‘I used to read books to avoid seeing the bulls’

For four years after he joined Pamplona's municipal band, trumpet player Carlos Pérez Cruz did his duty and performed during nightly bullfights staged by the city during its famous San Fermin festival. Then he decided enough was enough.

'I used to read books to avoid seeing the bulls'
A participant falls in front of a Dolores Aguirre Ybarra's bull during the second bull-run of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, northern Spain, on Tuesday. Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP

Despite being an avid opponent of bullfighting, performing at the event was one of the conditions of Cruz's employment contract. 

"I used to take in books and newspapers to distract myself — anything to avoid having to look at the 'medieval' action below," the 35-year-old told The Local.

But eight years ago, Cruz and one of his fellow musicians took a stand: they approached their band's management and negotiated a deal — one which has left them out of pocket, but which means they no longer have to perform during dreaded bullfights.   

"We were very discreet about the process, and most of our fellow musicians were pretty understanding," the musician explained. 

"Some band members argued that we had known in advance we would have to perform at the bullfights. Others supported us in theory but decided to perform for financial reasons."

SEE ALSO: Author of Pamplona survival guide skewered by bull 

Cruz told The Local that support for the San Fermin festival was widespread in Pamplona but that many people — especially those living in the historic centre — also left town to escape the noise and the crowds. 

He also stressed Pamplona's "peculiar" relationship with the bulls

Many locals who visit the city's evening bullfights — as opposed to famous morning 'running of the bulls' events — are actually anti-bullfighting, but come "out of tradition", he said. Parents bring their children and the habit is passed onto the next generation. 

But Cruz could happily live without all of this.

"I never wanted to run with the bulls as a child, and I don't much like the other side of the San Fermin festival — this so-called botellón (mass drinking) culture," he said.

The musician said foreign tourists who come to the city during San Fermin are drawn by a mythology. But that mythology, largely fuelled by Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel 'The Sun Also Rises', is no longer relevant.

Instead what foreign visitors find is something very different — a "city without law" where anything goes: "I understand the city lives and breathes the San Fermin festival, but I also think it's time for Pamplona to start looking at what else it can offer to visitors," he said  

In the meantime, Cruz would just be happy if the municipal band would stop playing at the bullfights.

"This cruel tradition just doesn't make sense in the 21st century," he said.

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Running of the bulls: Pamplona’s San Fermin cancelled over coronavirus

Spain’s most famous running of the bulls fiesta has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus.

Running of the bulls: Pamplona's San Fermin cancelled over coronavirus
Social distancing just wouln´t be possible at San Fermin. Photo: AFP

San Fermin is celebrated each July in the northern city of Pamplona, Navarra, but the fiesta which draws crowds of a million revellers will not be taking place this summer.

Pamplona’s city council officially announced news of the cancellation of the event on Tuesday, confirming what many regular festival goers had suspected.

The festival, which kicks off on July 6th attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, who cram into the Navarran capital for the eight-day long non-stop party, which involves religious parades, concerts, bullfights as well as the daily ‘encierros’ or bull runs.

Each morning at 8am crowds of runners traditionally dressed in white with red pañuelos and sashes await the release of six Spanish fighting bulls and six steers, who race through the narrow cobbled streets to the bullring.

Crowds squeezed into the sqaure infront of the town hall for the chupinazo marking the start of the fiesta: Photo: AFP

Similar encierros take place in towns across the Basque region but Pamplona's San Fermin is the biggest and most famous after being immortalised in Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”.

“As expected as it was, it still leaves us deeply sad,” said acting mayor Ana Elizalde when announcing the inevitable news that the festival could not be carried out with social distancing measures in place.

She was unable to say whether it might be held at a later date, given the unpredictability of the coronavirus health crisis.

“It seems complicated to celebrate San Fermin (at all) this year, but we will wait to see how events evolve”, she said.

Photo: AFP

It is not the only time in its history that the fiesta has been cancelled. It was also suspended in 1937 and 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, and had to be cancelled a third time in 1978 after a student was shot during clashes between police and protesters calling for an independent Basque region. 

Deirdre Carney, an American now living in Spain who has has attended the fiesta since childhood, said: “The last time San Fermin was called off was the year I was born. My father was there and he and his friends were holed up in their hotel for a few days to avoid the rioting.

“That was 42 years ago, and it is completely shocking to the people of Navarra and everyone who loves the festival to have this happen again. Of course everyone understands why, and that there was no other choice, but we are nonetheless very saddened. The fiesta is a celebration of life and joy, so we will return next year and it will be even more meaningful than ever.”