Day 67, Sun July 9 - We have always loved Spain. It has an unique combination of architecture, climate, art, food and history and a climate that reminds me of California. Also, it’s the only foreign language I can (somewhat) understand – although the many regional dialects and languages were not part of my high school Spanish class. Spain makes me think of tapas, paella and sangria; late dinners and long nights; Goya, Picasso, Dali, and my hero Don Quixote; the Moorish architecture of Cordoba and Granada; the oranges and flamenco of Seville; the fountains, bars and museums of Madrid; the castles of Segovia and Avila; and the wonderfully golden Toledo. We even love the quirky sides of Spain: the odd siesta hours which keep foreigners (even other Europeans) guessing when things are open and when to eat, the many names Spaniards have, which keep you guessing how to address them, and the various languages and dialects which keep you guessing when to lisp on “s” and “c” depending on what part of the country you are in (grathias or gracias? Barcelona or Barthelona?) The country is so different from the rest of Europe, it has been said that “Europe ends at the Pyrenees”, the mountain range separating the Iberian Peninsula from the continent both geographically and symbolically. The different historical development of Spain is primarily due to the extended Moorish occupation of much of Spain for much longer than the rest of Europe, the golden age of exploration and conquest in the 15th and 16th centuries, suffering the most recent civil war in Europe in the 1930s, and having a dictator until the 1970s – all of these things are quite different from the rest of Europe. The Moorish influence was mostly a factor of location, since the initial invasion from North Africa was fairly easy across the Strait of Gibraltar and it was easy to maintain the foothold close to home. The architecture, culinary, artistic, and other cultural impacts are still felt today, particularly in Andalusia in the South. The end of Moorish occupation in 1492 was in one of the most historic years in Spain’s history. It was also the year Ferdinand and Isabella decided to drive Jews from Spain, stepped up the infamous Inquisition in which non-Catholics were tortured and killed and sponsored the Genoan Christopher Columbus’ voyage in search of the New World. This touched off the age of conquistadors which led to immense territorial and resource (silver, gold, cocoa, sugar) gains for Spain as well as the spread of Catholicism and the Spanish language to Central and South America, not to mention forever changing the lives of indigenous peoples in these territories. Unfortunately, much of the riches were mismanaged or wasted in wars and conflicts by Carlos I (yes the same Hapsburg Charles/Karl V we learned about in Vienna). In the early 16th century he became the ruler of more European territory than anyone in 600 years through the foresight of his ancestors and a bit of luck. He was the son of one of Ferdinand and Isabella’s four children, but two of the other three died early deaths and the third, Catherine of Aragon, was cast off by England’s Henry the VIII. This left only Charles for all of Spain, in addition to Austria-Hungary, Flanders, Holland and parts of Germany, Italy and France. He had numerous battles raging throughout his tenure, most notably the Turks, Protestants, and rebels in various parts of his extensive empire. After him, the empire was split and his son, Phillip II had a great victory against the Ottoman Turks, but also a great loss of the famed Spanish Armada to the English. A steady gradual decline followed for various reasons until a few wars and a couple hundred years later Napolean installed his brother as King of Spain, although that didn’t last long. A century of internal wars and strife followed, and the distracted country lost most colonies in the Americas until the last four (Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba) were lost in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The 20th century brought a hodge-podge of conflicting sentiments unique to Spain that kept the country so busy it stayed neutral in World War I. The industrial revolution brought slums and a disgruntled working class that was particularly susceptible to anarchist, socialist and communist ideologies from Russia. At the same time, regionalism and separatist movements flourished (which are still alive and well today). All of these conflicting ideas coming together at the same time and struggling against the status quo of rich landowners and powerful church was a recipe for disaster. The ensuing civil war between the Republicans who supported the leftist (communist) winners of the 1936 election and the Nationalists who supported the right-wing (fascist) losers of the election pit brother against brother and region against region. The Republicans were supported by the International Brigades (including most famously Ernest Hemingway), but the nationalists had the Spanish regular military and the help of their fascists cousins in Italy and Germany who were practicing for bigger things to come. The war lasted three years, with atrocities and massacres on both sides and over 350,000 deaths in all. In the end, the squabbling Republican coalition was no match for the better-organized and supported Fascists, especially after Russia withdrew its support for the leftists. The Nationalist victory was followed by reprisal killings and persecutions of most known leftists, depriving the country of a generation of intellectuals, teachers and scientists with liberal ideas. General Francisco Franco managed to keep Spain out of World War II and his absolute one-party dictatorship would last until his death in 1975. He ruled with an iron fist, but his anti-communist stance was rewarded by the US with foreign aid under the Marshall plan and military bases. The post-war economic boom helped, and at Franco’s death Spain was ready for democracy. They now have a constitutional monarchy like several other European countries and are plagued by the same types of periodic corruption scandals. The new renaissance in Spain reached its climax with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Expo 92 in Seville.
