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After the Bulls, Sausage and Eggs

ONE EARLY MORNING in July, minutes after bulls and humans had stampeded through the cobblestoned streets of Pamplona, I joined the crowd at Bar Txoco on the Plaza del Castillo to buzz about what had just happened and to drink hot chocolate as thick as pudding. For some, the bulls and Bar Txoco marked the start of the day; for others, they meant the end of another raucous night at this six-day feria made famous by Ernest Hemingway.

At Txoco I bumped into a Canadian named Larry Mazlack. In the past 20 years, bulls had gored him twice and broken his ribs on both sides. A grizzled Pamplonico approached us, smiling. He and Mazlack exchanged robust hugs and then, because the man was deaf and dumb, pantomimed their pleasure at reuniting.

“He saved my life once,” said Mazlack. “He pulled me up and away from a bull that was standing over me after having knocked me down.”

Mazlack bought the man a vanilla brandy. “As many as he wants,” said Mazlack, “for as long as he wants.”

He invited me to have breakfast with friends. We sat in a sunny street at long tables covered with white paper. It was a party of old amigos, mostly runners, mostly Basques, still vibrant from their dash amid beasts. The men studied newspaper photos of yesterday’s run, pointing at bulls and runners, debating and remembering. Street bands clamored past, drums booming, brass blaring.

One man suddenly stood and began singing in a passionate tenor, his neck muscles bulging. The song, amplified by the stone walls, told of farmers riding to their fields in wagons, then returning home with flowers in their hair for their women.

We ate ham and eggs, potatoes in tomato sauce, fat sausages, and the luscious young beans that Basques call pochas, all of it washed down with light red wine. Simple food, yet transformed by the feria, which sharpens all senses and appetites.

A woman from Barcelona turned to me and said, “I think we’re too regulated in our lives, too afraid to drink too much, to eat too much—to enjoy too much.”

But not today, not here. Joy, courage, and sensation propel the feria, all of them in excess. Brandy arrived, then coffee. After two and a half hours, we bid each other good-bye, filled in every way.

©Steve Kemper. All rights reserved. Cannot be reproduced without consent of the author.

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