In Pamploma, tourists can enjoy a bullfight—or a visit to the Ernest Hemingway kebab shopby Duncan Wheeler / August 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
I’ve lost count of the bars and hotels I’ve been to in Spain which Ernest Hemingway reputedly frequented. Pamplona, however, lays the greatest claim on his affections and legacy. The capital of Navarra—a city of 200,000 inhabitants—swells in size in summer as up to a million people take part in the San Fermin festivities that run from the 6th to 14th July. These include eight encierros, where humans run with six bulls at 8am in the morning in a televised chase that lasts between two and three minutes, following a set 875 metre course beginning on the Santa Domingo hill and culminating in the city’s bullring. Tourists underestimate the risks at their peril but some veteran foreign runners, such as the late Welsh Noel Chandler or US citizen Joe Distler, have become local celebrities, attaining a very high standard.
In 1967, Pamplona Town Council agreed to rename the street outside the bullring Hemingway Way in honour of the American Nobel Laureate who had given their local festivities a universal appeal, with a bronze statue erected soon afterwards. Yet when he returned to Pamplona in the 1950s, Hemingway feared he had ruined the San Fermin party, exposing it to the global imagination. It’s true no other major event in Spain to involve bulls is so reliant on foreigners, who make up over 40 per cent of the 17,126 runners Truth be told, however, Hemingway was always more obsessed with this than the locals. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, first published in 1927—five years after Pamplona’s current bull-ring was first opened to the public—is as fixated on tourism and preserving “authenticity” as it with bulls.
In reality, Spain’s mass tourism boom of the 1960s was a double-edged sword for the bulls. Exotic difference was marketable; anarchic medieval barbarism less so. Pamplona’s encierros went from strength to strength, whilst festivities involving the collective slaughter or mocking of the bulls elsewhere in the Peninsula were often banned by the centralist Francoist establishment, providing one explanation as to why locals continue to defend them into the twenty-first century. The Catalan parliament may have banned corridas—professional bullfights—but neither it nor local mayors have made more than token gestures to prevent bulls, often with their horns set alight, being chased through local streets.
The boisterous masses who…