Categories: Travel Stories

Pamplona! (Part 5): Celebración de Supervivencia (Celebration of Survival)

Catching our breath in the stands, we spotted Catherine in the arena.  Catherine had not run the bulls this time, but decided to meet us in the arena, out of harm’s way (she did go to Stanford after all).  So, to protect our manhood, we hopped back into the arena to watch another spectacle.    At this time the cows were entering the ring.    These female bovines followed the bulls during the race and when they arrive in the stadium, they were used to calm the bulls down.  Then the herdsmen corralled all the animals and lea them into the stockades in the Plaza del Toros.  Once caged and the race over, a bunch of runners who survived the half-mile sprint without gaining an extra hole decided they needed more fun.    There is a tradition in Pamplona where the more virile runners would sit in the center of the arena and start singing a song that basically mocks the bulls, and to prove these runners’ fearlessness.    Around the middle of the third or fourth verse, the bull handlers would open the gates of the pen and allow the bulls to charge out again.   Dispersing these “manly men” like cockroaches when you flick on the lights.  Good fun to watch.

By this time, we had rendezvoused with our German friends, who all had a good laugh at my calamity.   Dieter then recommend we retire to a bar that he knew of, which had a big screen projector so we could watch our run that was filmed for TV.     Back into the breach.

As we piled into the bar and grabbed some seats to watch our famous run, Tony started buying the beers to begin the day.  It was about 10:00 am so we needed a bracer to calm ourselves.    So, these morning eye-openers continued until about three in the afternoon.   We were back on step!

Catherine then recommended that we head back and get freshened up to go watch the bullfight later in the evening and grab a bite to eat afterward.    As we stumbled out of the bar and into the street, I spotted another scene that still makes me laugh to this day.  Laying in the street was a poor hapless runner passed-out face down.  With his left arm on the sidewalk, his head face down in the gutter, and his right arm splayed out into the street.  What makes this image so iconic was that in his right hand he was holding the neck of a guitar with a couple of strings still dangling.   Not the guitar, mind you, but just the neck.  That was it!   He must have had a memorial experience like me.

With my running clothes now covered in pig fat, cerveza, sangria, flour, sweat and vomit, I opted to put those items of clothing away, shower and dress in something less disgusting.   As I donned on my “vultures’ row” T-shirt, which was banned by the navy, because it made light of the witch-hunt, we called Tailhook 91’, we all set out to the arena to watch a cultural phenomenon called the bullfight.  I won’t go into the gory details of the spectacle, but I would recommend you watch one in your lifetime.  Rather fascinating.  With the picadors, and matadors, and the bull all in a death struggle.  The bull always loses, but there are times when it is a draw.   With Catherine as our commentator, she explained the cultural significance of all aspects of the fight.  Two things that I took away was, one:  the funky stance the matadors take.  They pose in this matter as they try to get their balls (testicles) as close to the horns of the bulls as possible. Talk about machismo.  The matadors are judged on their proximity to getting castrated – No thank you.  Another interesting facet is at the end of the fight.  When the bull is ready to be dispatched, the matador uses a special sword to pierce the bull’s heart by pithing the sword between the shoulder blades of the animal.  The spot is about the size of one’s fist, so you must hit it just right or the sword strikes the shoulder bone and bounces off, thus leaving the matador exposed to one really angry animal.  If he has a steady hand, exceptional aim, and is successful, the bull is mercifully killed before he even drops to the ground.  If not, it’s the bull’s turn.  And that can turn out very bad for the matador.  Again, no thank you.

Something else I did not know, is that the bulls, since they are bred only for fighting, after they are killed, the meat is donated to the local orphanages to be used for food, while other bull meat is sold in the local square to raise money for the orphanage.  But this isn’t veal, fighting bull meat is tough, so it has to be cooked in a stew all day, just to make it edible.  Circle of life kind of thing…

With the bullfight over, we all grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant the Germans knew.   And the dinner consisted of… you guessed it, bull stew.

After our first hearty meal since we arrived, we caught our second wind.  Pitching back into the fight I noticed I was spending more time with Klaus and Dieter and the rest of the Deutschland crew, while Tony was involved with Catherine.   Yes, it was becoming apparent that somebody was going to be enjoying the festivities a little more than I.   So, after the new Pamplona paramours departed, I stayed attached to my new friends.   Again, the party raged into the early hours, but this time I decided I would not tempt fate again but would watch the run tomorrow.

The second morning Catherine took us to a friend’s apartment that had a balcony overlooking the route.  It was a beautifully furnished apartment and the family hosting us had coffee and some sweets for us to nibble on.  Yeah, more sustenance…We got to hang out on the wrought-iron balcony and watch the crowds filter in along the fences and other vantage points and it was amazing to be looking down on all the crowds.  We also got the added “treat” of watching a gypsy reinforce their negative stereotype when he stole a reveler’s backpack (and probably all his possessions).  The young man in question was looking pretty woozy at the time (around 7 am).  He climbed up on a ledge, set his backpack next to him and then nodded off (passed out is probably more accurate).  Along came the gypsy, and in full view of the crowd, climbed up next to the lad.  The crowd saw this and started making all kinds of noise, to get the bloke to wake up.  The gypsy slipped the backpack away from the victim, climbed back down and disappeared into the crowd followed by a chorus of “boos”.  We weren’t around when the young man woke up, but I am sure he was in for a very rough couple days at a minimum.

