This will be the first time that I have ever attended one in cool weather. It will be different, perhaps drastically so. Tickets are sold in three main groups: sombre or “shade,” which are the most expensive; sol y sombre, or “sun and shade,” which are middling expensive; and sol, “sun,” which are cheap.
For the first corrida that I ever attended, I sprang for the sombre tickets. Never again. It was a typically turista thing to do, and there they were. All moderately to severely drunk. . . . Let me not be too condemnatory there. I, too, have attended drunk. Let us be clear about that. . . .But there also will be the self-appointed aficianado explaining the difference between the picador and his horse to the women. There will also usually take place the obligatory discussion of the morality of the thing. In loud voices. Loud voices.
I detest the running commentary on the corrida during the action more than I detest anything in this world. Anything. Okay, that is an overstatement, but I do get pretty damned upset. Talk about the thing while the team of horses is dragging the dead bull out if you must. Talk about the thing during the lull while you await the next matador's parade. But while the action is taking place and in the sweet name of Jesus Christ himself, shut the fuck up and watch.
For all subsequent corridas I have purchased sol tickets and sat in the sun. Enduring the implacable sun and the relentless heat of a sol seat at the corrida is a small price to pay to avoid that which will ruin it all. But you see, that whole issue is blurred when it comes to a corrida in cool weather. The morons will want to sit in the sun maybe. We shall see.
The second thing that has brought on this old man's reverie is a conversation with a truly charming lady named Shari at dinner on Christmas Eve. She and her husband John hosted this dinner and their home up on the hill. John sang for years with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He is the epitome of civilized man and a genial host. He also cooks a mean beef bourguignon that Julia Child would approve of.
La Mexicana, Me, Wendy, Alberto, and John on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, Shari took the picture and is not in it for that very good reason.
Shari is a former restaurateur who ran an establishment in The Hamptons. She has been around, and not just in The Hamptons. Someone raised the common question, “Have you ever been to Spain?” I always answer, “No, I have never been to Spain, but I have been to Navarre, Basque country.” I do this not because I have any overriding sympathy with the Basque separatists, but simply because it seems to me a distinction worth making. Navarre is not Spain, or at least it is not the Spain that people are referring to when they say the word “Spain.”
Navarre is in the far northwest corner of the country abutting the Pyrenees. Its capitol is Pamplona. I offered up that I had met the most extraordinary man there, and Shari immediately said, “You must mean Matt Carney!” And the two of us were then off to the races reminiscing about Pamplona, the Fiesta de San Fermin, the running of the bulls, and Matt Carney. La Mexicana has been there, too, which added to the fun. Poor John. Poor Alberto and Wendy. They had to sit there and endure it.
So here I am thinking about it. And thinking about it. Just as I have thought about it at the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month in nearly every year since. I have tried on at least two different occasions in the past to write down my recollections of all that. In every instance I have failed miserably. It is almost too overwhelming. Hemingway. The town. The loose canons who showed up there from all over Europe, borderline crazies and some not so borderline. The dancing in the streets all night long behind flute and drum bands. The little wine shop where we refilled our authentic goatskin Tres XXX botas. The lack of sleep that is intoxicating in itself. The Bar Txoko. The Café Iruña. The women at those places. My comrade, Major Billie B. Wilson, Ranger, Airborne. First Lieutenant Señor Steve, Ranger, Airborne, twenty-four years old and so remote from me that I have trouble thinking of him as me. The bulls of course. And most of all, for me, Matt Carney.
It is a tricky thing to write about. I believe that mistake that I have made is that I have tried to be too accurate, too anatomically correct. Memory is an untrustworthy thing in the first place for reasons you all well know. But to try to set down memories befogged by lack of sleep and the consumption of cold pitchers of sangría and wine all day long and into the night becomes a nearly impossibly dicey proposition. I have decided that I care not a whit about the accuracy of anything I write about Pamplona. I am just going to write down what is in my head, whether or not that bears any relationship whatsoever to facts of the matter. We will leave the facts of the matter to James Michener.
I am going to consult Google to refresh my recollection of the names of certain streets and plazas. I am going to refresh my recollection of the exact distance of the run, which I know right now is a little over 800 meters long. . . . .and the extraordinarily short time it takes for the bulls to make that run. And that is it as far as research is concerned. Beyond that I do not care whether anything I write is true or not. It is what is in my own head that I want to write down, and I am going to take one last stab at it in this life.
In the meantime, here is the best video of the running that I have ever encountered. The reason is that is follows the bulls out of the corral and up through the route. Watch them swinging wide and brushing the fence on their left as they make a hard right turn fairly early on at 0:48. It is only a glimpse. That is the precise location where my own life made a hard turn, too. . . .though I will try to avoid being a drama queen about all that, mind you.