Pamplona, Jules Stewart. La Revista.. Bristish Spanish Society

25 November 2015

Pamplona, By Jules Stewart

La Revista, British Spanish Society

At the stroke of midday on 6 July, the Mayor of Pamplona fires a rocket from the balcony of the Baroque façade of the town hall, the starting gun for seven days and nights of unbridled merry-making. On that day you should not be in Pamplona. The kick-off is mayhem at its worst: water gushing down from balconies onto eager crowds below, wine sprayed on passers-by, the eager and less eager alike, and inebriated Australians, for whom ‘Pamps’ is the first stop on their Grand European Tour, diving off the 20-foot fountain in La Navarrería into the locked arms (most of the time) of their compatriots below.

The best time to come to Pamplona is towards the end of the San Fermín festival, taking care to avoid weekends, when the city is overrun by party-goers from the Basque Country and elsewhere. Once the initial pandemonium is over and done, the city settles down to relative calm and takes on the air of a festival for the Pamploneses, who know how to pace themselves. Now, for the bulls. A couple of minutes before eight o’clock a.m on 7th July and for seven mornings thereafter, a Pamplona sanitation department employee turns a water hose on six fighting bulls resting in a pen 200 yards from the town hall. This ritual is performed for two reasons: on the one hand, it rouses the beasts from their lethargy, while at the same time the water has a calming effect moments ahead of the detonation of a rocket signalling the start of the half-mile race through the streets. It is a tradition dating back to the 16th century and while each day’s run can end with numerous contusions and fractures, death on the horns is an astonishingly rare occurrence. In fact, since records began in 1910, only 15 people have been killed during the encierro. All the more astonishing, considering that nowadays, each morning’s run attracts Basque rural sports, such as wood chop- ping and boulder lifting. The nightly between 2,800 and 3,500 enthusiasts. That said, the calming effect was conspicuous by its absence to this runner, who managed to avoid the horns a couple of years ago by being knocked to the ground and nearly trampled, not by the bulls but a group of over-enthusiastic Antipodeans. “It is useful to bear in mind that these beasts can effortlessly toss 1,500 kilogrammes into the air,” says Mikel Ollo, Pamplona’s veteran tour guide. “You’ve got to understand what you’re getting yourself into. If you went surfing in Hawaii without knowing anything about the sea, you’d run the risk of being caught by a wave. Pamplona is just that, a great wave which you must learn to surf. My advice is not to run.”

Those who are determined to run are offered a reconnaissance tour of the route, highlighting the do’s and don’ts – trot, don’t dash, remember that the fastest part of the route (some 30 miles per hour) is at the start, where you are likeliest to be knocked about by the beasts. The horns become a major danger after the 90 degree turn at Estafeta when the bulls are more dispersed, and so on. For the unlucky few, a team of surgeons is on stand-by at the hospital, viewing the run on a big screen to help decide medical procedure required for ambulance cases. Operating theatres are prepared impromptu in accordance with the injuries and thanks to the surgeons’ years of experience and expertise, most casualties are discharged from hospital within a few days. A much safer way to experience the encierro is from a balcony along the route, which can be rented for the morning for €80 to €110, depending on the services required, with or without a buffet breakfast and guide. The encierro can also be watched from the street, but you need to bag a spot on the barriers by 7.00 a.m at the very latest. There is a lot more to San Fermín than the encierro. Most days at noon there is a competition in Plaza de los Fueros of international fireworks display, which takes place at 11.00 p.m, is a spectacular must and is best viewed from the bus station. It is great fun to follow the marching bands, known as charangas, through the streets. The bars, in particular the award-winning El Gaucho, serve some of the most exquisite pintxos to be had in Spain. Don’t be put off by the four-deep crowds are the bar – with a bit of patience you will eventually find yourself in the frontline. Above all, do as the locals do and pace yourself. You will notice that the chaos settles down roughly between 2.00 and 5.00 p.m. Take advantage of the lull and grab a seat in a café in the Plaza del Castillo, or even better, along one of the streets away from the epicentre. If you have a hotel, that is the ideal place to crash for a few hours. There is an urban myth that hotel rooms are impossible to find during San Fermín. Not so, there is no problem finding a hotel or guest house after 8th July, though any type of lodging comes at a massive premium. As for restaurants, plan for pintxos during the day and save your appetite for dinner, when it is a lot easier to find a table.

The most seasoned Pamplona guide is English-speaking Mikel Ollo.

The classic bullfighter hotel is Hotel Yoldi, where doubles during San Fermín
cost approximately €380 per night.

Pamplona, Jules Stewart. La Revista.. Bristish Spanish Society
Feria del Toro 2016. Maite H Mateo.

19 November 2015

The Feria del Toro 2016 Sanfermin Bullfights have named the bull-ranches that will participate this year

The Bullfights Commission from the  Casa de Misericordia de Pamplona organizing entity have released the names of the bull-breeds that will take part in next summer’s Feria del Toro de Sanfermin de 2016. Perhaps the most important aspect to underline is the return once again of the Cebada Gago y Núñez del Cuvillo bull-ranches. And a first-ever appearance will be made by the Pedraza de Yeltes bull-ranch from Salamanca.

The complete list of participating bull-ranches in the Feria del Toro de Sanfermin 2016 reads as follows:

MIURA de Lora del Río, Seville.
VICTORIANO DEL RÍO, de Guadalix de la Sierra, Madrid.
Hros. de D. JOSÉ CEBADA GAGO, de Medina Sidonia, Cádiz.
JANDILLA, de Mérida, Badajoz.
JOSÉ ESCOLAR GIL, de Lanzahíta, Ávila.
NÚÑEZ DEL CUVILLO, de Vejer de la Frontera, Cádiz.
FUENTE YMBRO, de San José del Valle, Cádiz.
PEDRAZA DE YELTES, de Castraz de Yeltes, Salamanca.