We have each spent some time in Spain, but this time we have planned a northern route to towns neither of us had been to (except Barcelona and Madrid). We checked into the Peninsular Hotel, just off the famous pedestrian street, Rambla. It’s certainly not the best of hotels in the best of neighborhoods, but very central and within budget. We were starving, so we headed straight for Rambla for paella and beer. It was great people watching on the street that combines cafes, shopping, street performances, flower markets and bird markets. Barcelona prides itself (some say a little too much) on being a little more “special” (i.e. more industrious, cosmopolitan and stylish) than the rest of Spain. This was cemented by the successful hosting of the Summer Olympics in 1992. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalunya, with its distinct history and separate language. Some of this pride is understandable given the repression of the local culture under many leaders and regimes, most recently Franco. At one historic performance at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, the audience sang a banned Catalan anthem in front of Franco. The leader of the pack was promptly jailed for two years. He later became the president of the autonomous Catalunya. It is amazing how many stories of these inspiring national heroes/patriots/martyrs we encounter as we travel the world. Every nationality and ethnic group seems to have one (or many). One thing that most seem to have in common is a “foreign” (i.e. “different”) oppressor who is repressing their freedom of expression/worship/opinion or their rights to representative government. Being here and reading today’s paper about India, Philippines, Africa, Palestine, Fiji makes one wonder what would happen if God suddenly took away all weapons, eliminated Leh, Ace, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone, etc., and offered the human a race a fresh start (a sort of second Flood). All groups would be resettled to a fair and equal share of sustainable Earth for a “homeland” to call their own and do with it what they will - all God would ask is that we tell him the groups. Once “holy sites”, climate variances and economic differences are eliminated, leaving us without these reasons to fight, how would we react ( when we come out shock, that is)? How would groups be determined – on racial lines or ethnic lines? Will black Muslims have a different nation than white Muslims? Will Indians be separated by the many types of Hinduism? Would blond Catalans have a separate state since they don’t fit the "standard"? What about mixed-race peoples, will they be allowed to choose one nation or perhaps there will be an “Island of the Misfits” to which all people who don’t fit neatly into any group will be banished? Once the thousands of groups are determined and separated and the millions of refugees have been moved to where they want to live, will they state each build walls around their new state and exclude all non-members (so they don’t have to do any “ethnic cleansing” in the future)? If the states allowed non-members in to work (for example), would they give them equal rights or force conversion as in the Spanish Inquisition? Would they allow themselves economic trade with all other states or embargo Jewish/Arab states as Arab states and Israel have done? Would each state teach their children the supremacy of their group and the inferiority of all the others? If a new, homegrown religion sprung up, would it be squashed by the majority group? Would political parties and democracy come to an end because everyone thinks the same way anyway? How would art, entertainment and leisure of each of these states develop if they are static and not influenced by the outside world – would they run out of ideas? What if one state developed a new technology (for example, paper, printing, crop-growing techniques, cars, airplanes, television, computers, how to turn air into electric power, a cure for cancer) and did not share it with the rest of the world? Can anyone imagine an Italy without pasta (which originated in China), Belgium without chocolate (which originated from Mexico), or the US without the nuclear weapons developed with immigrant German scientists? What if these nations were forced to cooperate when some alien force threatens all of mankind at once? Maybe someone should make a cheesy American movie about it with a corny happy ending. They could call it “Independence Day” or “Deep Impact” or something. came to Earth? Of course, in the films we would all cooperate and save the human race - I'm not so sure it would work out that way in real life today.
OK, enough self-indulgent soapbox propaganda. As we’ve said before, it’s easy for us to criticize and admonish, coming from the freest and richest country in the world that luckily is not in the midst of one of these war zones.
Anyway, after lunch we headed to the
seaside and the monument to Columbus, then up to the Bari Gotic to admire the
snapshots of Barcelona in the 15th century and visit the gothic
Cathedral. A mass was in process,
and it had a serene quality we hadn’t seen to date. It also had a flock of
geese in the cloisters, which have apparently been there for centuries.
It was a great attraction for toddlers, as
geese and ducks are all over the world.
We found an internet café later to get caught up on some stuff, but without direct access to Outlook software, it’s difficult to manage messages. We were too tired (or old) to partake in Barcelona’s famed nightlife, so we crashed at the hotel. We have to admit we were more than a little depressed from missing the home cooking and companionship of the Pellacini family. We called to thank them again for their hospitality and Enzo said we don’t have to thank them because we are like family (which made us miss them even more!)
Day 68, Mon July 10 – I was horrendously behind on documenting the journal, so I wrote after a great café con leche at a seedy, smoky bar on our street. In the meantime, Naomi was kind enough to handle the unpleasant task of booking our next train tickets (which only took three hours!) When she finally returned back to the hotel, we took the metro (the most organized and easiest to navigate we have encountered) to Barcelona’s most distinctive and unique attraction, the Sagrada Familia church. This was to be the crowning achievement of the revolutionary “modernista” architect Antoni Gaudi. He worked on it for 43 years until he was tragically hit by a tram in 1926 and died three days later. Unfortunately, the church had only one tower when he died – several more have been added, as well as many other exterior elements, but it is still only half finished. The project not only suffered from Gaudi’s passing, but also the burning of his studio and related designs and documentation by anarchists at the beginning of the civil war in 1936. It is amazing different from any other church in the world. Gaudi was truly a revolutionary, seeing design and architecture in ways no one saw before and few have dared to imitate since. His line bending (and mind-bending) fantasies in curves reflected his modernist doctrine that there are no straight lines in nature. His columns clearly reflect trees, his arches are caves, and his ornamentation includes plants, leaves, flowers and waves. His structures seem more like stage sets for a Grimm fairy tell or Wagner opera rather than living spaces; but as a testament to their functionality, many are still in use today as offices and residences. The Sagrada Familia has ornate, jagged, lumpy spires as if molded of organic, growing clay. The unfinished interior is a forest of trees and flowers, and the sculptures in front are modern thought-pieces in arches with no straight or vertical lines. The whole structure is unique and whimsical. Today you can tour the interior and walk up hundreds of steps of the spires for a birds-eye view over Barcelona and out to sea. You also get to see the glass, ceramic and tile decorations that add the splashes of color to the exterior. Under the church is a museum with a model of what the complete church will look like (no telling when that will be) and many other works by Gaudi. The whole structure is a pilgrimage site for architecture and design students from around the world as well as a tourist trap of Gaudi postcards, pencils, magnets, shirts, frames, etc. etc.
