I WANTED TO SEE FOR MYSELF what it was like. I had read about Pamplona, Spain in books by Ernest Hemingway. I had seen photographs of men with white shirts and red bandannas charging slam-bam down a narrow street, a raging bull in wild pursuit, plunging and tromping the most clumsy of runners.
Yes, there was that but a great deal more.
The day we arrived, my wife and I set up camp alongside the Arga River just outside Pamplona. After dinner—a few slices of salami and cheese on French bread—we drove into town.
It was dark now. The air was warm and a little sultry; it was beginning to drizzle. The streets were jammed with tourists, all of them, like us, wandering aimlessly, taking in the scent and sounds of Pamplona. In the distance we could hear the night thunder tumbling on the hillside. Soon the drizzle became a light shower and then a driving rain. People darted into darkened doorways and nuzzled there, waiting for the rain to let up, giggling and whispering in Spanish or French or German. No one went home.
My wife and I kept walking. We were at the town square now. There was a small park with grand old trees that formed a protective canopy over the travelers who carpeted the grounds below. Some 500 people crammed into the modest park. A few huddled under small makeshift tents, most sprawled side-by-side in blankets and sleeping bags. I’ve never seen anything like it; it was as though the mayor called a slumber party and the whole town showed up.
Just then the sky erupted. The lightning came crashing down, illuminating the town square. (Man alive! There must have been a thousand people under the trees.) And then the thunder. BOOM! And again BOOM! And, yet, again BOOOOMMM!
It was incredible. The Almighty was crashing and cracking and turning on every light in the house. My God! It made you hold your breath.
And the people; I will never forget the people. They applauded! With every rip of lightning, every blast of thunder, they rose up in a single voice and cheered! And the louder the thunder rolled, the louder they bellowed. The bull was raging, and the crowd loved it. “Toro! Toro! Toro!” they shouted.
I turned to my wife, overcome with joy. I held her in my arms, drenched in the pouring rain. I could say nothing.
That is a moment I remember when the lonely speak of dying, and the angry strike out, and the whiners and the moaners insist people are no damn good. That is the moment I cling to: one summer night, when all of us were linked by a common love of peace and fellowship and the wonders of the universe, ready to join in, to throw our heads back and shout at the top of our voices, “Toro! Toro! Toro!”