A Debut for the Pedraza de Yeltes bulls

The Pedraza de Yeltes bull-ranch is owned by a Basque businessman, Luis Uranga, who is also the public relations spokesman for this ranch. Ever since 2006 he has been working this bull-ranch which was formed from the El Pilar breed and the don Pío Tabernero de Vilvís breed. In 2007, they removed the don Pío Tabernero de Vilvís animals and they bought a further batch of cows from the El Pilar bull-ranch. The “novillos” or young bulls from the Pedraza de Yeltes bull ranch made their first appearance in Madrid, on 30 April 2010, in their first ever venture inside a bullring. According to the web page of the Pedraza de Yeltes , the selection of the bulls is made by José Igancio Uranga, the general management is carried out by José Luis Rodríguez and the representation of this bull-ranch is taken on by a former bullfighter, now retired, (‘El Charro’) José Ignacio Sánchez. The chargehand is Miguel Ángel Sánchez (Curro).

Insignia: Green and White
Ear-marker: slits on both ears
Owner: Sociedad Prez88 S.A.
Representative: J. Ignacio Sánchez Santiago
Ranch: Pedraza de Yeltes in Castraz de Yeltes (Salamanca)
Foundation: 30/04/2010
Sired out of : Domecq y diez breed by way of “El Pilar” breed

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

© Pedraza de Yeltes

Sanfermin. Después del Chupinazo.

18 November 2015

Some good advice about traveling to Sanfermin 2016: the best fiesta in the world where getting the best spots can turn out to be cheaper

Maybe you’re thinking that Sanfermin is still a long way off and it’s too early yet to be planning for Sanfermin July fiestas 2016. And indeed, so it is. Exactly 237 days remain before the Txupinazo opening rocket of the 6th of July is set off once again. But precisely that long stretch of time means that you can now start preparing your trip without any rushing or fussing. You have plenty of time to consider all the options open to you and to check out some of the details that could make your trip cheaper and more enjoyable and get some of the best accommodation offers while they are still available.

At we have already updated prices for 2016 at our reservations section. These include hotels and also balconies that can be rented out for the running of the bulls and here you can follow some easy steps to ensure that you have a good trip and some intense experiences at the fiestas.

One fact about Sanfermin fiestas can never be underlined too often: no other fiestas in the world have such a homogeneous treatment for everyone and where the privilege of access to the best spots can be so open to one and all. The concept of accessibility has a dual slant: first of all, participating in the two biggest daily events of the fiestas is absolutely free, i.e. both to take part in the daily Running of the Bulls and to party in the streets comes without any financial charge. Secondly, at the same time, it is possible to rent or hire spots that allow for the best and most direct access to the fiesta scene and allow you to be a privileged witness to all that is going on.

For example, it would be possible to follow in the footsteps of such a renowned personality as Ernest Hemingway and book into the Hotel La Perla and maybe watch the morning Running of the Bulls from one of the hotel balconies in your pajamas, as Ernest himself must surely have done on some of his trips to the fiestas. At other kinds of fiestas this opportunity would be difficult to experience, both because the fiestas might not have the importance of the fiesta of Sanfermin, and because the access to these privileged spots could be limited.

In any case there are more practical reasons why it is worth thinking of planning a trip now – the sooner you make a booking, the cheaper it could be and while some of the best places are still available. This is the case because the Sanfermin fiestas attract people from all parts of the world and the longer you wait the smaller the number of offers available and this fact pushes up the prices on many occasions. Outlined below are some points to keep in mind while you think about making your booking:

• Should you wish to give the weekend a miss; the booking will work out cheaper. At any time between the 6th and the 14th of July the fiesta is buzzing and packed with people. This year the 6th falls on a Wednesday and this could be the ideal moment to arrive for a few days.
• The main action tends to be centered in the old quarter and around the downtown area. So if you can book a hotel in some of the neighboring districts you are away from the noise and bustle but within walking distance of all the action at hotels such as A.C.Ciudad de Pamplona. Hotel Albret, Reino de Navarra or Iruña Park.
• Should you wish to take part in the Running of the Bulls, Pamplona is a relatively small city with a good public transport service which means you can get to most places in a short time, even if you choose a hotel in the outskirts of the city. The hotels furthest from the downtown area are usually a bit cheaper and with more availability, which is the case of the Hotel Andía or the Hotel San Fermín Apartments. At the website of the city bus service you can check out times and prices:
• If you are planning to travel in your own vehicle there are some other hotels available in some of the surrounding towns not far from Pamplona, where a quieter night is guaranteed and where you might find other activities such rural tourism and country walks or even go fishing in the rivers as Ernest Hemingway himself used to do. The hotel Ekai in the town of Aoiz, near to Pamplona, is one such hotel. In addition, within the zone of Pamplona there are some special parking lots set up during fiestas, free of charge. But it would not be advisable to park in some of the city neighborhoods as there are parking meters there that are in use throughout the day and consequently it is expensive to leave any kind of vehicle for any length of time. Further information about parking during Sanfermin fiestas can be found at:
• The quality of all the hotels is of a high standard and a good rest is assured. In addition, some of these hotels would have some activities organized, such as the Hotel Tres Reyes tends to do with some of its halls. Bear in mind that during fiestas the day is long and physically tiring so a good rest at night and plenty of good food is advisable in order to be up and ready with plenty of energy for a full day of fiestas the next morning.

Encierros  de Sanfermin. Mikel Ciaurriz.

Encierros de Sanfermin. Mikel Ciaurriz.

Noel Chandler.

19 October 2015


Noel Chandler passed away just a few days ago as I write this, on Wednesday 14th October. Whether one likes the term or not, there are certain people connected to Pamplona that I have always thought of as ‘Pamplona Royalty,’ be they locals or foreigners, and he was certainly one of those.