We hung out in the park outside the church to watch the old men playing bocce ball (is it Spanish, French or Italian – who knows?). They looked to be a little more serious players than in Italy, but then again, it was starting to rain a bit. However, we still stand by our belief that the meaning of life can be found in the simplest of activities (sort of like “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”).
For dinner we went to the oldest restaurant in Barcelona, in the guts of the Bari Gotic area, but it was closed, even though we thought we were on the Spanish timetable of late dinners. We wound up at Placa Real, a busy square that has recovered (mostly) from its former reputation as a seedy area and red-light district (which included the brothel frequented by a young Pablo Picasso who lived nearby). Now the square is full of busy cafes and nightspots and is haunted by the spirit of Picasso, who grew up nearby. For some reason, there was a huge line at one, but we steered clear of it and had a great seafood dinner.
Day 69, Tues July 11 – We were awakened by the lovely sound of a jackhammer about 20 meters from our window. We can’t possibly get into what we were thinking about that in a family publication like this. After some very strong coffee we walked through the incredible covered fruit/vegetable/spice/candy/seafood market inside the wrought iron gates of the Mercat de la Boqueria. The colors, smells and actions of the shoppers in action were great. The stacks of fruit were more organized than any we had ever seen - as if they would all come tumbling down if we picked one. We spent the rest of the day on what really makes Barcelona unique in Spain (and the world) – the modernista architecture. We started at the Palau de la Musica Catalana by Montaner. It is a colorful, whimsical building that surprises you as you greet it around a corner. The concert hall served as the home of the Orfeo Catalan Musical Society and as the temple of the Catalan Renaissance. We took a guided tour of the amazingly colorful interior. We then walked up the “block of discord” where three houses were built with very different styles, including Gaudi’s Casa Batilo – a blue-green fantasy with wave-shaped windows and balconies, like an underwater castle. Then on to La Pedrera, which turns a corner in a wave of elaborate wrought iron balconies. This apartment building has another Gaudi museum in the ground floor and a complete apartment upstairs kept in the style of 1910 when it was opened. The turn-of-the century furnishings, with those new-fangled gas and electric appliances really take you back in time. We also visited the roof terraces, where the waves and irregular lines make you feel as though you’ve already had a pitcher of sangria or two. In the basement was a special exhibit of Goya’s most pointed social satires in etchings and drawings (some quite horrific).
We continued to Parc Gruell, an entire landscape and architecture area Gaudi designed for a rich land developer. The residential idea was a commercial flop, but was bought by the city as a park. It is now one of the most visited areas of the city and irresistible to photographers trying to take in all of the color and intricacies of the tile, glass and stone work. The metro got us quickly to the Plaza Espana and the national palace, but unfortunately the famous terraced fountains had been turned off.
Today’s news according to Time Magazine: Several lawsuits filed by women in Kuwait attempting to obtain voting rights were rejected. Their main opponents, Fundamentalist Sunni Muslims say that extending political rights of any sort to women is against Islamic law.
Day 70, Wed, July 12 – We took the train to Zaragoza with the hope that there would be storage available at the train station for Wheely Beast so we could look around town for a while before heading to Pamplona. Unfortunately, the entire station had only a handful of lockers which were all taken and no storage office as we had used throughout Italy. When we implied there was a need not being met to the helpful woman at the tourist information office, she said “yes, but in my entire life this is the first day I have seen the lockers full”. That must be Zaragosan for “tough shit”. We went ahead and bought tickets for the next train to Pamplona and had a great lunch in the station restaurant. Naomi had seafood and I had jamon with asparagus and beef stew. We would like to return to Zaragoza based on what we have read, maybe after Pamplona. The train was stuffed with hung-over American college kids. Maybe they didn’t realize the best (worst?) of their partying was yet to come at probably the largest street party in the world. Sure, there are other fiestas, but few utilize an entire town with such gusto and virtually shut it down for 8 days straight. The air was festive from the time we arrived at the Pamplona station and continued as our taxi pulled up to our hotel, an 18th century palace turned Pension Santa Cecilia in the city center. The pension had only ten rooms, including our converted broom closet and had nearly tripled the rates for the fiesta, but the staff was very nice and it was right in the middle of the action. We literally had to step over people to get in. The streets were a sea of red and white. Everyone, from kids to old folks, was dressed in the traditional white shirts and pants with red scarves and sashes tied around their waists and all the balconies and windows were filled with red flowers. We all agreed on the train over thant it sounds pretty corny to wear a red scarf all the time, but once we were in the thick of things, we felt completely out of place – me in my khaki shorts and gray t-shirt and Naomi in her traditional all black outfit. It’s like trying not to drink beer at Oktoberfest in Munich or refusing to wear cheesy plastic beads at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It only took a few moments for the mass hysteria to kick in and we ended up putting on stuff we wouldn’t wear anywhere else in the world (not sober anyway). The atmosphere was excellent, with the crowd dancing and singing along to the makeshift marching bands playing theme songs of the various groups and clubs. We arrived just as parades of flag-waving groups having a great time were meandering through the streets. We discovered that these bands represent penas or social clubs, whose primary purpose is to spend 51 weeks a year looking forward to the 52nd. Every corner was a small group of friends laughing and toasting each other with all types of alcohol but primarily champagne, sangria, wine, beer, and a local concoction of red wine and Coke called “kalimotxo”, which tastes pretty much as I imagined it would. We had put Pamplona on the One World Foundation World Tour 2000 schedule as part of our belief that life is to be enjoyed to its fullest by all – and it didn’t take long to realize we’d come to the right place. We didn’t have to talk to many people and gave up the interviews because they all said the same thing: “to have a good time!!”
