Friday, August 19, 2005

Washing away california

We'll all be out by 10 a.m. Saturday morning. I'll be spending the day in London, the night at Stansted airport, then taking off to Italy early Sunday morning.

This morning, the sky got darker as the sun came up, as it only seems to be able to do in England. I'd upload a picture from my bedroom window of the approaching blackness, but it's raining too hard for me to justify a walk across campus to the better-equipped computer lab.

Hopefully I'll be able to update with words and pictures as I make my way through Italy and France over these next two weeks. I envisoned this blog to be updated far more regularly over the past eight weeks, but inconvinent internet access, a greater than expected load of course work, and the temptation for drifting toward meladrama kept me away. I also got a little carried away with writing about Pamplona. There's still one more part I'd like to finish, which I'll bang out when I get back to the states (Sept. 5th ish), but I'm sorry I didn't take any time to write about Dublin (for a few days there were small traces of blood in my guinness stream), Amsterdam ('Amsterdamage' as it will now be reffered to for reasons involving John's bad trip in the heneiken experience), Brussels (We didn't see much of the city because we were too busy eating waffles, chocolate, and drinking blonde and fruit-flavored beers).

I'm flying to Rome Sunday, but will immeaditely take the train south to Naples, where I'll spend a few days checking out Pompeii and climbing Mt. Vesuvious. I head back to Rome to meet up with Lauren, who I'll be traveling with for the remainder of my trip. Hopefully we'll meet up with Brooke and Jenna who will overlap with us in Rome for a night. From there we head to venice via train, then paris via the mighty ryan air. Somehow we'll get ourselves back to Brighton to pick up our lugage the morning of Sept 5th, before setting off for home later that day.

I'll miss a lot of people here who I likely won't see again, but man, thank heaven (the procrastination gods specifically) for the the facebook. Look me up kids, I'll show you why my school is better than your school, and why you should drop everything and transfer right now. Or I'll just promise you a couch to sleep on when you come through my way.

Sept. 18 I leave for D.C. to learn a whole new city, a whole new job, and meet a whole new building full of interesting people. It's all hard to fathom because I barely feel like I got to know the people I'm with right now (Beside Jenna and Lauren, who kick oh so much ass). After a few days without everyone around though, I'm sure my body will remember it needs the stress, and I'll be ready to do it all again.

pictures: more to come later today if it ever stops raining

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Part 5

There are five minutes until the rocket goes off. Damon and I are crammed shoulder to shoulder in a crowd several hundred, maybe a thousand or two strong. Either way, apparently it’s the largest single running of the bulls in the event’s history. La policia have cleared the course and the sanitation workers have used water to blast the cobblestone streets free of plastic cups, vomit, urine, wine bottles, shoes, clothing, broken glass. I feel like I’m on some sort of mood-levelling drug. I’m not scared. I’m not tired. I’m not worried. I’m not particularly thrilled about being chased by six bulls and six steer, each weighing over 1000 pounds and able to run faster than any fast human. Dennis Rodman ran on the Friday morning that I got there.The newspapers all had pictures of him in the crowd. We heard he was supposed to run again this morning, but we didn’t see him. Knowing Rodman ran did manage to upset me a little, since he’s not necessarily a person I consider among my role models. The cobblestone is soaking wet and slick. La policia remove three guys who were drunkenly passed out on the side of the course, right near where the bulls would be let out. I’m just blinking (I think) and breathing (I think) and existing. There are a good number of people in the crowd who look woefully unprepared for what’s about to happen. They don’t know that in about 30 seconds, la policia will leave, allowing the runners to move to any point on the course they want. Some think this means the run has started. They don’t know what the first rocket means, now about four minutes away They don’t know what the second rocket means, now about four minutes and ten seconds away. They don’t know how far away the stadium is. They don’t know the stadium doors get closed on those not fast enough to enter with the bulls. They don’t know to stay right because almost every turn of the course leans to the right--Centrifugal force sends the speeding bulls careening toward the left at every curve. I’m going over in my head where I’m going to be at 10, 20, 30, 40 seconds after they let the bulls loose on that first rocket. I double knot my well-worn new balance running shoes and tuck the long loops underneath the top laces. Damon asks a Spanish guy who looks like he knows what he is doing if he is nervous. He said he was very nervous. He hasn’t ever run before. Two minutes left, by my watch, which I think might be fast. Or a minute slow. I’m not sure. I haven’t seen an accurate clock all weekend. La policia is off the course. We’re surging forward in a crush of red and white to find our places on the route. Stay right. It was like we were in the mosh pit of a rock concert, and all of a sudden the lead singer said, “Sorry everyone, we have to move this show into the other room, all at once, thank you. Right through that narrow hallway, over there, yeah, that’s the one, all of you at once, please.” The hardcore Spaniards and a fairly large contingent of no-nothing dumbshit tourists hang back at the first leg to face the bulls head on to almost certainly be injured, whether by bull or fellow human in that first seconds of chaos and terror. For the locals, the start is one of the best places to run because one can get closest to the bulls’ horns before attempting to jump out of the way. The first leg is also uphill. I can see the people on the balconies lining each side of the street, staggered at different floors, waving flags and yelling. Stay right. Everybody watching the runners move into position is yelling. We’re yelling, repeating the prayer to San Fermin, the patron saint of the festival, who is supposed to watch over and protect the runners. We’re still packed tightly in the crowd, moving past the market square, and then past the course’s famous hairpin turn (if you’ve seen a picture of the bulls sliding out of control on the heels of terrified runners, it was taken at this spot). Damon and I decided ahead of time we weren’t going to try and stay together during the run. Too dangerous. We’d meet up after. At this point we lose each other in the crowd. As per our plan however, we were both to start at about the same place: about 200 meters from the stadium entrance--the last leg of the course’s most dangerous section (because for 600 meters there are no wooden barriers to jump over to get off the course, just walls of storefronts and apartment buildings reaching five stories up). We’d wait for the bulls to come to us, then run like hell and hope to make it through the gates. Stay right. A lot of the locals have brought newspapers with them and rolled them up to slap the bulls as they go by, in direct violation of the “official rules” of the encierro, which say not to taunt the bulls. We’ve been made aware of the “official rules” by a tiny paper booklet that some official looking people handed out to those they saw wearing running shoes, and especially to those who were on the course and weren’t wearing running shoes. The booklet, titled, “advice for runners,” gave directions in English and Spanish. The first rule was that running with the bulls is dangerous. “The bulls can kill.” One minute left. Stay right. Second rule: don’t run with a camera or anything that will impede you or others. I tried to convince Damon not to snap pictures while we ran, but he would have none of it. Thirty seconds left. I’m in position. Scores of the no-nothings, thinking the bulls had already been let out, high tail it past me into the stadium. Shoulda googled the running of the bulls and fucking learned something about it first, goddamn.