This magical, mystical and mythical city that many of us love so much has now lost one of the most popular and gentlemanly Sanfermineros there ever was with the passing of this proud Welshman. But I have no doubt his spirit lives on out there somewhere, and it will return each year for the Fiesta of San Fermin…just as the man himself returned for 54 uninterrupted years in a row.

I cannot claim to have known him too well, so this wee tribute to a lovely man will be made up mostly from the words of others, some who knew him very well, and some, like me, who didn’t. It will end with something I hope that those who loved him will like. And although he was so much more than just a Pamplona fiesta man, it’s that I am going to concentrate on for this specifically San Fermin website.

To anyone whose words or photos I have used without permission, my apologies but any problems in that regard can be easily rectified. Bueno, Sanfermineros and viñeros, mozos and maestros, let’s grab the bottle opener and uncork the wine and crack a smile and raise a toast to a Pamplona Sanferman sin igual.

Noel Chandler 1935 – 2015

Thanks to a few things that have been in the Spanish papers and on websites about Noel, I can give you a quick resume of the man…but this piece isn’t either a very small biography or a ‘brief life’ but rather an overview of a chap who was known and loved by many, and the quotes I have lifted from the internet and elsewhere since he went from this place to the next are exactly the sort of thing you might have heard if you were sitting at a bar talking about him with your friends.

And I just know that there were a lot of people sitting at a lot of bars or restaurants around the world over the weekend talking about him…and smiling, and laughing…

Noel was passionate about so many things uniquely, indelibly… Iberian. I suppose that’s why he lived in Madrid…to be at the heart of things. In an interview for Taurodelta he said, “Madrid is the centre of the world for bulls. This is why I live in Madrid.” We know he loved his wine, (‘’Wine is bottled poetry,’’ said Robert Louis Stevenson) and music, but he loved the corrida and the bulls too.

So where else, especially in those far off days when really, the only place most foreigners knew you could run with the bulls, thanks to Hemingway, was Pamplona, could a young man go to indulge both passions…to not just watch the bulls, but to be with them, among them, a part of them… As Marlene Dietrich said, ‘’Courage and grace is a formidable mixture. The only place to see it is in the bullring.’’

Yup, Pamplona. One might not be able to get in the ring with them like a torero, but you could be in the street with them, and lead them into the bull ring too, if you had the bravery and the skill, and yes, the cojones… And Noel had all three, and he became a known and respected runner amongst the locals, and that is the ultimate accolade.

He even bought a flat in Pamplona, on the Estafeta, because if you’re going to be at the heart of all those ‘Sanferthings’, what better place to be than on that long, cobblestoned, famous and infamous artery of the encierro… I’m pretty sure that during fiesta the energy and alegria created in that street because of San Fermin can literally lift people. Why, have you never felt you were actually floating down that street…?

He also loved his friends too, of course, and so it was that when his great mate, mentor, maestro, (and fellow mozo, to hoof) Matt Carney, died on Christmas Eve 1988, he pretty soon adopted Matt’s daughter Deirdre. The ultimate gift for a departed friend, but no doubt to Noel just an obvious action to take, to make sure his great friend’s daughter would always be well looked after.

Noel and Deirdre, late 80’s.

Noel and Deirdre, late 80’s.Noel and Deirdre, late 80’s.

Anyone who has ever been to Noel’s flat on the Estafeta knows that one of the rooms is called the ‘Matt Carney Suite,’ and it, along with the whole apartment, is a treasure trove of fiesta photos, mostly in black and white, that take one back to a time before this present computer age, and its access-every-second, a-million-too-many-pictures, me-me-me-selfie era. The photos in Noel’s flat are precious, and to treasure, because that one picture has to tell a story, unlike the multitude one gets now from every angle.

But enough from me. I’m going to briefly post a couple of things I’ve seen posted over the last few days, but mostly I’ll leave the talking to some pictures…you’ll see what I mean at the end of this piece.

From Bunny Centurion, this great photo of her, her daughter Annie, and the irrepressible Noel, to which she wrote these simple words, ‘Happier times. R.I.P Dear Noel. Thank you for all the joy you brought to our lives.’

Happier times.

Happier times.

To another Centurion, Wooj: ‘First time I met you, you asked me what floor I was staying on in Pamplona. I said I was staying a floor above you and you told me “Good, you’re closer to God.” I, for some reason, have never forgotten that. I happily hosted you and other elite company at the end of San Fermin 2014 thinking it would be the last hoorah, and it was a great night with great music thanks to you and a certain Equipo Rosa. We got another Fiesta together, and it was awesome as we simply passed that Jack around and celebrated with you. We will continue to celebrate you because you wouldn’t want it any other way. I see a bottle of Black Label and an absence to burn. This song is for you, friend. Although Pinks already knows there ain’t no grave…I think there’s a better song for you. I love you. Viva San Fermin. Viva Noel Chandler.’
(The song that Wooj posted, by the way folks, was by one of Noels favourite singers, Frank Sinatra, and it was that never-ending classic, ‘My Way.’)

From Rick Musica: “Another true legend has left us. He defined what being a gentleman is about. Noel was one of the most inclusive men I have ever known. He shared his knowledge, his passion and his love of not only Fiesta, but of life.

Life is not meant to be lived in black and white…it should be lived in tinto! Like Frank sang it…Noel did it ‘his way.’ ”

From Marc ‘Micky’ Bertman: “My friend Noel Chandler passed away. I don’t have any photos to share because when we got together we enjoyed life. We didn’t pose for selfies or ask others to take our photos, we talked and laughed. I will miss him dearly.’’

From Paul Bower… not a quote this time, but an action. A ‘doing.’ He posted on Friday evening about how he’d gone out into the autumnal London air…and sang three jotas for Noel. He’d have loved that. I know I do.