The joy of it all is really infectious, but you are never far from the purpose of the festival: images of the bulls are everywhere: t-shirts, posters, flags, shop windows, post cards, videos of previous runs. It is no surprise that the festival is named for San Fermin, the patron saint of fools, since it is not only idiotic to run down the street in front of 3 tons of pissed off, razor-horned bulls, but it’s also foolish to think that the taunting, abuse, torture and ritual slaughter of animals is a reasonable form of entertainment. Most people (including Spaniards) agree with this but thoughts of protest often get lost in discussions of culture and history, in the festive atmosphere, and in the bloodlust passed down from generations of Roman Coliseum fans to medieval witch-burners to modern boxing/wrestling/gore movie/video game addicts. I suppose it’s more difficult for Americans to grasp this as entertainment since it has not been engrained in our culture for over 200 years and the most abusive we get toward barnyard animals (notwithstanding raising them for meat) is tipping over a few cows as they sleep.
This guy's trip to San Fermin was a real pain in the ass.
I had wanted to come to Pamplona since I first heard about
it in college and read Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, but I was a much
younger person back then and my tastes and sensibilities have changed a bit.
Back then, I couldn’t wait to join the wild throng and run the
“encierro” with the bulls, whacking them on the nose with a rolled up
newspaper. But I was a young lad,
full of “piss and vinegar” as the saying goes and looking for opportunities
to prove how “brave” I was, like skydiving, motorcycle jumping,
hang-gliding, bungee jumping and cliff-diving. But all of these things were searches for adrenalin and
contests against fate and my own fears – they were not at the expense or
exploitation of anything else (it was also before I read more Hemingway and
learned his obsessions with machismo led to abuse of people around him and his
obsession with death led to blowing his own brains out).
Anyway, with age it’s easier to see the whole San Fermin spectacle for
what it is: the cruel institutionalized abuse of frightened animals.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a festival just as much as (or maybe more
than) the next guy. I’ve had many musical, drunken, dancing good times in Rio,
Munich, New Orleans, Berlin, Glastonbury, and others but somehow “wine
festival”, “music festival” and “beer festival” sound a little more
civilized than “animal cruelty festival”.
Fans counter that the bulls are treated, fed and groomed far better than
their non-fighting cousins for many years (this argument sounds a bit fuzzy, as
if it’s OK to light a cat’s tail on fire as long as you feed it caviar
first). They also argue that the
bulls are destined to be slaughtered anyway, so why not let them have a go at
their murderers before so they can die “with dignity”.
This defense does make the tiniest bit of sense, which is why the
obligatory red and white t-shirt I wear says “San Fermin Bulls” in the logo
made world famous be Michael Jordan in a Chicago Bulls uniform.
I am cheering for the bulls to get a little Karmic payback for all of
this. (of course this brand of bloodlust on my part may be
part of the problem and a more respectable form of protest might be to stay away
altogether). The problem with
rooting for the bulls is they almost never “win” by surviving the ordeal
valiantly and being allowed to live to a ripe old age on the stud farm producing
children to be killed. The bull
“fight” would be fair if it was say, one bull against one guy with a
loincloth and knife like Tarzan or something.
Or more humane if it was two or three guys trying to tackle it and tie it
up rodeo style. Unfortunately for
the bulls, it is indeed a struggle to the death with odds fixed more precisely
than a Don King boxing match. More about the actual bullfight ("corrida")
After the music parades, we got sandwiches (the fiesta
prices for most things are double the normal prices) and watched a video of last year’s fiesta in the window of a souvenir shop. A crowd had gathered around the video as the bulls stampeded
and gored and tossed people around. It
looked like an incredibly dangerous and stupid thing to do. We heard that a bull
can run roughly twice as fast as a man, so the runners couldn’t keep up even
if they wanted to. Their best
chance is to hang near for a few strides then get the hell out of the way.
It was obvious that a runner’s survival has nothing to do with his
running skill or dodging talent and everything to do with luck (mostly whether
or not someone else trips him up, falls in front of him or pulls him down from
behind). Some comments from the
video crowd were : “Holy shit!”, “Did you see the fear on that guy’s
face?”, “No way in hell I’m doing that”, and “F___in’ hell, we gotta
do that dude!”. The runners were
mostly under 30 and almost all male (what a surprise, huh?).
They all had one distinct trait in common – a look of sheer terror as
the bulls bore down on them, followed by a look of exhilaration when they
realize the last bull has passed them. It’s
probably a combination not unlike one’s first skydive or cliff jump or bungee
with a metal bull on his back spewing sparks from its ears. All the kids
were running like hell, but the sparks were harmless. We took a
walk along the route of the bulls to determine where to position ourselves for
tomorrow’s run. We saw the double
row of wooden fences lining most of the 800-meter (half-mile) route - the
watchers are restricted to the outside row to allow medical and security
personnel between the fences and the runners to use the inside fence to jump
over or through. With advice from some English women we met in Zaragoza, we
decided on a high point on Santo Domingo near the bull corral at the start.
Of course, the party continued through the night with
various forms of music to choose from: brass
marching bands, Latin pop concert, pub disco tunes, Salsa, a Peruvian street
band, hard rock, and even a two-man Nirvana/Metallica cover band in Plaza
Castillo we listened to as fireworks exploded in the distant sky.
The Plaza has become the makeshift campground (or crash zone) for the
backpack and hippie/tattoo/piercing folks, along with various drunks.
When we returned to the hotel, we found that the statue outside our door
was the point for a curiously tourist (primarily Australian) tradition of
leaping into the arms of your mates on the ground from as high 15 feet.
All in all, the whole town (four times its normal size) seemed pretty
blissed out, but no telling how long they’d been there.
We were really missing all of our friends as this would be a great place
to cut loose with them, but we don’t know how anyone can keep up this pace for
more than a couple of days (of course, we’re not as young as we used to be).
Day 71, Thur, July 13 – Even though the run
doesn’t start until 8, all the advice we heard was that you have to take your
position much earlier or forget it. We
were out the door at 6:30 and any doubts we had about San Fermin’s reputation
as a 24-hour party were quickly dispelled.
