Full Tilt in Pamplona

July 7: The running of the bulls begins in Pamplona today, on the first morning of the nine-day Feast of San Fermin. Hemingway first went in 1923, as a twenty-three-year-old writer still a month away from his first, small book (Three Stories and Ten Poems), and so still a journalist filing stories for the Toronto Star: “Then they came in sight. Eight bulls galloping along, full tilt, heavy set, black, glistening, sinister, their horns bare, tossing their heads….” Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, was with him; they had semi-joked that the bullfights would be a “stalwart” influence on the baby she was carrying, who they would name “John Hadley Nicanor,” the last middle name in homage to Nicanor Villalta, one of the bullfighters that had impressed them.

On his second Pamplona trip, in July of ’24, Hemingway jumped in the amateur bullring — he never ran before the bulls — and he did so again on his visit in ’25. The people and events of this third trip would become The Sun Also Rises, the first episodes of which he began to write by the end of that July. It was on the ’25 trip that he saw the teenaged sensation Cayetano Ordonez, who became the novel’s Pedro Romero, prototype for Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” ideal:

Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves like cork-screws, their elbows raised, and leaned against the flanks of the bull after his horns had passed, to give a fake look of danger. Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling. Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let his horns pass him close each time. He did not have to emphasize their closeness…. Romero had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum of exposure, while he dominated the bull by making him realize he was unattainable, while he prepared him for the killing.

 

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