This is lovely, from Aitor Lakuntza Olaberri: ‘BUEN VIAJE MISTER CHANDLER……Volveremos a vernos, quién sabe si en un sanfermin eterno, donde existen encierros todos los días, la gente nunca deja de reir y de bailar, de cantar …Donde los amigos como tú nunca se van y las historias mas maravillosas que contabas se hacen realidad….volveremos a vernos,no lo dudes.’

My translation: ‘Safe journey, Mr. Chandler…We will see each other again, who knows if during an eternal San Fermin, where there is an encierro every day, where the people never stop laughing or singing… Where friends like you never ever leave and where the most marvellous stories you told become real…we’ll meet again, don’t you doubt it.’

Photo sent by sr. Olaberri.

Photo sent by sr. Olaberri.

From the inimitable Carmelo Butini Etxarte: ‘Grande, muy grande. Hasta siempre amigo.’ Short, simple and sweet and no need to translate.

From the one and only Kevin Gowen, longer but no less sweet for that and written as only he could: “Social media is a somewhat undignified place to discuss serious matters, but Noel Chandler was a mountain of a man, a mentor, and a dear friend of my father who I will forever remain in awe of. Due to the various frustrations of medical bureaucracy this message has been delayed, but it’s been a week since I knew he’d passed. Right before my Dad called with the news, I was visited by him on my front porch (Sean also witnessed this so, yes, I’m crazy, but this was very very real and if you were there too you would have been forced to agree) in the form of the most curiously alive praying mantis I’ve ever seen in my life. Noel, you were an elegant spirit in life, and you remain elegant in the afterlife. Thank you for making me finally without a doubt believe in spiritual reincarnation. I love you so much. My heart aches at your passing, and yet it swells ever larger. Truly the end of an era. Thank you, Noel. You’ve always been an angel so what else is new…”

Noel and Kevin.

Noel and Kevin.

All these people sent accompanying photos but for some reason I can only copy a couple. Sorry Sanfermineros!

There are so many things that have been said about him that I’d never able to stop, and anyway I know his true friends will write about him in a way I just can’t. But, I’m still going to say my piece if that’s okay. And if it isn’t…look away now…

I didn’t know Noel as well as some. He was such a fantastically popular fella that he was never alone, and for many years, a couple of decades actually, I just left him alone. It seemed anyone new in town would always gravitate to folk like Noel, as they were known for being good runners, bull fight aficionados…or just, as they became, due to the march of time, quite simply…classic and respected Sanfermineros who were gently slipping into what I might call ‘old timer-ship.’

But I had always wanted to meet this gentleman runner and true lover of all things Iberian. And then, once upon a time, I did. It was about 10 years ago and those few survivors of fiesta who had bravely stayed on in Pamplona post fiesta, (or more likely were just incapable of dragging their sorry culos out of the city) happened to meet up either by design or luck in the early evening of July 15th, in the classic surrounds of the Café Iruña in the Plaza del Castillo. People who knew each other pared up and people who didn’t began chatting to one another, (I distinctly remember that was when my brother met Tom Gowen,) and Noel and I just happened to be left standing together…

The poster from the yaer of Noel's birth. 1935. © J.L.Elvira

The poster from the year of Noel’s birth. 1935. © J.L.Elvira

“Hello, hola…” And that was the first time we ever met, and for the next hour or so I chatted to this rather wonderful man, and he was as true a Gent as I’d always suspected and although my Spanish isn’t fluent he asked me if I’d like to talk in English or Spanish so I said Spanish and off we both went, chatting away as if we’d known each other for ages. He had that effect.

That night I think I spoke the best Spanish of my life, even I was amazed at how I was plucking verbs and words out of thin air, and I got to know a little about this man but learn a lot from him too. And as always with this connoisseur of the grape, the wine flowed and it was a pleasure to finally make his acquaintance.

He also read my first foray into the literary world, a wee tale told from the bulls point of view, and unlike many who seem to have just taken it and then consigned it to a cupboard or draw, to remain unread and never to see the light of day again, he didn’t just read it, but took the time to comment on it too… and luckily for me they were lovely comments so thank you for that Noel. Un caballero de siempre.

One of the last times I saw him in Pamplona this year he was at a table, surrounded by friends, as always, and he more or less said what I’m sure many, many people have heard over the years, wherever in the world he may have been, words to the effect of…” Hello, pull up a chair and come and join me, I’m having some rather fine wine here…” Ah, the wine, always the wine. “If we sip the wine, we find dreams coming upon us out of the imminent night” ― so wrote D.H. Lawrence.

Well, we didn’t know the final sleep and long night was approaching for Noel, but he’s somewhere else now and as happens with some people, Pamplona has lost something rather special as another Sanferminero takes his elegance and class to that great fiesta in the sky. But some of it, like gold dust, (except they’re called fiesta flakes in Navarra) remain to forever float around that beautiful city.

The poster from Noel’s first year. © Lorenzo de Sotés

The poster from Noel’s first year. © Lorenzo de Sotés

I have to include something just received as I was writing this, and it’s from Joe Distler, who, if you didn’t know, first went to fiesta in the late sixties. (Look out Joe, ‘old-timership’ is creeping up on you like an unseen suelto…!) For those who don’t know, ‘kaiku’ is a flavoured milk drink, and this is reproduced almost exactly as he sent it to me:

‘I met Noel when he was sleeping under a table in front of Bar Txoco in 1970. He looked up and said “I’d like a kaiku con cognac, por favor”. In those days I had absolutely no money but figured, what the hell the poor guy is probably broke and after all, this is Feria. “Why do you drink that?” I asked dumbly.

“The Kaiku coats your stomach and the cognac makes you happy, so why not?”

I then loaned him 200 pesetas, a lot of money in the days of 5 peseta wine. He told me he would pay me back when he came to New York.