The first rocket goes off. The gate is open. I’m jumping in place on the course, facing the direction from which the bulls will come. I’ve been told I should turn and run at the first indication the bulls are anywhere near. If I hesitate and jump up again to make sure they’re coming, by the time my feet are back on the ground the bulls will have run past me or run me over. I hear the second rocket in the distance, a muffled noise like a firecracker exploding in a cardboard box packed with pillows. All of the bulls are in the street. There are people jogging toward me and past me. I’m jumping up and down, trying to stare down the 600 meters for signs of the herd. I shift to my right and left to let people pass. Now there are people running, not jogging, toward me, shooting glances backward and forward as quick as they can to prevent getting trampled from behind or tripped up in the front. I’m watching their faces. I can’t see very far down the course, maybe 10 meters ahead of me. The crowds are too thick.

Then the faces change. People are running for their lives.

I felt like I was a cameraman, who while filming a disaster, realizes he’s about to be trapped himself by the approaching flames. The pyroclastic flow. The tidal wave. The cloud of debris. He picks up the camera, our last view a shaking, flickering image of the chaos closing in as he slings the tripod over his shoulder and takes off running himself. I’m now running with the crowd. I’m not really sure how fast, but---holy shit there they are. On my left, flying by in a tight pack. They are passed. I thought I’d be able to count them to be able to tell if there were still more behind me. No chance. Better just book it. Stay right. Two steer, each the size of a Volkswagen bus and probably heavier, are running behind the black blur of bulls up ahead. I can see their big gold bells clinking, but I can’t hear them. I’m focused on running as fast as they are in order to follow them into the stadium. Don’t fall down. At top speed, we’re all pushing and shoving. Some people go down. Stay down, as the booklet advises. The last guy to be killed was an American who fell during the 1995 festival. He tried to get back up right as the herd bore down on him, and the lead bull put its horn clean through his back and out his stomach, throwing him about 40 feet forward in the process. The stadium is about 20 meters ahead. The wooden gates are funnelling everyone down through the narrow entrance. We’re running full speed, shoulder to shoulder. There’s the gate. And it’s fucking closing. It’s made of two doors. The left side is already closed. Stay right. The right door is closing. I’m 10 meters out. No one slows. In the next instant, we slam up against the orange wood, forcing our way through...A second gate! No one said shit about the second gate, a metal barrier to keep what’s in the ring in...the left side is already closed, Stay right! We slam against it, again overwhelming la policia trying to get it closed...we shoot through the last tunnel and burst out into the light of the bull fighting ring, which is packed to a capacity crowd of over 5,000 people screaming their head offs like we were gladiators waiting to take on some wild beasts for their amusement. Oh yeah.

