|A good car when you're going to run from the bulls|
The mood in Pamplona had become ugly, especially in the wake of arrests in previous days of several Basque militants. We arrived in the midst of this darkening political scene in our smoky SEATS with our sandwiches, wine, and sausages. We had to park on the outskirts of town in a raw and only partially developed industrial area. We, however, were young, and away from parents, so a bit of a walk into the center of town didn't bother us. Although the drunk and partying foreigners seemed oblivious to their surroundings, as we got into town those of us a bit more tuned in noticed right away that things were not cheery. We saw fist fights between pro- and anti-ETA youths. The riot police presence was visibly growing with every passing hour. We saw lots of very nasty pro and anti Spain graffiti in Spanish and Euskera. Since we had arrived late, we decided not to check in with my wife's relatives, and headed straight to the bullring to try to get tickets for that day or the next. We walked down the streets where the wooden barricades had been erected for the running of the bulls. We found it impossible to get to the bullring's ticket booth. A large and increasingly boisterous crowd blocked the entrances and filled the plaza in front of the arena. The bullfight for that day was about to begin.
We heard a "Pop!" My wife, the "expert" on bulls, shouted, "Oh my God! They fired the warning rocket! That means the bulls will be charging down this street!" She then did a move that would have made Fosbury proud; she made it over the wooden barricades in record time. I move slower, and remember saying, "The bulls don't run in the afternoon." Another "Pop!" Then more in rapid succession. Lots of yelling and screaming, horns honking, a police siren, a panicked mob pushing down the street where I stood--that's much scarier than bulls. I climbed up the barricade. I saw some people with blood streaming down their faces. More "Pop!" "Pop!" coming from the bullring. I jumped down to where my wife stood and said, "Somebody is shooting!"
Somebody was indeed shooting. The unpopular governor of Navarra had arrived at the bullring to officiate the event. The crowd went wild, booing, stamping their feet, shouting in Spanish and Basque for him to get out, "¡Fuera! ¡Fuera!" They hurled comments about his mother's membership in the world's oldest profession, and her marital status at the time of his birth--nobody can beat Spaniards when it comes to colorful insults. The idiot governor, later assassinated by ETA, sent several members of the Guardia Civil into the center of the arena to announce with bullhorns (appropriate) that the bullfight would get canceled unless order and decorum returned. Mistake. First, never cede the physical high ground to an opponent; second, don't threaten him with a consequence he doesn't care about. The crowd launched a shower of seat cushions, bottles, shoes, chairs, anything throwable onto the cops. One Guardia got hit in the head by a full wine bottle. His colleagues did what panicky cops have done since time immemorial. They began firing. They fired pistols and automatic weapons into the stands and the crowd. A human stampede ensued, not to mention fatalities and many injuries.
To make a long story only slightly less long, the bulls got a reprieve that day. The city of Pamplona, however, exploded. Within a couple of hours or so the telephone company building was ablaze. Running battles between armed and shooting cops and groups of bottle and molotov cocktail throwing youths raged all over town. I told the future Diplowife, "We might want to leave right about now." For once she did not disagree, and with her cousins we walked back to our cars. We were starting them up, when some Guardias approached and asked what we were doing. "We want to leave," we whined. "Not allowed. The city is closed to all traffic, in and out." This made no sense, but they had the guns.
We had never checked in with my wife's relatives; her parents and those of her cousins were almost certainly learning about the mayhem on TV and radio and knew nothing of our fate; the phone company building was a pile of smoldering rubble; and all this, of course, was before cellphones: we were cut off from the outside world. In such a situation, what do you do? You party. My wife's cousin had heard of a fair or carny not too far from where we had parked. Away from the center of town, it offered the promise and hope of fun and safety. Off we went.
Her intel proved accurate. We found a fair with rides and other attractions, and food. We ate sandwiches, drank beer and coffee, and won stuffed animals, appropriately enough, at a shooting booth. By now, it had gotten dark; we could see the glow of the fires in Pamplona and hear police, fire, and ambulance sirens. We would have to sleep in our cars and hope the siege ended by morning. We decided to take a final ride on the merry-go-round. No sooner had we mounted our wooden steeds and begun our slow pointless orbit, a frantic crowd came charging through the fairground. They were fleeing cops who let fly rounds here and there. "Pop!" "Pop!" The herd surged around our merry-go-round, cops in pursuit, and then all vanished. We remained astride our bobbing ponies; the only sound being the jaunty music coming from that merry-go-round. I thought that this could prove a ridiculous way to die. We jumped off the moving carousel, its operator had disappeared, and made our way in the gloom back to the cars. We sat in those tiny SEATs until daybreak, and then slowly drove them past the Guardias who finally had decided to allow people out.
I let Hemingway down. I never saw a single bull, but if I had, I would have run from it. Promise.