Unbelievably, heads were still bobbing to music and smiling, although
some were rolling on the pavement in various states of consciousness.
We saw the street cleaning
crews with huge trucks and fire hoses dousing the streets, followed by the
sweeping machines. They actually do
a pretty good job of cleaning up the previous night’s assorted garbage and
sundry droppings – one can only imagine with horror what it would be like if
left to accumulate. Along the
encierro route, some people were sleeping in their positions, while others
nursed cups of coffee or orange juice. The
hearty ones still had beer or sangria – it was hard to tell whether it was
left over from last night or a little morning “hair of the dog that bit”
although the level of coordination gave a strong hint.
We opted for café con leche, which we are pretty much addicted to at
this point. Unfortunately, by the
time we got to our chosen spot, it was taken by not one, but two layers of
people. We decided to go for plan B
– to view the end of the run as the runners flow into the bullring (plaza de
toros). We picked up the local
newspapers on our way which had coverage of yesterday’s run.
You really get an understanding for how seriously they take the encierro
by the way they cover it. There
were not just photos of terrified runners and the unlucky gored, stomped and
tossed ones, but detailed diagrams of each major event
and a plethora of statistics. Yesterday’s
run lasted 3 minutes and 43 seconds, had 41 medical treatments, eleven trips to
the hospital and two cornadas (gorings). There
were also pictures of victims in the hospital with rueful smiles to show they
survived OK. Although they are
(hopefully) aware of the inherent dangers of the run, most take heart in the
fact that there are very few serious injuries or fatalities as a percentage of
people on the course. We heard that
one died on Monday from a horn to the heart, but the last one before that had
been a particularly unlucky American in 1995.
Apparently they have had only 15 fatalities in over 100 years of the
encierro (not counting 4,800 bulls).
From the bullring we heard the first cannon signaling the
opening of the corral and the second indicating that all bulls
were in the street. The crowd,
which filled most of the stadium, had been chanting and clapping along to a
brass bound. They now cheered with
anticipation, watching the entrance tunnel awaiting the mad rush inside. There was a small group of people like a false warning, but
then a huge rush as the runners sprinted in just ahead of the charging bulls as
the audience gasped. The runners
from the narrow tunnel quickly dispersed in
the wide arena, joining other crazies waiting there.
Seeing the runners panic in fits of individual prehistoric survival
instinct was a riotous lesson in human nature.
A baby carriage could have been sitting on the retaining wall, but
nothing and no one was stopping these guys from making it over the wall to
safety. After a while of running around the ring, the six bulls bred
for fighting (toros bravos) were calmed down by some calmer bulls and trotted
through a gate into the pens to a thunderous applause.
We thought that was the end of the show, so we climbed over the wall into
the ring. I was shooting some video
and Naomi was looking around when we heard a huge cheer and saw that a bull were
let back into the ring – and they were headed right for us!
We were too shocked to think and took off like everyone else for the
walls. I had never seen Naomi move
so fast – she completely abandoned her typical gymnast’s graceful trot for
an all out sprint with arms and legs flying.
Of course, I could only observe all this because I was right behind her
doing my own funky two-lumbar-discs-out gallop.
The bull joined us for a few seconds, about a foot behind Naomi, before
turning off. Unfortunately for her,
Naomi was too short to make it over the wall.
I shouldered her over and made my own
“get the hell
outta the way” dive over. Of
course it was completely irrational as we would have seen by turning around that
the bull was not only on the other side of the ring by now, but it was much
smaller than the fighting bulls and had horns wrapped in padding.
Once in a safe position, we laughed our asses off, enjoying the adrenalin
rush. A few more bulls were
released in sequence to run around for a few minutes. Funny thing was, Naomi noticed that there were no other women
in the ring besides her (she contends that it was a plot on my part, but I am
pleading innocent). Some people
laid down in front of the pen gate for the initial charge out, hoping someone
else would get stomped. We
couldn’t help thinking that if this was all there was to the fiesta, then it
wasn’t all that bad. So what if
some stupid humans want to test their bravado and tempt some bulls to gore them?
– all in a good day’s fun and something to write home about and tell the
grandkids. Unfortunately, we found
out later (in great detail) what else the humans had planned for the bulls.
We went early to the plaza de toros to scalp some tickets as the large majority of tickets are in residents, clubs or scalpers’ hands months in advance. Some wanted as much as 10,000 pesetas ($60) each for tickets with a face value of 2,000 ($12) – their markups put concert scalpers in the US to shame. We had trouble finding two tickets at a decent price, and besides Naomi was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, so we just got one for me – a decent seat halfway up the stadium. If you don’t want to know about a bullfight or are a bit squeamish, then you should skip to the next day of the journal right now. Hemingway did a much better job at describing the action at a bullfight (corrida) in his book “Death in the Afternoon”, but I’ll give it an amateur shot. The corrida starts at 6:30 (which in a country that eats dinner at 10 is the afternoon – hence Papa’s title). There are usually three matadors (killers) and six bulls, so each one kills two. The activities for the night are very regimented, choreographed and standardized so all the fans know what to expect and how to tell a “good” performance from a bad one. The activities are in no way meant to be a fair fight, but a slow, methodical tiring and weakening of the much stronger bull, using his own fear and anger to wear him down until he is too weak to struggle any further and is easily killed. After some initial music, fanfare and entrances, the first bull is let into the ring. A spike has already been driven between his shoulder blades to piss him off, so he charges around the ring a bit. He is confused, looking around trying to find out what’s going on. He finally sees some motion as three peones (junior toreros or bullfighters) wave large yellow and pink capes in front of him. He naturally has very poor eyesight, but focuses on one cape and starts to do what he was bred for – namely, charge and attack. He is disappointed to find that there is nothing solid behind the movement and gets even more upset and confused. This goes on for a few minutes until he has run his 500+ kilo body around the ring numerous times. The matador then enters to great applause. He is dressed in a skin-tight traje de luces (“suit of lights”), looking like a cross between a tiffany lamp and a ballerina and walking like a peacock. He has a sword and a much smaller cape than the peones and is expected to execute much more daring moves, spins, twirls, deceptions and taunts at close range. He is obviously the star of the show, like a silent-era Zorro, but he leaves the stage for a while and the peones continue to work. Sometimes, a peone will get the bull's attention to start a charge, then drag the cape behind him as he runs like hell toward the barrier that only the humans can fit behind. The bull hits the barrier and the crowd lets out a cheer and applauds. You can tell how strong a bull is by how much time the peones spend behind the barriers and how many times they are surprisingly made to look as scared as the amateurs in the morning. The more the bull embarrasses the toreros the more he will suffer for it later.