One night in December I got a call and he said he would be in town and staying at a very expensive hotel. I told him not too as how could he possibly afford it? I arrived to pick him up in a white shirt and Pamplona sash. When I walked into the Hotel Warwick he was standing in the lobby dressed in a black, chalk stripped suit and patent leather shoes. I knew I had something wrong.

It turned out he was Vice President of one of the largest computer companies in the world. And that is one of the great things of San Fermin, one lives the Feria without bragging or showing off. We are all equals in the streets!

We went on to be friends till the day he died. We saw every boxing match our idol, Roberto Duran, ever fought; went to Jazz clubs, spent Christmas’s in Paris together for years.

But most importantly, we knew that if we were alive we would meet on July 7th on the Cobblestones of our Beloved Pamplona and gather with the greatest group of humans on God’s planet! We have lost a Giant of Feria but Feria goes on and we must live it to the fullest.

Viva Noel Viva San Fermin Viva. Joseph.’

Remembrance lunch for Noel at Restaurante Salvador in Madrid, on Saturday 17th October, with, at the very front and glass of patxaran in hand, Irene Prodo. Then from left to right, above her: Nancy Fortier, Allen Carney, Deirdre Carney, Joe Distler, Michael Wigram. Next row above: Ana Ceron Belcher, Larry Belcher with Tom Kallene second top, while at the top and he has to be standing on the empty box from all the wine they drank, Alexander Fiske-Harrison. Photo Anna Nelubova.

Remembrance lunch for Noel at Restaurante Salvador in Madrid, on Saturday 17th October, with, at the very front and glass of patxaran in hand, Irene Prodo. Then from left to right, above her: Nancy Fortier, Allen Carney, Deirdre Carney, Joe Distler, Michael Wigram. Next row above: Ana Ceron Belcher, Larry Belcher with Tom Kallene second top, while at the top and he has to be standing on the empty box from all the wine they drank, Alexander Fiske-Harrison. Photo Anna Nelubova.

One final thing, although it may appear a little trivial or unimportant to some. I’m glad Noel, a proud Welshman and big rugby fan, was around to see and enjoy, (and I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is a strong enough word!) Wales’s superb and stunning win over England in the Rugby World Cup just a couple of weeks ago. And at Twickenham, too, home of English Rugby. (And I speak as an Englishman.)

A class act and a game thrillingly and wonderfully played, Wales. Which could sum up your life, Noel. The poet Ernest Dowson wrote: “They are not long, the days of wine and roses. Out of a misty dream, our path emerges for a while, then closes, within a dream.” Well, you’re off on a new dream now, Noel, no doubt meeting again some loved family and old friends.

Adios, señor Chandler. Un Caballero Sin Igual.

And now, the video. Noel loved the traditional Navarran ‘jotas,’ (who doesn’t?) so the two songs on the film are for you, Noel. This is better than I could have imagined, and I’m hugely indebted to two people here: the photographer Jim Hollander, for sending me and allowing me to use all the photos you’re about to see in this clip, and whose copyright they are and who has asked that they be used in no other context because, of course…this is about Noel. Thank you so much Jim.

Also un grandissimo gracias to my great mate Manu Corera of Kukuxumusu, who takes my handwritten scribbles on various post-it notes and scraps of paper, sorts them out along with the mass of photos and cuttings from newspapers I use, (a sort of literary Humpty Scrappity mess) and manages to put them all in a hat, give ‘em a good shake…and hey tinto, they come out all-put-together-again in a nice computerised form.

One of Noels favourite songs was Frank Sinatra singing ‘My Way.’ Well, this is Noel doing it his way. Take it away, maestro…

Once again, photos and copyright courtesy of Jim Hollander, musica y montaje gracias a Manu Kukuxumusu, and idea mine…but thanks also to Jack Denault for his original visual and musical homage to Bomber from which I have stolen and copied. Ya falta menos. ¡Viva San Fermin! Gora!

Peter N. Milligan en el encierro de Pamplona.

19 October 2015


This article was written back in June to be ready for the start of fiesta and the launch date of Peter Milligan’s book, ‘Bulls Before Breakfast’ But unfortunately, the chap at who posts them onto the web for me, Mr. Testis, was busy preparing for fiesta, and since then he has been even busier either getting his cojones fixed or making many cows happy (Mr. Testis: It´s true).

But finally, after a little over three months, here we have it, a wee review of three fiesta related books written over the last forty years…and a fourth, Peter’s, published just three months ago. I haven’t changed the article, so it’s very much a ‘fiesta-is-practically-pouncing-upon-us’ piece…but as we approach, as I write this, the tenth of the tenth, what I have always called one of the ‘’d’escalera’’ days…the countdown away from fiesta, not to it…it’s still a good time to publish it.

After all, as we in the northern hemisphere head into winter, and our southern hemispherean cousins head into summer, what could be better than a little Pamplona related reading to get us through the long months ahead until next fiesta. After all, maybe ya falta mucho…but ya falta menos!


Great title, eh? I always like a good title or a play on words for these pieces, and I’m surprised I haven’t thought of this one before, and to be honest with you…I haven’t even thought of it now. But as we approach the avalanche of alegria that is Pamplona in party mode, bulls before breakfast will be on many, many people’s minds, whether they run or not.

I’ve been writing and reading more than usual since before Christmas about all things sacred San Fermin and phenomenal fiesta related, and had already decided a while ago that as a follow up to a wee review of fiesta related books that I did for these pages and the locos of Kuku back in December 2012, (it was called ‘Viva San Thirteen!’ – see, I told you I liked a good title, and it should be found round about here), that I’d write another one of some books I’d recently read that had something to do with Pamplona.