I had decided ahead of time that I wasn’t going to hang around in the ring. After the bulls are herded into their pens (to face certain death later that night at the hands of a matador), they let fresh bulls out one by one to trample people. The bulls dart around in circles, thrashing anyone trying to taunt it, and many other who are just trying to get out of the way. Bulls can turn on a dime and have much better peripheral vision than humans. When you come at a bull from the side, to slap it with your newspaper he sees you and will turn and throw you up in the air. He won’t be finished with you until you stop moving. Stay down.

I move to the outside of the ring. Don’t see Damon. All the bulls have been herded. Okay, compromise, I won’t leave yet, I’ll hang on the edge, and if a bull comes I’ll jump over to safety. La policia would have none of it. They came and shoved people one by one off the edge and either pushed them into the ring, or dragged them out into the stands if one indicated he wanted out. When an officer got to me, I held out my hand and he pulled me over the wall. I jumped down the other side and looked myself over to make sure I was really all still there.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Small world

Part 4

Damon strolled up the plaza looking for me. In utter disbelief, I saw him before he saw me. Not only were the odds against him even getting to Pamplona, the odds were certainly against us finding each other once we’d both arrived separately. He had a plane ticket to Valencia, but no way to get from there to Pamplona (six hours away) once he landed.

Using his considerable Spanish skill, I guess he talked his away onto a bus and ended up rolling into town about 6 a.m. that morning, just as I had been waking up from the ATM floor. As it turned out, we were both able to watch the running that morning. Before we left, we used a map to prearrange several different meeting places and times throughout the weekend. We found each other at the first place and the first time, 10 a.m. Saturday in front of the left luggage building.

We spent the day wandering the streets, buying postcards and t-shirts, and outfitting ourselves in the traditional white and red attire. We each bought a pair of the white cotton capris that appeared to be all the rage, at least among the tourists. The local runners all wore white jeans and button down white shirts. I opted for a red “san fermin” bandanna, while Damon opted for the sash.

When I first saw Damon in the plaza, I was about to tell him how I had decided not to run after watching how fucking fast those bulls were moving a few hours earlier. But the first words out of his mouth when he saw me were something to the affect of, “Did you see that shit this morning?! God damn I can’t wait to get in there, it’s going to be so fucking awesome.” From that moment on, the thought of not running never again entered my head. I decided I had come way too far not to be able to tell people I ran with the bulls.

We walked out from the city center into an enormous park, where we slept for a solid 2 hours in the sun, using our backpacks as pillows. We hit the town again that evening for some drinks, but returned to the park that night for the fireworks show that occurred every night during the festival at 11 p.m.

While at night the city of Pamplona was one giant toilet, by day the city was one huge bed, which gives slightly more insight into the town’s sanitation problem. People were sleeping everywhere. From the concrete ground in the plazas to the small stretches of grass surrounding fountains, and even in the medians of busy roads and large landscaped roundabouts, people were just passed out. People who were obviously intoxicated and “unable to care for their own safety” by the definition commonly employed by the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, received little more than pokes from la polica who, rarely, checked for vital signs and then just moved on.

Earlier that evening, we ditched our bags at the left luggage place, wearing what we planned to run in and nothing more. I had brought with me next to nothing beside bottled water. No Ipod, no sunglasses, no long pants, only one change of clothes and an old watch. To survive the night, I decided I should keep my UCSB sweatshirt on. I figured I could run while wearing it the next morning, as I doubted my adrenaline level would allow me to feel overheated during the 200 meter section of the course we planned to run.

I convinced Damon that another night in the bank portico would be our best bet to spend the night, given its relative cleanliness and warmth. We stopped by the ATM while it was still light outside and stashed a big bottle of water in the bushes outside. We knew we’d probably come back drunk and possibly wake up drunk, or at least hung over, so having some water around might ease our pain. We carried around some extra bread rolls in our pockets that we planned to eat as a snack on the way to the course in the morning.

Saturday night was just as crazy and claustrophobic in that DP on Halloween sort of way. We had fun drinking and trying to converse with Spanish people and any English-speaking girls we could find. One Spanish woman talked to us for a long time about how much she hated Bush but loved Clinton. We agreed and eventually left her with kisses on both cheeks, after assuring her that there are plenty more Americans like us.

