Ella Alexander | Longreads | July 2017 | 16 minutes (3,919 words)
I wanted danger. My identity as a liberated woman, or at least an adventurous girl, was inextricably linked to placing myself in the way of unnecessary bodily harm and, though I’d never have admitted to it, my blue U.S. passport seemed like a strong enough shield to stop anything truly bad from happening. So, although I was a demographic outlier — a 19-year-old American girl travelling alone —
my presence in Pamplona made sense, at least in my mind. The running of the bulls presented itself to me as the ideal prepackaged brush with death, with the bonus of a possible existential realization. Knowledge of life and death, the value of every breath, etcetera.
Pamplona was just one in a series of strange places I’d found myself after neglecting to map out my trip any more definitively than a plane ticket from Jerusalem, where I had family, to Rome and another one home from Berlin two months later. I had been making strategically bad decisions all summer, using money my grandfather set aside for education to bankroll a solo-backpacking trip through Europe. Before I left, all my friends were gearing up for art gallery internships or ice cream shop jobs, and a flutter of joy ran through me every time somebody heard my summer plans and asked, “Isn’t that dangerous?” or, “Haven’t you seen Taken?”
I’d reply, “I can’t spend my life worrying about things like that,” or sometimes, “If I die then you’ll have a great story for parties. You can say, ‘I knew this girl who got murdered in Europe.’”