So as we head rapidly into the tunnel that is the last few days before fiesta and the explosion of light that heralds the start of all things hedonistic, human and hooved relating to Pamplona, (and spiritual too…the city moves people,) I’m going to start with a quick summary of three great books I’ve read that if you can get hold of will add immeasurably to your fiesta library, if you don’t have them already. Then I’m going to end with what must so easily be the newest book out there that it isn’t, as I write this, actually…out there yet. It’s title? Bulls Before Breakfast.

Launch day, (actually, more like lunch day knowing the fella,) is Tuesday June 30th. I’ve actually read it three times now, twice on a pdf version and once with the real, bona fide book between each hoof…which is really how I like to read a book. And I’ll have to express an interest here…I know the author. I can’t say I know him too well at all, but trust me when I say – if I didn’t like the book, my honesty wouldn’t allow me to write a decent review of it.

And to be truthful with you, (because I have to be,) I really don’t just like the book. I love it, actually. The review comes after three other books I want to mention, just to build up to it, but suffice to say it is about so much more than just fiesta and the running of the bulls. It’s by a runner called Peter Milligan and he’s written an absolute hoof stomping, tail-twitching, horn-flicker of a book about a place I love.

Amongst all his prose about this and that, and indeed the other, are many great lines and quotes that add to the overall theme of the book. There is one truly beautiful humdinger of a line that when I read it, I just knew beyond any reasonable doubt that this man understood not just the encierro, but fiesta in general. He just ‘got it.’ Because it’s how I feel, (it’s giving me goose-bumps as I write this now,) as someone who fell in love with the place within his first few seconds of entering the square on his first visit. I knew nobody, knew practically nothing…but I just knew.

Last summer I was proud to have published in the local Diario de Navarra newspaper, in English, a series of articles starting from the day before fiesta, the 5th of July, and ending the day after, the 15th, about all sorts of things related to fiesta but also other things, history, days out, a real smorgasbord (except in Navarra it’d be a pintxo-platter) of all that is beautiful in the region.

Well, Peter’s book has all that but so, so much more. He said he was a barista and so I thought, well, if he only serves coffee in a café or something he can’t be up to much so I’ll sue him for nicking my articles and ideas and putting them in a book.  Then I realised he didn’t mean barista but barrister so I’ve changed my mind.

So, a review of two books I’ve been meaning to read for ages but only got around to recently, and a look at one book that was sent to me by our friend Professor Soliburgo that proved to be a real surprise little hit of a book. I’ve done a couple of reviews of books before and I can really go in depth sometimes, but the next three reviews will be just an over-riding view, before I get to Peter’s book and hopefully do it justice without quoting all the best bits. So, hey ho, let’s go…

PAPA HEMINGWAY by A.E. Hotchner.

A. E. Hotchner. Papa Hemingway

A. E. Hotchner. Papa Hemingway

A cracking tale of the last 13 years of the great man’s life, as told by his friend and editor for those years. It’s different to most biographies I’ve read of Hemingway, because Hotchner doesn’t need to trawl through correspondence and stuff, as he was actually by his side on many an occasion, recording device in hand and hence there is a lot more dialogue in this book than you’d normally find.

As always with a well-known figure, certainly one like Hemingway, there are many different views one can take, especially as over 50 years have passed since he died, and I’ve heard and read about the odd family conflict between various family members – remember, it’s quite a large extended family now, but Hotchner’s book is very much on Hemingway’s side, written by a friend about another friend.

And because of that, it is a very personal, and one sided story, but it doesn’t pull away from the darker side of its subject, either. I found it a fascinating story that didn’t just take me back to that last decade of Hemingway’s life, where he went from a fighting fit 50 year old who went hunting, shooting, fishing, and travelling, to an old man in his late 50’s with mental problems and its almost inherent consequences that dragged him down to that awful, perhaps inevitable end.

That said, this is a lovely, vibrant book that, thanks to the recordings Hotchner made, really gave a voice to the old fella, and adds to the many tales about this icon of the 20th Century’s life.

HOW IT WAS by Mary Welsh Hemingway

Mary Welsh Hemingway. How it was

Mary Welsh Hemingway. How it was

I love this book. Written by his fourth and last wife and published in 1977, sixteen years after his death, it is, (in the second hand version I have,) nearly 550 pages of very small print. It is a long book to read, but thanks to the prolific diaries she made, I found it not just a fascinating history of the great man since she first met him in the London of World War Two, but so much more, too.

I know people may just want to skip to the bit where she first meets Hemingway, but trust me, please don’t. She writes beautifully about growing up in the woodlands and waterways of Missouri, and her accounts of her first job in ‘the big city’ and how she ended up in London are really interesting. As are her stories of being in the England, France and Germany of pre-World War Two, they are just fascinating…and that’s all before the outbreak of war, her wartime adventures and then meeting Hemingway.

Then the story really takes off. I have been saving the Hotchner book and Mary W-H’s book to read for a long time, as I had a feeling I’d really enjoy them, and didn’t want to get them too soon as then, well…that’d be it, I’d have read them. But, after about 25 years, I thought the time was right, especially as I needed to read them for a current project.

And boy were they both worth the wait. Mary Welsh Hemingway’s book has such feeling for its subject, (not surprisingly,) along with a love for the natural world, (despite the amount of creature deaths due to all that hunting, shooting and fishing,) while all the time being a wonderful and adventurous travelogue of a world at war, (twice,) followed by a world at peace, or at least as peaceful as it ever gets.

Her accounts of their life in Cuba and travels in America, Europe and Africa in those far off years of the forties and fifties bring to life what it was like for the fortunate few able to live (and spend) freely in those post war years. I thought Hotchner’s book was great but somehow the content wasn’t a surprise…perhaps because I’d once read a few (beautiful) paragraphs from it and had hoped the whole book would be like that…and it was, but Mary Hemingway’s book was an absolute eye opener.

She writes beautifully and movingly and although I don’t think the two people were great friends, it’s for that very reason you get two differing views that complement each other perfectly.


