Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Iruña Pamplona Pampelune

For a city that has been sacked and burned to the ground several times over the last thousand years or so, Pamplona was looking quite good the first Sunday in May, when Florence and Michaëla and I spent the afternoon there wandering around. (Yes, I'm that behind in my blogging.) I wouldn't want to be there now - it's the middle of the festival of San Fermín and the streets are crammed with people, except when the hordes of rampaging cattle clear them out for a few minutes. At least the bulls won't burn the place down.

Charlemagne did, however, back in 778. This weights the argument back in favor of Roncevaux (Roncevalles) Pass as the site where the events in the Chanson de Roland actually took place, though I'm still disappointed that the pass itself didn't match up with my mental image of it. And the story (so many hundred years before things were reliably written down, and based on an account created so many hundred years later) of the heroic stand by Roland and Olivier against the overwhelming forces of the Muslim army is much more prosaic, it turns out: the reason that Charlemagne's troops were ambushed and attacked was because he sacked the city of Pamplona, which was the capital of Navarre and the Vascones (Basques). Not nearly as romantic, unless of course you're Basque. It was simply "The City" back then: Iruña.

Pamplona is the capital of Navarre still, though the region is no longer called the Kingdom of Navarre. The City Hall in the center of the old section of town was the gathering spot for the traditional fireworks start to the festival this week, a noisy beginning to what looks to be an extremely noisy week for the city. I'm glad we were there when the streets were less crowded. We picked up a map of the town at the tourist office, but still managed to get lost a few times. Though I'm not sure you can say we really got lost, since we didn't have any place in particular we were going.

I would like to go back to the Museum of Navarre, which wasn't open that Sunday afternoon. The building itself is interesting, and there's a good collection of Roman mosaics inside. And works by Goya that I might like better if I saw them in person rather than as images on a certain well-known blog. And there are a million churches in Pamplona, or at least it seemed like it, though we didn't go into any of them. Even though it was Sunday. The tourist map showed an interesting walk along the old fortified walls overlooking the river valley, and that would have been nice to do on that sunny afternoon, but we had already walked in Jaca and then spent several hours in the car, and we were all a little tired out.

And it would have been fun to spend more time exploring the nooks and crannies of this medieval city, like the covered cul-de-sacs that burrow in between the buildings that were constructed along the inner faces of the fortified walls, piling one on the other and hiding the older construction below. Near the old Gate of Portalapea, 20th-century workers uncovered a series of seven ogives that were once part of the outer wall dating back to the 13th century, along with rounded stones used as ammunition for the catapults that defended it.

What's got Pamplona in the news this week is of course the running of the bulls, and since we were mostly in the old section of town on the cobblestoned narrow streets where they release the toros we saw many signs provided to direct the runners along the correct turnings. The bulls are released from pens down by the river, and come charging up the slope to the old city walls and then start swerving through several of the plazas and along streets lined with apartments, whose owners probably make a fair bit of money this week in tourist sublets. They end up at the bull ring where they'll be performing, fighting, bleeding, whatever happens there - it's not something I'm particularly interested in researching more thoroughly. If it were a non-bleeding sort of thing I thing it would be fun, but when the barbed lances and swords come out, I'm out. Apparently there's a sword-free style of bullfighting in Navarre called recortes that's actually bull-leaping, like that practiced in Crete in the Bronze Age - which reminds me of a book I haven't read in a while, The King Must Die, by Mary Renault. I really liked that book, more than its sequel (The Bull From The Sea). I enjoyed The Mask of Apollo, too. I'll have to look up her books in the online Multnomah County Library catalog.

There's a bull-leaping tradition called course Landaise here in France, too, but I haven't been to any of the festivals. And they use cows, not bulls. There's a document dating back to 1457 that talks about a festival in the town of Saint-Sever where they let cows and bulls run through the streets for the fête de la Saint-Jean around the summer solstice. I don't know if they do that any more, but there are lots of cow-leaping events scheduled this summer, and probably into the foreseeable future, so I'll just have to put that on my list of things to do the next time I'm in southwest France.

But speaking of authors, and this time not one I'm particularly fond of - in fact, other than short stories and excerpts from longer works I seem to remember plodding through at very much not the pace of a rampaging bull back in junior high school I don't think I've read anything he's written - you can't avoid coming across one particular author if you're in Pamplona, especially if you're in the neighborhood of the Plaza de Toros. Apparently he wrote about it a bit. You might know that already. Especially if you were in the same junior high school English class.

My own room was locked and I could not find the key, so I went up-stairs and slept on one of the beds in Cohn's room. The fiesta was going on outside in the night, but I was too sleepy for it to keep me awake. When I woke it was the sound of the rocket exploding that announced the release of the bulls from the corrals at the edge of town. They would race through the streets and out to the bull-ring. I had been sleeping heavily and I woke feeling I was too late. I put on a coat of Cohn's and went out on the balcony. Down below the narrow street was empty. All the balconies were crowded with people. Suddenly a crowd came down the street. They were all running, packed close together. They passed along and up the street toward the bull-ring and behind them came more men running faster, and then some stragglers who were really running. Behind them was a little bare space, and the the bulls galloping, tossing their heads up and down. It all went out of sight around the corner.

- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926)

Zzzzzz ... What? Oh, right. I'm in the middle of writing a blog post. Honestly, I can't figure out how someone can make something so heart-poundingly exciting sound so dull. Of course, I have no idea how you, gentle reader, make it through some of my posts, so I suppose I shouldn't be too critical. But yes, it's all Hemingway all the time in that section of town especially, and I imagine that during the festival itself you can get Hemingway-themed beer mugs and t-shirts and tchotckes of all shape and description, along with the Basque-themed ones. You won't find me at the souvenir booths among the approximately million and a half other tourists, but one day perhaps I'll be back for a quieter visit, and a chance to sample some of the pintxos I had to pass up the last time, eaten seated at one of the many sunny stone plazas, surrounded by colorfully-painted houses and a language I can't understand. Yet. It's on my to-do list, learning Spanish, along with learning Italian. At least enough to get by on a farm or in a dairy making cheese - and of course for ordering things to eat and drink.

"Fíjese que somos un país que no tiene miedo a ponerse delante de un toro pero ve un libro y se echa a temblar." - Spanish politician Julio Anguita González, in an interview in September 2012; if he was thinking of Hemingway I totally understand

Pamplona's another major stopping point for pilgrims headed to Compostela, whether they arrive over the mountains to the north or along the dry ravines from the west. I think I'm a bit too impatient to do the route by foot (bad pilgrim!) but on a bicycle it might be fun. I happened across a website advertising bike tours from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela and if I win the lottery I think I'll sign up. I like the idea of the van-accompanied tour where you don't have to camp out or carry everything with you on the bike. And I like the places they stop on this tour, like Santo Domingo de la Calzada and its miracle of the roasted chickens, Astorga and the Episcopal Palace designed by Antoni Gaudí (note to self: go to Barcelona some day soon), and Arzúa, where they have a festival to celebrate cheese made in the shape of breasts. Frankly, even if I don't win the lottery, I think I'll try to head down this route. Someday, anyway ...

But not today, nor tomorrow; I'm heading north next Monday and not south, north to Bordeaux and beyond and then even further up the latitudinal scale, to London and southwest England. I'm hoping to make it all the way up to the 60th parallel eventually before tumbling back down towards the equator again next spring. But there is much money to be saved and many plans to be made before that happens, and nothing set in stone past the end of November at this point. I can't say for sure where I'll be next July, much less in January - but I can say for sure I won't be running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

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