As the peones are tiring the bull, two horsemen (picadors) are getting in place on opposite sides of the ring. The idea is to finally give the bull something solid to hit so they will continue to chase capes. Unfortunately for him, in exchange for the solid hit he gets a lance jabbed into his back from the picador, who leans heartily into the spear as the bull tries to get his horns into the horse. The horse is padded to avoid injury (it wasn’t always thus, so some humane changes have been made to the sport - for the horses at least). Of course, the horses are also blindfolded since no horse in his right mind, even a trained one, would stand still to be gored by a bull. The bull finally gets the idea that he can’t get past the horse’s padding, so he backs off. This happens a few times until the toreros distract the bull and the horses are trotted off.
Then comes the banderillos, they are on foot, standing on their toes with chests sticking out, holding two short, colorful spears over their heads. They get the bull’s attention, then run toward him, veering off to the side at the last moment to plunge the spears into the bull’s shoulders. The bull tries to lunge, but by this time has limited mobility. Three banderillos (sometimes including the matador) have a go at him, driving in 6 spears. The bull is then run around some more by the peones to prepare him for the matador’s return. The spears do not usually fall out because they have harpoon-like hooks on the end causing them to bounce around like stiff appendages as the bull moves.
By this time, the bull is bleeding profusely, his chest is heaving and he can hardly hold his tongue in as foam drips heavily from his mouth. This is not how he thought his day would turn out and he is wondering how he got in this mess and how he will get out of it. Confused, angry, scared, desperate – just the way the matador wants him. This part does look quite dangerous, even in the bull’s debilitated state. The matador scores more points with the crowd the closer he gets to the bull’s horns. Macho posturing and arrogance are very important to the show, with the more audacious moves drawing the biggest applause. Sometimes he will turn his back on the bull and strut away (knowing that he only needs to turn around if the applause turns to gasps). He might also execute moves on his knees, stick his chest out at the bull, tap him on the head with the sword, cock his head, shout, turn up his nose, throw down his cape, hold his jacket open, or give a dismissive wave.
The moment finally arrives when the blood loss and exertion have made the bull too weary to go on and he can no longer raise his head in defense. The matador senses this and exchanges his performance sword for a killing sword. He makes a few more passes with the cape to position the bull for the kill. He holds the cape low so the bull focuses there and holds the sword high, lining up the placement of the sword. The idea is to plunge it through the neck and into the heart. This is meant to cause a quick death to “mercifully” relieve the bull of the misery created over the past 10-20 minutes. Once aligned, the matador charges from a few feet, gingerly at first to make sure the bull doesn’t move his head, then a quick final lunge to lean into the sword. The bull sometimes senses the deception and makes a vain effort to use his horns. A clean plunge goes all the way to the hilt, but sometimes it takes several more attempts to get it right after hitting bones, etc. If it does go cleanly in, the crowd goes wild.
One might expect the matador to pay respects to his defeated victim and perhaps bow gracefully, but instead he prances around like Muhammad Ali, waving excitedly to the crowd, wagging his finger at the bull and shaking his head as if scolding a child. Some matadors wave at the bull and motion him to lay down and give up the fight. The bull is shocked by the depth of the plunge and now knows he is mortally wounded. In his final panic he searches for something to blame. The peones move in on either side with capes. If they are good at what they do, they will get the bull turning in circles or waving his head back and forth so he is not only bleeding to death, but dizzy as well. Sometimes this sword doesn’t do the job, and the matador is bound by tradition to finish off the bull with a series of pokes to the face with another sharp prod until his head is a bloody mess too.
Finally, completely exhausted of all energy and willpower, his legs give out. Usually the front first, as if he is kneeling, then he flops down on his haunches and slowly rolls over to die, staining the sand with his blood. To quicken the death, a peone moves in with a special knife to jab the back of the bull’s head, scrambling his brain. Any tension left in the bull’s body collapses in a limp heap (sometimes however, this misses too and the bull gets up like Lazarus for a final snort before dying). When he finally is dead, the crowd gives applause and waves handkerchiefs trying to encourage the president of the corrida to award the matador one of the bull’s ears as a trophy of his kill. If the president agrees, he lays a white handkerchief on his balcony and a peone cuts off an ear for the matador to hold over his head for the crowd to applaud. If it was a particularly good performance, the matador may be awarded both ears and maybe even a tail. What he does with these is anyone’s guess. As the matador takes his final bows and strolls around the ring, receiving flowers and scarves from the crowd and waving back, the bull is tied by the horns to a team of horses and dragged out of the ring – stiff legs high in the air. A team of sweepers enters the ring to clear the dragging tracks and spread around the blood-soaked sand. The brass band strikes up and the ring is now prepared for the next killing.