Hans Tovote. For the love of Pamela.

Hans Tovote. For the love of Pamela.

My surprise wee book of last year and a little gem to hoof. Actually, it isn’t about fiesta at all, it’s just a story that happens to be set during fiesta, in this case the one of 1988. It’s a story by a Swede about a Basque family that I read in English, (crikey!) of those politically turbulent times during the fiesta-frenzied days of San Fermin. I shan’t go into too much detail about the story, as I don’t want to give anything away, suffice to say it’s about family and friendship, love and life, (if that sounds boring, trust me, it isn’t) and a central mystery that little by little reveals itself as the fiesta gets into full swing and the events portrayed in the book wind up to its conclusion.


Bulls Before breakfast. Peter. N.  Milligan

Bulls Before breakfast. Peter. N. Milligan

Okay Sanfermineros, be ye runners or not, old hands or not. As I write this there’s just over a week to go until fiesta begins, and if you’d like to read something to really get you in the mood, (as if you need it, did I say there’s only a week to go?) then this book has got to be it. And if you’ve never been before but are going or thinking of going…it is one heck of a cobble pounding introduction.

As I mentioned above, in my involvement in this book as an advance reader, enthusiastic but amateur advisor, pedantic linguistic spelling corrector, political fence-sitter, history loving enthusiast and all round dolor del culo…I’ve read this book three times. Gadzooks, yes, three times!

I think this is a cracking book, a hoot of a bull running tale, but also an honest and down-to-earth guide not just to the encierro but to Pamplona and the surrounding areas too, its villages and towns, coast and countryside, history and gastronomy. And it made me laugh too, really laugh in parts and it’s always nice to read something that you think might be quite serious and overly self- important, and find out it’s actually quite funny and self-deprecating.

So, where to start? At the beginning, I guess. About ten years ago two brothers who aren’t related but seem just as much siblings as my brother and I are, came to Pamplona. And like happened to so many of us, a small town in northern Spain, in the ancient Kingdom of Navarra, changed their lives forever. And after that, there was no going back. Which although literally correct, is factually wrong, as there was a lot of going back, every year in fact, because Pamplona in fiesta does that to you. It’s magically addictive.

‘’Bulls Before Breakfast” is a great book. It’s funny, colourful, and chockfull of the kind of insider knowledge that anyone who wants to run with the toros bravos (and live to tell the tale) needs to remember.’’ That’s not a bad quote to start the book off with, and it’s not even from the author but from the foreword, written by John Hemingway, grandson of Ernest. This book has pedigree.

From the moment I began reading BBB, from a pdf copy sent to me back in October or November, the book grabbed me by the cojhorns. (No, that isn’t a spelling mistake.) This is from the very first paragraph: ‘Every July, I love to stand in the cobblestoned streets of Pamplona, arms akimbo, and with my adoptive brother Ari. It takes just a minute, and the fiesta finds us. We saddle it, adjust the stirrups, coax over the bridle, and ride her nonstop ‘til sunup on the fifteen.’

Staggeringly, in that first paragraph, Peter had described my inner thoughts about Pamplona and fiesta. I knew then that if the story carried on in the same vein, I’d at the very least like the book. And it did, and I did. I like the book a heck of a lot. I feel exactly the same way about fiesta, and by fiesta I don’t just mean the party, but Pamplona, the people, the alegria and the atmosphere. From the moment I approach the city I begin to feel the over-riding excitement that has been building for a day, a week, the previous months, just completely wash over me. From the first moment I set foot in the town, till sunup on the fifteenth…

And that unique and glorious flood of fun that only one city on the planet can provide finds me, and stays with me, and it always has since my first steps into the old square 32 years ago. It’s hard to write an article about Pamplona and fiesta and make it sound different, new, let alone write a whole book about it, but Peter has done it. With passion, history, humour and intelligence. (Did I write ‘intelligence’? Jeez, I did, and him an American, too…what’s the world coming to…)

It’s a nicely laid out book, too, with pre-chapter quotes from folk as diverse as Jake Barnes, ‘ I go to Spain every July’ (he’s the lead character in Hemingway’s Fiesta/The Sun Also Rises,) to ‘I can swim’ from one Aryeh L. Deutsch. (You need to read the book!)… John Wayne’s in there, Ferris Bueller too, Then the chapter begins with a nice little preamble about something or other that sets up the main thrust of that chapter’s story.

Having said that, it’s not as if every chapter sticks to a set format. No. One of the beauties of the book is that there is so much in it that sometimes a tangent is taken, a diversion made, or indeed a backtrack beaten…in this, it is very much like the encierro, where anything, absolutely anything, can happen, and you’d better be prepared to put the brakes on and spin on a sixpence quicker than any bull. (Which is impossible, by the way.) Oh, I said ‘brakes…’ Sorry, Peter, perhaps that should have been ‘handbrake…’ (Again, you need to read the book…)

I’m not a professional reviewer of books by any means, but I have for fun reviewed a couple of books by a couple of friends and they have been easy to do, but this one is tricky, (in the nicest possible way) as it springs things upon you here, there and everywhere, exactly like fiesta does. But as a guide to running, getting injured, the risks, the dangers, the idiots, the crowds, the fear, the fun, the adrenaline and yes, the death…it is superb.

One of the many lines that leapt out of the page at me, and that hammered home just exactly what can happen in the run, is this: ‘Death lurks around every corner during fiesta, and it has really long horns.’ And it can, and it does, and damn I wish I’d thought of that line and it is true and is one of the reasons why I gave up running. Early on in the book he writes about a run and his injury from it and it took me right back, right there, to those far off days of glory when I swear I wasn’t just running with the bulls, but flying with them too…my skin was tingling when I originally read it and I was shaking and I’ve got goose bumps now just thinking about it.

