San Fermines Part 2: Post Run Celebrations

After the bull run, we gathered our belongings and made the short descent down the apartment stairs to the main street. Right before the run, Carlos had mentioned the apartment across the way was owned by a Tour de France winner who had bought the place only to enjoy the San Fermines festival. We exited onto the freshly washed street and headed toward the bull release point. As we walked down the cobbled stone, I noticed the short distance of the run (825 meters).  That we had viewed the event from a second floor was a privilege and an honor.

After visiting the now-empty corral where the bulls had slept the night before, we headed to a “casino” where we partook of a traditional post-run breakfast of hot chocolate with churros. The “cocoa” which our host grumbled was not hot (and it wasn’t) was nonetheless delicious. Just imagine drinking smooth liquid milk chocolate, accompanied with a doughy cinnamon stick. Carlos told us that a firmer stick was more traditional, but I was happy with the soft form.

Next we entered a giant room where a band played traditional music. Everyone joined a chain by placing hands upon the shoulders of those in front of them. Soon we left the room in a caterpillar formation, only to circle back inside. Later, a mix of other songs had our toes tapping and hips swinging. Though I couldn’t understand the verses, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, particularly one silly song, much like the “chicken dance” here in the States, except the dancers imitated the playing of various instruments like the flute and the violin.

From here, we hit the street to enjoy a tradition begun in the 16th century – the parade of “gigantes.” These giant characters are a source of amusement (and sometimes great fear for the children). These characatures represent authorities that carry a stick and a sponge. The idea is for the child to run up and tag the character while calling out for the giant to use the sponge for punishment.

Our meanderings then lead us to a two-man magic act. My daughter, Lindsay, got asked to assist on a card trick. Later, our host, Carlos became the helper on another act. We happily doled out coins for the show and moved on.

All around us, people played drums and live bands performed. Despite heavy drinking and smoking, everyone seemed to get along. We stopped for a snack off and on, visited the old and new city sections, popped into shops to buy souvenirs, and navigated crowds. When we visited Carlos’ friend’s tavern, the man who had arranged our balcony space with another woman restaurant owner, several “politicos” arrived and we ate tapas in their midst.

Lunch in Spain is typically the main meal of the day. Carlos had darted into restaurants periodically throughout the morning to find a place that could accommodate our party of seven around that time with no luck. At around 1:45 pm, he led us to an Italian restaurant. He whispered something in the greeter’s ear and in moments our party was seated at a large table.

The food was fabulous. Later, he admitted that he had name-dropped to secure our table. He had told the greeter that his friend’s “politicos” had indicated that this Italian place was the best restaurant in town and that Carlos should take his American guests here. Hence, the available table.

After a long, leisurely lunch, Carlos escorted us to the area where the “clubs” gather to parade into the bull ring. A giant procession of strangely clad groups navigated the narrow streets. Each group had a signature. Some dressed like Egyptians, others wore big yellow hats reminiscent of Philly cheeseheads. As we stood watching, I told Carlos how disappointed I was in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I had no clue that San Fermines was so much more than a bull run. Then, Carlos exclaimed and hugged another spectator that was passing by. A flurry of Spanish and cheek-kissing ensued between Carlos and his family and this elder gentleman. Then he turned to me and introduced me to his uncle – a man who had on occasion sat and smoked and conversed with none other than Hemingway. I would have liked to ask the gentleman questions about the famous author, but between the language barrier and the obvious joyous interchange going on within the family, I chose not to intrude. Watching this impromptu family reunion seemed a fitting end to a day that had been rich in timeless Spanish culture and tradition.

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