OK, having just alienated any Spanish support we might
have, let me reiterate some other thoughts: Spain is an incredible country rich
in history, culture and art, with a wonderful diversity of beautiful sites and
experiences. Its people have an
honor, nobility and pride in these things that makes a visit to their country a
joy (and I didn’t even mention tapas and sangria).
However, the steadfast, proud embrace of an ancient tradition that most
people find uncivilized and only a handful of other countries celebrate is
disappointing to visitors and admirers who love most everything else about
Spain. Even without the corrida,
the festival of San Fermin (and others in Spain) could live on just like the
rest of the music and drinking festivals of the world, but with a special
vitality and spirit only Spain can add. This
country has more than enough cultural heritage and treasures to survive the
elimination of the corrida in its current form.
After the high drama of the corrida, we decided to go out to change the mood. We got a bottle of the cheap Sangria to walk around with. The mood was still festive everywhere. What is most striking is the way the entire town supports the fiesta. We saw every age group represented in the red, white and pena colors. There are also very few fights and disturbances - this is amazing considering the amount of jostling, spilled drinks and generally obnoxious behavior (not to mention the amount of alcohol consumed). It’s great to see that the spirit of the fiesta outweighs the negatives. We ducked into several bars and danced to a different type of music in each one. The bars were too crowded to get food, so we picked up some great baguette sandwiches and got a little closer to the fireworks this time, but still couldn’t figure out how to get to the park. Afterward, more bands in the street and craziness. We wanted to get a little sleep for tomorrow’s run, so we got in by 2:00.
Day 72, Fri, July 14 – Up at 5:00 and out by 5:45. Of course this took all the energy and will power we could muster, especially after the sangria. We actually made it to the stairs on Santo Domingo and got one of the prime spots, where we could see the anxious runners getting ready, then the bulls first coming out of the pen and their first encounter with the dumbasses (I use the term freely as I have certainly done my share of dumbass things in my life). The crowd was very reserved at first, sipping café and eating the traditional churros (a long, thin deep-fried donut), but got more excited as the time approached. We heard the official brass band play the wake up “dianas” at 7:00 to let everyone know it’s time to get going again. Drunken runners were in the street singing and yelling at the bulls (although they were probably still asleep in their pens). People started to crowd the route along the fences and balconies, but we held our spots pretty good. By 7:45, the crowd was buzzing with anticipation. The runners gathered for the traditional chant to an icon of San Fermin attached to the wall: “we ask San Fermin, as our patron, to guide us through the bull run and give us his blessing”. The police link arms in front of the runners to keep them near the official starting line. Now the runners are really nervous – some jumping up and down and some running in place to warm up.
When the first rocket goes off, all hell breaks loose and
the most exciting three minutes in the world starts (with all due respect to the
Kentucky Derby). The bulls stampede
out of the corral and down the street chased by professional herders with
sticks, the crowd leans over from their vantage points, and the runners run like
hell – in the dangerous position of speeding
looking backward. Some tumble as
the bulls approach and there is a huge pile-up, many dive for the walls.
One bull veers to the right away from the other five and tramples three
or four runners on the right. In a few seconds, it is over for
us. It is the same for most watchers unless you are in a balcony with a long view of
the street. The best view is on TV, which repeats the run all day from
numerous cameras and in slow motion, especially the gorings and tramplings.
You can also watch a video in shop windows later.
The letdown after such a huge buildup and short burst of excitement feels
strange. Everyone looks at each
other quizzically: “wow- is that it?” We
found out later that someone had been gored in the face, but survived.
Yesterday, an American got gored – for the second time in 4 years!
The newspaper published the story than ran about him in 1996. He is either very unlucky or very stupid (or maybe a little
After the encierro, there is the final parade of the “gigantes”, giant paper mache heads and figures dancing around the streets to traditional music. They also chased children around hitting them with a soft club on a string. There is something inherently funny about seeing a huge paper mache head running down the street. The gigantes were bid farewell at the town hall with traditional “gaita” music – some sort of bagpipe sounding flute. Afterward, we took a break and visited the medieval gothic Cathedral with its famous gothic cloisters and alabaster tombs from 1416. The difference in atmosphere was quite a shock to our system. We went from complete craziness with thousands to calm, solitary reflection in a matter of minutes. There were only a handful of us there, including some religious pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela. We may see them there in ten days.
When we had bought tickets to today’s the bullfight last
night, I wondered why I got such a good price.
We went early because we thought they may be counterfeit.
The tickets turned out to be OK, but we quickly found out the
awful truth of why this part of the ring is called the “Wild Section”.
As soon as we exited the tunnel, we were ambushed with a barrage of food
and drink. We were in shock – we
had no idea to expect this. Last
night I was in a very reserved, older section, where I was offered champagne,
chocolates, and cookies. Now we
traded that type of hospitality for sangria, beer, fruit and lord knows what
else delivered in a manner definitely not meant for consumption.
We tried to be good-natured about it and waved to the guys in the stands
above us, but that only invited more abuse – soon it was projectile streams
from giant syringes, super-soaker squirt guns and whole oranges, including one
particularly well-aimed orange to the crotch.
When we tried to sit down, everyone yelled at us to go away because they
were getting hit by some of the abuse meant for us. We sat down anyway, huddled together, and took it in the back
for another five minutes. We were
soaked to the bone and laughing our asses off.
It was a riot – you just had to take it.
We decided it was a test of wills, refusing to give in by letting them
drive us out. We felt like we were
under siege with the enemy holding the higher ground and all the ammunition –
but we vowed like the defenders of Leningrad never
to give in. After awhile they got
bored with us and moved on to someone else.
