Peña de Los Gatos
Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!
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Peña de Los Gatos promotes and celebrates the Fiesta de San Fermin
held each year in Pamplona, Spain.
Copyright 2007 Jonathan Knowles and Kelly Knowles www.worldadventure.com
www.jonathanknowles.com
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On the Sunny Side in Spain

By Kelly Knowles

It’s July 7th. At 7:55 in the morning, Jonathan and I gaze out a fifth-story window at the Town Hall square in Pamplona, Spain. Normally a city of about 200,000, Pamplona has grown to nearly a million people overnight. Many are packed into the square below.

Most of them, like us, look fresh in crisp white pants and white shirts. They wear the traditional red sash and red pañuelo scarf around their neck that they will wear throughout the Fiesta de San Fermin. Others are somewhat rumpled and sangria stained from all night street parties, but all are eager for the first encierro, the running of the bulls.

From the window, we share the view with five-year-old Ibai, nephew of our good friends Carmen and Josep. Ibai peers down at the pointillist landscape of red and white as his parents prepare breakfast. He chats happily in Spanish.

I don’t speak Spanish very well, but I know what he means. We are all captivated by the energy of the crowd. Runners shift restlessly behind wooden barricades. They clutch rolled-up papers in their fists, their only defense against the onslaught of the bulls.

Onlookers press forward. Medics stand waiting. Balconies and windows like this one fill with spectators. A Basque flag ripples in the early morning breeze. Then, the Town Square clock strikes 8:00 and a rocket explodes. The bulls are free.

Within seconds you can hear hooves on ancient cobblestones. The runners fly in a frenzy. Jonathan, Ibai, and our friends in the apartment on the fifth floor all gather around the window as the first blur of horns streaks by. Six bulls, six steer, and over a thousand runners. And then it’s over.

“You can tell when the bulls enter the square even before you see them by the intense look in the faces of the runners,” Jonathan says. He’s referring to those brave few who run in the “aura of death,” the sweet spot between the horns.

The first running of the bulls is over, and we are left with the sights and sounds of the encierro reverberating through us, and a long-lasting camaraderie with our friends and the crowds below.

That camaraderie is the hallmark of Fiesta. Indeed, it is so important to the citizens of Pamplona that they have created peñas, or social clubs, for family and friends to celebrate the fiesta together. Inspired by the Pamplona peñas, Jonathan and I, along with fellow Los Gatans, Nick Baggarly and Stephanie and Chuck Hudson have started our own club, Peña de Los Gatos. The latest in the dozen or so officially recognized foreign peñas, it is the only peña in California.

The running of the bulls lasts less than five minutes each day, while the festivities of San Fermin last 24 hours a day for 8 days. The fiesta is about so much more than the bulls. It’s about families and friends celebrating together.

The festivities include Basque dancing where locals and visitors join together in Plaza Castillo. Parades with papier mache giants that dance and twirl delight the crowds. The peña marching bands parade through the streets wearing their distinctive club colors and singing traditional songs. They set up long tables where they enjoy leisurely meals and lively conversation. Families enjoy fireworks at the old city walls and “the bull of fire” that chases laughing children through the narrow medieval streets.

Jonathan and I look forward to all the aspects of fiesta. Perhaps most of all, we look forward to sipping patxaran with old friends and new at Cafe Iruña where Hemingway once traded stories with fellow aficionados.

At last year’s fiesta, from our seats in the shaded lower section of the bullring, we watched the peñas on the sunny side. A patchwork quilt of saffron orange, pimiento red, blue-and-white checks, and verdant green, the peña members sat happily together, talking, singing, and sharing. Some were rowdy and threw eggs and flour. It’s all in good fun.

Later, they will toss their seat cushions like Frisbees. But at this moment, they are respectful and attentive as they watch a magnificent bull charge into the ring. The peñas will cheer when the bull does well, and they will cheer for the terero when he artfully dances inches from death. Just as cheerfully, they brandish baskets of homemade delicacies at halftime. With a synchronized flourish of foil, they will share the wealth of food, wine, and friendship with all around them.

“Understanding between countries often begins with the connections between individuals,” Jonathan says. “Our peña is about connecting people from the U.S. with people from around the world and having a great time. Fiesta de San Fermin provides an ideal opportunity.” This is what Fiesta is really about.

To learn more about the Fiesta de San Fermin, visit the Peña de Los Gatos Web site at www.penadelosgatos.com. From the Web site, you can virtually join in the adventures of the peña. Using a new method called podcasting, you can listen to broadcasts that peña members will be delivering during the festivities. You can also see live video cam of the Plaza Castillo and learn more about the Fiesta de San Fermin.

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