Tag Archives: Running of the Bulls

Who I Became at the Running of the Bulls

Illustration by Giselle Potter

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.’”

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Two friends decide to participate in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona:

We talk about our plan of action one last time. We remind each other to stay to the inside on the turns. We remind each other that the most important thing is to keep our center of gravity so we stay on our feet.

‘If you lose a shoe, keep going,’ Dan says.

‘Yeah, glass in your foot is better than being trampled—by people or bulls.’

‘If you fall, don’t try to get up. Just cover your head and roll to the side.’

‘And if you see a bull on its own, try to get out.’

This last point may be the most important in terms of living and dying. From what we’ve been told, bulls together are not as frightened as bulls alone. Bulls together tend to stay on a path, assuming they keep their footing. Frightened bulls directly charge people.

“The Bull Passes Through.” — Kevin Chroust, The Morning News

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