Ernest Hemingway, maintained there were only three sports: motor racing, mountain climbing and bullfighting; he had a go at bullfighting, and wrote about it, in The Sun also Rises and Death in the Afternoon.

These three sports sometimes offered death as an alternative to winning. All other sports were games. In this extract from his first book, The Sun also Rises, a waiter in a Pamplona café questions risking ones life for the fun, exhilaration and the sport of running with the bulls at the Fiesta de San Femín.

The waiters despair at the death of a runner raises the sense of mortality, the fragile balance between life and death, the honour of accepting the possibility of dying for sport, or art as Hemmingway says, Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.

The chupinazo kicks-off the fiesta, a bacchanalian party, thousands of revelers doused in sangría, once white t-shirts, a light shade of purple, wine dribbling in rivulets off everyone’s flesh, thrown up into the wind, splashing to the ground, the air filled with the odour of fermented grape… sexual acquiescence, and the misplaced bravado of the runners, provoked by seven hundred kilo bulls, and their ocean of testosterone.

introduction by Tim Harris

 

Title image – Getty Images, Associated Press – Alvaro Barrientos

 

excerpts from The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926) by Scribner  paperback edition (2006)

Both the mans arm’s were by his sides, his head went back as the horn went in, and the bull lifted him and then dropped him

There were so many people running ahead of the bulls that the mass thickened and slowed up going through the gate into the ring, and as the bulls passed, galloping together, muddy-sided, horns swinging, one shot ahead, caught a man in the running crowd in the back and lifted him in the air. Both the mans arm’s were by his sides, his head went back as the horn went in, and the bull lifted him and then dropped him. The bull picked another man running infront, but the man disappeared into the crowd, and the crowd was through the gate and into the ring with the bulls behind them. The red door of the ring went shut, the crowd on the outside balconies of the bull-ring were pressing through to the inside, there was a shout, then another shout.

Associated Press, Racó Catalá, Abusos Sexuals a Sant Fermí

The man who had been gored lay face down in the trampled mud. People climbed over the fence, and I could not see the man because the crowd was so thick around him. From inside the ring came the shouts. Each shout meant a charge by some bull into the crowd. You could tell by the degree of intensity in the shout how bad a thing it was that was happening. Then the rocket went up that meant the steers had gotten the bulls out of the ring and into the corrals. I left the fence and started back towards the town.

I put one hand on the small of my back and the other on my chest, where it looked as though the horn might have come through. The waiter nodded his head and swept the crumbs from the table with his cloth

Back in the town I went to the café to have a second coffee and some buttered toast. The waiters were sweeping out the café and mopping off the tables. One came over and took my order.

Rueters – Vincent West, Getty Images – Ander Gillenea, Associated France-Presse, Rueters – Susana Vera

Anything happen at the encierro?
I didn’t see it all. One man was badly cogido.
Where?
Here.

I put one hand on the small of my back and the other on my chest, where it looked as though the horn might have come through. The waiter nodded his head and swept the crumbs from the table with his cloth.

Badly cogido, he said. All for sport. All for pleasure.

He went away and came back with the long-handled coffee and milk pots. He poured the milk and coffee. It came out of the long spouts in two streams into the big cup. The waiter nodded his head.

You hear? Muerto. Dead. He’s dead. With a horn through him. All for morning fun. Es muy flamenco.

Badly cogido through the back, he said. He put the pots down on the table and sat down in the chair at the table. A big horn wound. All for fun. Just for fun. What do you think of that?

I don’t know
That’s it. All for fun. Fun, you understand.
You’re not an aficionado.
Me? What are bulls? Animals. Brute animals. He stood up and piut his hand on the small of his back. Right through the back. A cornada right through the back. For fun – you understand.

Rueters – Vincent West, Rueters

He shook his head and walked away, carrying the coffee pots. Two men were going by in the street. The waiter shouted to them. They were grave looking. One shook his head. Muerto! he called.

The waiter nodded his head. The two men went on. They were on some errand. The waiter came over to my table.

You hear? Muerto. Dead. He’s dead. With a horn through him. All for morning fun. Es muy flamenco.
It’s bad
Not for me, the waiter said. No fun in that for me.

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Pamplona

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Pamplona 42.812521, -1.645775 Pamplona, Navarre, Spain (Directions)