 6 - July 13
The encierro (Spanish for a bull run) begins with runners singing a benediction. It is sung three times, each time being sung both in Spanish and Basque. The blessing is a prayer given at a statue of Saint Fermín, patron of the festival and the city, to ask for the saint's protection and is translated into English as "We ask Saint Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the encierro and give us his blessing." The singers finish shouting, "¡Viva San Fermín! and Gora San Fermin! ('Long live Saint Fermin,' in Spanish and Basque, respectively). Most runners dress in the traditional clothing of the festival, which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband (faja) and neckerchief (pañuelo). Also, some hold the day's newspaper rolled to draw the bulls' attention to them if necessary.

A first rocket is set off at 8 a.m. to alert the runners that the corral gate is open. A second rocket signals that all six bulls have been released. The third and fourth rockets signal that the herd has entered the bullring and its corral, respectively, marking the end of the event. The average duration between the first rocket and the end of the encierro is two minutes and 30 seconds.

The encierro is usually composed of the six bulls to be fought in the afternoon, six steers that run in a herd with the bulls, and three more steers that follow the herd to encourage any reluctant bulls to continue along the route. The function of the steers, who run the course daily, is to guide the bulls to the bullring. The average speed of the herd is about 15 mph.

The length of the run is about 957 yards. It goes through four streets of the old part of the city (Santo Domingo, Ayuntamiento, Mercaderes, and Estafeta) via the Town Hall Square and just before entering into the bullring through its callejón (tunnel). The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across Town Hall Square, but the bulls often separate at the entrance to Estafeta Street as they slow down. One or more would slip going into the turn at Estafeta ("la curva"), resulting in the installation of anti-slip surfacing. Now, most bulls negotiate the turn onto Estafeta and are often ahead of the steers, resulting in a quicker run. Runners are not permitted in the first 50 meters of the encierro, an uphill grade where the bulls are much faster.

Every year, between 50 and 100 people are injured during the run. Not all injuries require taking the patients to hospital: in 2013, 50 people were taken by ambulance to Pamplona's hospital, nearly doubling in 2012. Goring is much less common but potentially life-threatening. In 2013, for example, six participants were gored along the festival; in 2012, only four runners were injured by the horns of the bulls, with precisely the same number of gored people in 2011, nine in 2010, and 10 in 2009, with one of these last killed. As most runners are male, only five women have been gored since 1974. Before that date, running was prohibited for women.

A Poem: Being One With the Bull

It’s at the annual Festival of San Fermín
Which separates the men from the boys
It’s where we all become one with the bulls
Discarding all frivolous and domestic noise

We were visiting Pamplona on our honeymoon
We had been married just the week before
After spending a few nights in Cap d’Antibes
We joined the crowds as they began to roar

After a night of machismo debauchery
Raising calimocho toasts to our brother bull
As we all become one in a soulful spirit
On our heartstrings, the bulls began to pull

In the morning, the sun also rises
It was time for the main event to begin
As the cannon fired and the bulls took off
We all prayed for bravery among the men

The adrenaline began to start pumping
The smell of bull sweat permeated the air
As the calimocho began to pound our heads
I realized the competition was anything but fair

The bulls came at us with a vengeance
Their eyes were focused and bloodshot red
Their horns were ready to pierce the flesh
Before the day was over, someone could be dead

I looked deep inside for some courage
Asking God to keep me safe from harm
As the bulls approached and ran next to me
I felt a deep burning feeling on my forearm

As the pain became even more excruciating
My adrenaline kept me squarely in the race
The bulls continued to pass right next to me
I couldn’t help but notice their poise and grace

When the bulls finally reach the bullpen
And the large wooden gates began to close
I used every muscle in my battle-torn body
To make it inside by the tip of my nose

The bulls ran around in different directions
My excitement forced me to barf
I finally located my new wife in the stands
She wrapped my arm with her silk scarf

She was pleased my wound didn’t require stitches
As we settled in for the bullfights to begin
I tried to relax and enjoy the festivities
Even though my pride had taken one on the chin

The last bullfight was one of splendor
The matador fought with bravado and charm
While the bull gave his life, to the chagrin of my wife
The matador walked away without harm

The matador, in all his handsome grandeur
Presented a trophy ear to my beautiful wife
She smiled at him like a spoiled schoolgirl
As he ceremoniously wiped the blood from his knife

Immediately following the bullfights
My new wife and I left for Cafe Iruna
Neither of us had eaten all day, and as much
We loaded ourselves on fresh prawns and tuna

My wife asked me if it was all worth it
That I almost turned her into a widow
I just smiled and whispered into her ear
“You won't lose me that easy, kiddo.”

© 2023 Jeffrey Pipes Guice, Finding My Hemingway
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