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For Whom The Bull Tolls

Foto taken by: Turgel

For Whom The Bull Tolls

Written by Tim Pinks

Photos by Jesus Caso and Stephanie Mutsaerts

‘If you build it, they will come.’

Magic. You know that feeling we get, even as we grow older, when it snows? Magic. That feeling that makes our heart leap and our stomachs summersault as the snow falls ever thicker and heavier? Magic. The sort of magic that takes us back to our childhood when we believed in Father Christmas – I still do – and when we had the proof he existed because there were presents under the tree. It’s a magical feeling. Nieve en Navarra. Nievarra. Magico.

Well, I don’t need to tell you, but San Fermin is magic. He is The Conjurer. And when he throws his party, his Fiesta…it’s magical. No matter how often we guiris go, we never lose that childlike joy of looking forward to it, of arriving in the city, of the fiesta equivalent of Christmas Eve – San Fermin Eve – and then the arrival of July 6th, and a Christmas Day that lasts for nine days and nights.

Like the bells in Hemingway’s book, ‘For Whom The Bells Toll,’ the saint rings for us. He calls to us. But the bells in a church can make two types of noise. There is the happy sound they make, like for a wedding or when just passing the time of day, and there is a sad sound, like for a funeral or announcing something ominous. When the saint rings, he sings. It’s a happy sound.


For those who would like to read the Spanish Version of the same article published in Navarra.com please feel free to click here.


Like the bells in the Hemingway book, ‘For Whom The Bells Toll’ the Saint rings for us. But in the original English version, the word is ‘toll.’ In the Spanish it’s more ‘ring.’ Or ‘peel.’ And toll has an ominous sound to it…yes, an ominous ‘ring,’ whereas in the Spanish translation of the book the word ‘suena’ is used, which has a softer, nicer, yes, ‘ring’ or ‘peel’ to it. It’s more…appealing. A little bit of magic.

And in this second Escalera month, when normally we’d all be celebrating Fiesta coming ever closer…there is nothing definite to celebrate. Nothing concrete to look forward to. I’m not being overly negative or pessimistic here – and anyone who knows me will know that in most things I’m a glass ‘half full’ person – but at the moment, although my glass is still half full…I can’t find a waiter to top it up.

The Fiesta of San Fermin hasn’t been cancelled yet…but neither has it been confirmed. But as the days and weeks go by it feels more like a tolling will be in the air than a ringing… I fear for fiesta.


san fermin
Photo taken by: Rodrigo Demedeiros


And if, (and I know it’s a very, very, big ‘IF’) fiesta does happen, I’m reminded of a British novelty pop song called ‘Star Trekkin’ by a band called The Firm. In it, Spock says to Captain Kirk, ‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.’ Well, if some sort of San Fermin is allowed and arranged, it’ll be, ‘It’s Fiesta, Tim, but not as we know it.’

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t care if they only ran it over a couple of weekends, and the Giants and Saint came out to see everyone. At least we could all say hello to San Fermin and his friends.

So, a little like San Fermin de Aldapa, perhaps. At least the town would have something to dance with, smile at, and raise a toast to. And if, just if, some guiri like me who loves Fiesta and Pamplona, it’s people and it’s parties, more than anything, was allowed to travel to pay a visit…well, it would be like meeting Father Christmas as a child.


for whom the bulls toll
Photo taken by: Juan Antonio Garaikoetxea


The joy would be childishly wide-eyed and magical. It always is, every year, even though we know what’s going to happen, but after last year’s Sin Fermin, and this years’ seriously increasing problems with the pandemic it looks like San Fermin will become San Doubtful…

What seems obvious is that even if travel is allowed, fiesta as we know it almost certainly cannot happen. The words at the top of this article are actually a mis-quote from the Kevin Costner film, ‘Field of Dreams.’ Talking about building a ballfield to play baseball, that will maybe bring Costner’s father back, a mystery voice says, ‘If you build it, he will come.’

So you know, Pamplona Town: if you are open, they will come. And here, by ‘they’ I mean…us. Guiris. Just as people Navarra wide and country wide will come. If it is possible to be in Pamplona in July during the fiesta dates, they will come. Not all, by any means of course. But some…

Last year was different, a one off. The town was open, although Fiesta was cancelled, and people accepted it and didn’t travel. (Although this Englishman came!) Plus, last year, Spain was closed to Americans, but this year, if the borders are open…they will come. Whether nothing is going on, or whether some small scale events are planned, like the Procession, the Giants, some fireworks or a Plaza del Castillo concert…they will come.


fireworks of san fermin
Photo taken by: Rodrigo Demedeiros


Many years ago I learnt a word, from Dr. Jose Joaquin Arazuri, in volume two of his ‘History of San Fermin.’ It was a Navarran word, he said, ‘ciriquiar.’ It meant, ‘to make mischief.’ Well, for us who love Pamplona, capital of Navarra, during fiesta or outside it, it is a place where we adults can, in the nicest, most respectful way, come to play. To make mischief!

I have been lucky enough in my life to go to Disneyland in California, and Las Vegas in Nevada. And the Oktoberfest in Germany and New Year’s Eve in Scotland. (And many in Pamplona!) But if you combined all of those and added, let’s say: the Rio de Janeiro Mardi Gras, the Calgary Stampede, Bastille Day and, I don’t know, the lights of the Aurora Borealis…you wouldn’t come close to the Fiesta of San Fermin.

As you and I know, there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING like the Fiesta of San Fermin! And on this second Escalera day, as we countdown to…what?…I will never stop believing in the Fiesta of San Fermin. Like I believe in Father Christmas, Olentzero, the Little People and the Jentilak… I believe in San Fermin.

They may have to cancel, or change, Fiesta for this year, but as the sun also rises…the Saint will rise again.

With hope in my heart and song in my soul…¡ya falya menos!

Viva San Fermin! Gora!

Written by Tim Pinks 


Coming soon more about Tim Pinks and his novels Once Upon a Time in Pamplona and Bulls Eye (A Tale in English and Spanish)


Con esperanza en mi corazón

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