To talk about random, Damon and I were walking past a rock concert in the middle of the street when some girls yelled out in English to me something about, “Yeah, UCSB! Go Gauchos!” We hung out with the four girls for a little while, all of whom had just graduated a few weeks prior. Small world, but one of them is in the UCSB Dramatic Arts program and knew my two roommates from last year.

The last person we met of any significance scared the shit out of us. We were drunk and I don’t remember why we started talking to him, but he was this monster of an American, well over 6 feet tall with a build like a linebacker. Again, we were drunk so maybe he wasn’t that big, but he told us some crazy stories about running with the bulls each of 3 previous years. What scared us was that he said he was never able to make it into the stadium, la polica always slammed the gates shut before he could run through.

Making it into the stadium was our primary goal. We had walked and studied the course during the day, and mapped out where we’d start to minimize danger to ourselves and maximize our chance of making it in (the huge orange doors get mechanically shut right after the last bull makes it in).

So here was this huge, experienced guy telling us we’d never make it on our first try. It freaked me out a little bit, but we told him we weren’t going to do it again, so we were going to make it in on our first try. His last advice to us was that, “no matter what happens, stay right.”

We turned in early to the bank floor, sometime around 2 a.m., and planned to wake up at six. Then it would be straight to the head of the course. The evening was considerably less comfortable than the previous night. I had no backpack to sleep on and only the shallow pockets of my thin capris to hold the small amount of cash and coins I was still carrying. According to Damon, I still had little trouble falling asleep, curling in the fetal position to keep warm and to use my inner left arm as a pillow. My hips would be bruised for several days after from tossing and turning on the tile floor.

Stampede within stampede

Part 3

I saw an officer de la policia raise his baton over his head and bring it down somewhere into the crowd ahead of me. Explicably trying to avoid a beating, the people closest to the police surged backward. Then, inexplicably, everyone turned and ran.

I don’t know anything about stampedes, but I figured it was best to go with the flow. So I turned and booked it downhill on the wet street. They weren’t supposed to let the bulls out for a another few minutes, according to my watch, and I didn’t think I was on the course, but my stomach definitely said, ‘I guess this is it Dan, peace out dude, I’m going to chill a few strides behind you if that’s okay.’

I had already lost Paul and Mike in the Saturday morning crowds as we tried finding a place where we could watch the bulls go by, so I only had myself to worry about. People slipped and fell down all over the place, including a girl next to me who didn’t back peddle two steps before meeting the urine-soaked* cobblestone face first.

I haven’t read The Sun Also Rises, the Hemingway novel that’s widely credited with sparking the modern popularity of Pamplona’s Festival de San Fermin, but I doubt he ever mentioned the town’s severe lack of toilets, which results in a truly epic display of public urination.

To quantify the issue a bit further, this isn’t a couple drunk guys sneaking behind a Del Playa fence and letting it fly in the bushes. This is 10,000 drunk men and women at any particular moment during the festival’s evening and early morning hours lined up in every single alcove, alley, portico, and every other place where two walls come together forming a corner for that matter, to answer the call of far too much to drink. But there’s little choice not to partake, a fact the Pamplona city authorities understand. Each morning of the festival, sanitation crews pressure wash every street with huge hoses mounted on trucks, which apparently is much cheaper and easier than providing and servicing enough porti-potties for 2 million drunk people who are going to go when and where they feel like it anyway

Of course, the bulls weren’t coming yet, and definitely not down the street I was on. The crowd had just been spooked by the cops beating people off the course. In the span of about 6 seconds, the mass of people went from pushing and shoving to a full sprint and then back to pushing and shoving for a view of the running.

I couldn’t get a view of the course at the middle market section--the section of the course I planned to run the next day--so I moved to the final strait away where wooden barricades funnel runners through a space about 15 feet wide at the entrance to the stadium.

Through a tiny viewing window formed by the armpit and elbow of a taller guy in front of me, I watched as some runners jogged by, taking up positions where they planned to face down the bulls and race them into the stadium.

I heard the first rocket blast, signifying the bulls had been let out of their pen about 800 meters away. A few seconds later, the second rocket went off, signifying all the bulls were in the street. The crowd went nuts. All I saw in front of me was a mass of white and red outfits streaming past. I figured I would hear the bulls clamouring on the cobblestone before I saw them run by, but without warning they passed in a blur while runners dove over and under the wooden fencing to make way.
The third rocket went off as all the bulls entered the stadium, which seemed to be the signal for the paramedics to jump back on the course and head toward the wounded. A few ambulances forced their way through the crowd, but I heard later that no one had been gored. The most serious injury of the morning had been inflicted upon a Canadian girl, who was trampled after falling down. Local media noted prominently that she had been wearing sandals.