Welcome to an emotive discussion within my mind and hopefully I have got it all out on paper well.
What was the event?
Event: Sanfermines Festival
Date: 6th July – 14th July
And so here is the story…
When I speak or describe something I am usually not limited or have nothing to say. I find it easy to describe my feelings and recently been honest in regards to my thoughts for events and so on. But to describe the 96 hours I had in San Fermin has been a difficult affair. Let me explain why.
Prior coming to the event I only knew of the event as the “Running of the bulls”. Immediately I was going to hate “the event”. The global reputation and main tourist attraction is the bull runs, which happen every morning for the full 9 days at 8am. This is not the overall San Fermin I experienced. This is part of the event – not THE event. We will get into the whole controversial parts of the event of animal abuse and sexism in a bit – however let me introduce you to an event like no other. Steeped in cultural history and Spanish identity let me explain why parts of the event were beautiful.
The event is special for the area. Seas of white and red covered the every area of Pamplona. Spaniards meander through the streets in large groups to enjoy, participate and immerse themselves in a festival that is steeped in a 1000 years of tradition and magical culture. Cafes full – all day and all night. It was continuous 24 hours. Never was there not something going on. The programme of events was extensive – with over 450 events for the full 9 days (18 of them using bulls…)
The locals descend onto the street and the story begins on the 6th of July. At noon everyone had the scarf tied on there wrist. Then once it begins its tradition for the scarf to go onto to your neck – for the whole festival. Do I think some people never take off for the whole nine days – yes. The look is more than just going to an event. White everything, red neck scarf and a red sash tied around there belt. I think the pictures tell stories itself but the festival had energy like I have not experienced on this trip.
I get it – on both respects. I get why its became such a spectacle (due to Heminingway writing about it in 1923 and globalization which allows more people to add it to a life experience). I get why it should be banned (slowly there is political pressure coming down on anything that uses bulls in Spain). I understand the appeal for the festival – with or without bulls and the Spanish identity it brings. Unfortunately the event is tainted. This is because the bull run and fight is wrong. However, if a human who is participating in the bull run decides to touch a bull before you know it that person is shamed by the locals, police will lift you out or you are whacked with a large stick from the farmer. The stress that a bull is put through is not right – the Spaniards do really care for the animals but its then weird to watch them do what they do to them…I suppose I will never truly understand I can only write what I saw and experienced. However, on this note greyhound, horse racing, dolphins, whales, Disney animal shows, zoos who have seal shows, donkeys at Blackpool or Brighton should also be banned. The reason is simple. If a human is in control of the actions of an animal which is then used for entertainment purposes – it is wrong. Point blank.
Overall the event was a beautiful festival that gave me a warm feeling of happiness regarding the celebration of identity and of community spirit. Was I burning with disgust inside when I saw the bulls yes. Was I confused because of the euphoria the event brings – yes. I’ll admit it was hard to not just say – nah its all good its culture. But I stick to my morals and my morals still say its wrong in every concept. Change will happen because I feel there is a generation move for the future. Do I think if the bulls disappear the event will disappear – no. It’s a party like no other, which means no one is not being not invited to the party for the future. Will it loose global appeal and not become a destination – maybe – but that’s to do with what humans see as entertainment. However…
One part of the whole weekend that did make me slightly mad was the droves of (in some occasions some knew what they were talking about but majority didn’t) American, Australian and other over privileged lack of cultural understanding backpackers who actually didn’t respect or comprehend the event. This was not even just my observation but of others including locals who I spoke to regarding how the backpackers lack of appreciation for how dangerous this event is – kind of “gets on there nerves”. Some of those I met who were tourists they had more knowledge about the event than Wikipedia. Very impressed for sure!
This event does not need international dominance and tour companies who descend to bring 18-21 years olds just out of school and university to participant in a bucket list activity. “You brought it today…” An American talking to his “buddy” after the bullrun was pretty embarrassing to hear him talk about his performance when sprinting in front of bulls who have the ability to tear them to shreds and also in no way should be getting used for such an activity. An elite arrogance of “I am white male and I am better than anything…and everything…” because the conversation was more than just about the bull – but I won’t go into it but I was pretty upset with the words coming from his mouth. I really wanted to turn around and proclaim my moral high ground on his American passport but I didn’t have the energy.
The history of sexism in the event has plagued the roots of the event for a while. In 2016 a sexual assault during the time of the festival, which led to changes and implementations of plans and policies I have never heard at an event before. This year they launched a helpline which was manned by the police for anyone who was at the event and felt as though they were being sexually harassed. Badges with a red hand were handed out to show that those wearing the badge did not stand by sexism at the event. Large red hands were made and put around the city and also all stages had banners saying “Pamplona: free from sexual harassment”. I mean – yeah…wow – is probably your reaction as it was also mine. In the past this occurred due to the dominance of male superior behavior – running with the bulls had a very masculine seniority to it. Every stage, every street and every opportunity they was reminders to all involved to stamp out sexism was everywhere. I applaud the event organisers but its too late because it took something to happen for the reaction and change to occur.
Now after reading this blog your conclusion is probably – well why and how could you ever say this event was beautiful. You need to go to understand it. You need to walk along the streets and see it not for the few problems that plague the event but the overall event. You need to be there when the giant heads process through or the stages (3 in total) are constantly full of musical performances. You need to watch and listen to the happiness that comes from the main heart of the festival – the locals. Its hard but it’s a festival like no other. I was happy I went to experience and see for myself and give my own opinion. What may be the future is not for me or you to decide but for the council to agree a positive future for the event – but it is without bulls thats for sure…
One thing to take away…
Globally this event stands on its own as an event with a identity, a spirit and an unfortunate past. Anything to do with culture is perfect to keep a candle burning for the future – but there’s always room to update culture and move with the times.