The second running was just as fun, watching, not running, and with the rest of the crew we continue to imbibe, again like drunken sailors on liberty.   Yet, this time after another hard day’s night, and Tony was still nowhere to be found.   I was abandoned and had to become the U.S. ambassador to our new friends and maintain international relations as best I could.  However,  partying like a Spaniard was getting harder, and harder to recover.  On the fourth day, I had to throw in the towel.  As Tony came bounding in one morning, grinning like a Cheshire cat, I rolled over on the cold tiled floor and said,

“Tony, I gotta get out of here, or I will die!”

“You can stay with Catherine, and I’ll meet you in Madrid,” I whined.

Crestfallen, he had to admit that, although he was having the time of his life, we did need to finish the rest of our tour throughout Spain.

So, on the fourth day of our epic adventure, we said goodbye to our German friends and Tony’s new love and boarded the train out of Pamplona back to San Sebastian.  We then took off to Seville and Madrid to continue this saga.

By the time we reached Seville, I was recovering nicely, but Tony was blue.  However, over a few cocktails, and laughing at the new memories we had created, he managed to perk up.  By the time the train stopped in Seville, we were ready to discover the city where Magellan had set sail to circumnavigate the world.  Not only is Sevilla a beautiful city, but we also got our hair cut by a famous barber – get it!   After Seville, it was on to Madrid where we toured the town to get the class and culture that we avoided in Paris, while following in Hemingway’s footsteps.  We even ate at the Sobrino de Botin, which was Papa’s favorite restaurant – and even had his favorite dish (pork).  A nice and fitting end to a hell of a trip.   Then it was back to Paris to fly back to the states like conquering heroes to brag about our epic adventure.

Or so we thought….

Unbeknownst to us, this was the first year that CNN broadcasted the “running of the bull’s” live.   So, while I was spreading my “good cheer” all over the Callejon, our squadron mates back on Whidbey Island were in the ready room watching the opening run.  Although, I only lost my self-esteem during our race, a young man from Seattle was gored.  Fortunately, he did not die, but he did make international news.   So, while the CNN reporter was prattling on the TV about the unfortunate Seattleite, with the mayhem shown on the screen behind her, one of our shipmates- callsign “Boner” -wondered aloud if “Kamper, or Tony was the one gored?”  At that precise moment, “Death” walked into the ready room.

“What the HELL are you talking about, Boner?!”  screamed the Grim Reaper.

Boner, one of the few we entrusted our secret folded like a taco and spilled the beans.  The secret was out.  Of course, the Department Head (Bucky) who we told, denied any knowledge in order to avoid Death’s wrath.

Instead of coming home to a hero’s welcome, we came home to a very pissed off Commanding Officer, who commenced to provide an elegant and loquacious haranguing about what fuckups we were.  Yes sir, we responded (what else could we do besides “yes sir, yes sir, three bags full”).   Luckily, since we weren’t injured, except for our pride, the skipper only put us in hack (grounded) from flying for two weeks.  It could have been worse.  We took our lumps and dings on our FITREPs, but it was worth it.

Throughout the past three decades of life, through marriage, kids, divorces, and other adventures, whenever we got together; Tony and I would regale our story to anyone who would listen.  As the years marched on, the story grew and became more embellished as clouded thoughts cleared and we remembered other facets of our trip.   Today, we still harken back to those atavistic days when we were young and virile, and wonder could we do it again?   Now, closing in on our 30th anniversary, we have decided to recreate that epic escapade.   We will head to Pamplona and run the bulls again on our anniversary.  But this time with wisdom acquired through time; We won’t sleep in a park, we won’t over imbibe the day before the run, and we won’t get gored.   At least that’s the plan…

Yes, we are a little bit older, a little bit slower, but still retarded!

“Where do we find such men?”

~ Bridges at Toko-Ri

About the Author: James Feldkamp is a retired US Naval Officer, having served as US Naval Flight Officer, Counter-Measures Officer, and Navigator for the Navy’s carrier-based attack aircraft, the EA-6B. In 1991, Jim Feldkamp served and flew off the USS Midway during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Later affiliated with the U.S. Naval Reserves, Jim served as Special Agent for the FBI in Norfolk, Virginia, where he became founding member of the organization’s Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force. Jim resigned from the FBI in 2004 to run for Oregon’s District 4 Congressional seat. He ran as the Republican nominee for the District 4 seat during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. Currently, Jim serves as a Subject Matter Expert at Georgetown University, where he is developing a course centered on “Terrorism and Unconventional Threats.” He formerly taught undergraduate courses in domestic and international terrorism as adjunct professor at George Washington University, and George Mason University.

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