John Hemingway writes that the book is funny, and my goodness it is. From talk of death and the reality of just exactly what, on a tragic day, the encierro can bring, there is also a heck of a lot to laugh at in BBB. Peter and his sidekick Ari make a great double act, and whether they are on those fabled cobblestoned streets in a town without equal, or out and about in the glorious countryside of Navarra or elsewhere, you won’t just be well informed about the people, history and food of the region, but you’ll laugh a lot too as our modern day Batman and Robin (sorry guys!) do a quick twirl in an oversized phone booth and come out as Laurel and Hardy. (Not sorry guys!)

Ari and Peter.

Ari and Peter

There’s a lovely quote from one Matt Warshaw, who Peter describes as a ‘surfer philosopher.’ It’s this: ‘surfing…turns not a skill into an art, but an inexplicable and useless urge into a vital way of life,’ and although Peter is equating this phrase with the encierro, (and it sums up its effect on people perfectly) you can also use it to describe the part that not just any fiesta, but this fiesta, San Fermin’s, plays in so many lives. The second part of the quote proves it, in that: ‘surfing, (for that read bull running, fiesta, etc) generates laughter at its very suggestion.’ Aupa to that!

I could quote so much from the book I’d end up getting sued by The Coffeeman for basically putting the whole work online. Here’s one of my favourites though, about how difficult it is to stay clean. And I mean, even remotely clean. (And it has a cracking line about our French cousins at the end, too!)

‘Your white pants and white shirt will get wine-stained, burned by cigarettes, burned by little European cigars and big, fat bullfight cigars, burned by fireworks, blood-stained, mud-stained, urine-stained, petrol-stained, mayonnaise-stained, Gorgonzola-stained, grass-stained, “trash-juice” stained, (you’ll understand later), and excrement-stained. There will be pants you are unwilling to return to your suitcase. Other people are so dirty, you get dirty just by bumping into them. We call these “Frenchmen.”

If there is one criticism of the book, I think he is way, way too easy on the French…

Time for a top wee word from Ari, I reckon, and it comes at a lyrical and poetical point where Peter is describing leaving the hotel in the morning before the run: ‘It’s just before sunrise when we leave for the encierro, but it looks more like twilight. Already, swallows are circling the city, squeaky, sharp chee-deeping and eating every mosquito available (you will rarely get bitten in Pamplona). The sky is electric blue, the streets are wet and clean…There’s always music playing in the distance. For us, it’s our favourite quiet moment of the San Fermin fiesta. Ari likens it to the feeling of getting to Disneyland before it opens.’ (My italics.) Lovely.

It’s nice to read a story where you know a lot of the characters involved, (for this is most certainly not one of those ‘me, me, me’ books that purports to be a story about this that and the other but ends up being a tribute to me, myself, and nobody else…) and I just know that if you get this book and read it without knowing anyone involved, but it makes you go to Pamplona…you won’t just end up meeting some if not all of these characters, but you’ll be given that extra bonus, the Pamplona present that never gets old and broken…friends for life.

And that, when all things are considered, is what it all comes down to. Friendships and a second family that will last for a lifetime. For those of us that know him, the great Esteban Ibarra in an interview said something like, (and I’m going to be paraphrasing like crazy here but this is the gist of it,) “If you take away the drinking and the fun, the party and the laughter, if you take away the bull runs and bullfights, the fireworks and the concerts, if you take away the Saint and the fiesta…I’d still come back, for the people.”

And that is it in a gold plated nutshell. The Pamplonicans and Navarrans are a wonderful bunch of folk, open and kind, warm-hearted and generous, and as funny a bunch of people you’re ever likely to meet in this universe or any other ones. And with them you don’t just watch fiesta, you become a part of it, and glory of glories, a part of them, too.

Peter asked me to be one of the contributors to write something on the back cover, which was a first for me and real honour, trust me…but first I had to like the thing.

As I began reading it I pretty soon realised just what a great book it was…of course, I don’t agree with a few things…like I said, he’s way too lenient with the French…but quite honestly it’s a belter of a book and in the depths of an English winter his story had me pining like mad for Pamplona, its people and its fiesta.

As I carried on reading I knew I’d write that back blurb, and this is what I wrote: ‘A rip-roaring, bull-running, bovine snorting tale of a city, people and fiesta I love. But it’s so much more. It’s the story of two brothers’ travels in and around the beautiful countryside and coast that surrounds Pamplona, full of history and humour, antics and anecdotes, glorious mishaps and gorgeous meals. A truly moveable feast!’

And it is. And thank you Peter for asking me to be one of those to contribute to the ‘back blurb.’ A first for me, and a real honour.

But I’ll leave you with one final quote, where yet again he writes something that I wish that I’d thought of, because it sums up exactly, and I mean exactly to the letter, how I feel about this city and people without equal. It’s this, paraphrased a little, from the last chapter:

‘Every July we stand in the Pamplona streets…and we feel the earth spin, and even revolve around our sun. Rest assured that during San Fermin, the solar system is positively palpable. It travels about 500 thousand miles an hour in an orbit around the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. A single orbit takes 200 million years to complete, or about how long it takes Ari to shower in the morning, a subject on which he is humourless. In Pamplona, we can even recognize that the galaxy as a whole is moving at a velocity of 391 miles every second. We hear the whoosh. It sings to us.’

We hear the whoosh. It sings to us. That is the humdinger of a line I was talking about earlier, the moment when I knew, just knew, that Peter ‘got it.’ I love that line, and it sums up, again, just exactly how the place, and it’s people, move me. After 32 years that is probably the best description I’ve ever read about just what Pamplona means to me, and damn you Peter, in the best way possible, for writing yet another line that I wish I’d thought of.

I love this book. It is a lovely story, well told, and whether it’s your first time, second time or umpteenth time…why not stand in a cobblestoned street with your arms akimbo and feel the whoosh and let fiesta sing to you.