Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Pamplona, they party like it's 1591

A poster from the 1929 Festival of San Fermin.
From the Toronto Star, October 27, 1923 -- "In Pamplona, a white-walled, sun baked town high up in the hills of Navarre, is held in the first two weeks of July each year the World’s Series of bull fighting. Bull fight fans from all Spain jam into the little town. Hotels double their prices and fill every room. The cafés under the wide arcades that run around the Plaza de la Constitución have every table crowded...As far as I know we were the only English speaking people in Pamplona during the Feria..."

This was Ernest Hemingway's first trip to Pamplona, and it provided some of the material for his 1926 novel, "The Sun Also Rises." Today the top bullfighters still come, but now there are mobs of English speakers.

We are just a few days away from the start of the annual nine-day Festival of San Fermin, collectively referred to as the sanfermines, which is a combination of commercial fair, showcase of Spain's top bullfighters, and international debauch whose most memorable images are of people in red kerchiefs running down medieval streets chased by a stampede of bulls.

Hemingway was a latecomer. The earliest mention of bullfighting as part of the sanfermines was in the 14th century, and the festival was moved to its current dates in 1591 in order to coincide with the annual agricultural fair and thus produce more traffic for merchants. (The most comprehensive information about the festival is in Wikipedia, which has links to many historical references.) 

Monday, June 22, 2015

People are still upset about a battle from 1521

The regional differences in the United States have nothing on those in Spain. People have really long memories here.

Today I was reading an advertisement in the local paper, the Daily News (Diario de Noticias) of Navarra, advertising a book called "The Battle of Noain," described as "the unfortunate episode of 1521".

Navarra, in dark green, is on the southwest border of France.
The ad describes how the powerful Castilians (read "Spanish") defeated the local forces and "invaded our town" (Pamplona), which had been part of the French kingdom of Navarre.

For just 6.95 euros, the ad reads, you too can read this story of how "our forefathers struggled and spilled their blood" in a desperate battle that led to "the loss of idependence of Navarra".

The Castilians "devastated a kingdom that was ahead of its time in every sense".

Add this volume of 128 pages to your collection of the History of Navarra, says the ad.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain

My sister Nancy and her husband, Tom Lukens, came to visit in May and we spent a good deal of the time on the north coast of Spain. I dragged them along to one of my favorite places, the cave of Altamira, which has paintings dating back as far as 22,000 years ago.

Modern artist's interpretation of an Altamira painting of an aurochs.

You can get a sense of the brilliance of the paintings in the example above. The artists used bulges in the cave walls and ceiling to emphasize the musculature of the aurochs (cattle), deer, and horses they depicted.

Pablo Picasso visited the cave and said, "After Altamira, everything is decadence." The ceiling has been called the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art.

Lifesize replica

The cave was discovered in 1879 when a tree fell and exposed an opening. Archeological work revealed that the cave had not been occupied for 13,000 years. The paintings were created over a span of at least 9 thousand years as different groups occupied the cave.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the site became such a popular tourist attraction that carbon dioxide in the breath of the thousands of visitors damaged the artworks. It was closed to the public in 1977.