When we got chances to glance around we realized why we had been such
attractive targets – the whole section was wearing plastic ponchos and the
colors of their pena except for us! They
knew we were unprotected and not part of their drinking club, so we were fair
game. We noticed that most guys had
plastic buckets and garbage pails full of sangria, most of which was going in
the air. It was a combination of
college football bowl game, world cup soccer, frat party, concert, and food
fight. We would have loved to get
some of the action on video, but filming was out of the question. We looked over the rail to the section below us and it was
even wilder – down there they were throwing flour and food coloring, turning
everything a paste of red and yellow (Spain’s national colors).
For our section of the arena, the bullfight was purely incidental to the
other festivities. Which was a good thing because today’s fights were even
more torture for the bulls than yesterday.
Four of the six bulls were not killed by the sword and had to be jabbed
in the head. One was stabbed over
ten times and still charged the matador, who luckily pushed him away by the
horns. The matadors were a little
less arrogant this time because the kills were not “clean”.
Naomi was just as disgusted as I was with the whole affair.
Most others in our section did not seem to mind, but I’m not sure if
that was because they enjoyed it or because their attention was elsewhere.
This is another reason why I think the fiesta would be just as fun if
there were no corridas.
After the last killing, we stood up and waved to our attackers to show them we survived intact since we knew that any unused food and drink would be launched at the end. I smiled just in time to see a wall of red - which must have represented a whole bucket of sangria. I turned, but caught the brunt in the face. It tasted OK, but stung the eyes a bit. Naomi took a dousing so hard it nearly toppled her. We saved our bottle, emptied the contents into a cup and tossed it backwards - It was great to get back at them before we left. We went down to the floor of the arena because the last day is followed by the bands playing and the crowd dancing and singing along in a final farewell. The entire event just has to be seen to be believed. We have to say, however, that the younger versions of us would have enjoyed the party a lot more than we did today. No wonder most of the participants are college-aged.
One lone brave protester inside the ring after the last killing. No one paid much attention to him.
As we funneled out, the exit was lined with older, somewhat
more reserved fans who kind of laughed at the
filthy youngsters. We were followed
by the pena (social club) bands and banners as they paraded through the town for
the last time. We went back to hotel and peeled off our soaking clothes –
thankfully, they had laundry facilities, but we had no idea if our clothes could
get clean. We went into town with a
Canadian couple we met (they were
having a great trip around Italy and Spain as well), had some great ham and
beer, danced a little (Naomi attracting her usual admirers) and watched the
fireworks before heading to the final candle-lit procession signifying the end
of the fiesta. The gathered crowd
sang the solemn “Pobre de mi” which goes “poor me, the party has come to a
close” followed by other more festive songs.
This was a little too crowded so we settled into an outdoor restaurant on
the Plaza Castillo for a hot sandwich. It’s
always great trading experiences and stories with fellow travelers, particularly
Simona and Phil from Vancouver, since we’ve been to some of the same places.
We headed back home before three, passing the final street parties and
even an African drum circle similar to the one at Venice Beach, California.
We crashed for the night knowing we had definitely been to one of the
wildest fiestas on the planet.
Day 73, Saturday, July 15 – We slept in very late to get over our sleep deprivation. The hotel was deserted as we were the last ones to leave. Going into the street was amazing -it was like stepping into the twilight zone. All partiers were gone and the citizens were going about their normal business - shopping and chatting. All of the wooden barriers had been unbolted from the city walls, and cups and debris swept away. We had to look close for evidence of the previous 8 days. Then we saw the unmistakable stumble of a hangover and heard something mumbled in English and realized it wasn’t a dream after all. We got a hearty breakfast and got the newspaper to check the stats (which included pictures and diagrams of yesterday's horn to the face), then headed to the bus station for our bus to Irun. We could not get a hotel in San Sebastian, so we decided on Hondarribia, a small fishing town near Irun on the border with France. If I hadn’t mentioned it in the Pamplona section, we are now in the country of Basques - a hearty, independent-minded people with a very distinct culture they share with southwest France. Although they have been granted significant levels of "home rule" as one of the autonomous regions within Spain, their independence movement is assisted by one of the more prolific terrorist organizations in the world, ETA, which exploded a bomb in Madrid a few days ago and has another recent assassination to its credit. Terrorist activities are very difficult to rationally understand, so we will not delve into an area in which we have little expertise. Suffice to say, it is obvious they believe very strongly in their cause or they would not have continued the fight for so long. However, using terror campaigns to support your cause - particularly against innocents not involved in their grievances – must be condemned.
The small town of Hondarribia itself
is very clean, orderly, and quite charming. It combines a modern section with
a cobblestoned old medieval town center on a hill, with a fine beach thrown in
to boot. We were surprised by the
Northern European feel, with some of the wood-beam buildings having an almost
alpine character. The signs are in
both Spanish (Castillian) and Basque, a complex language apparently dominated by X's and K's making the pronunciation difficult
for us, especially with the Castillian lisp (lithp).
Our hotel, Hostal Alvarez Quintero, is a very nice turn-of the-century
wood building with eclectic antique furniture and a room three times the size of
our Pamplona room (and our own bathtub!) The
people in town are very polite and friendly, some walking about town like a
charming stereotyped postcard, carrying
French bread and wearing the classic black beret of the region.
This will definitely be a comfortable place to relax after the
pandemonium that was Pamplona. The
ironic thing is that we accidentally stumbled onto another festival day.
July 16th is celebrated in many coastal towns as the “dia
del Carmen”, the matron saint of fishing.
We will see what that is all about tomorrow.
Day 74, Sunday, July 16 – Spent the morning
recovering from last night’s epic battle with AT&T.
I’ve been using the monolithic US telecom giant for over ten years for
international long distance, mostly out of laziness and falling prey to the
industry’s marketing ploys of confusing the hell out of everyone with rate
programs. The only things more
mind-boggling than telephone rates (in the private sector anyway) are insurance
rates and airline pricing programs. Anyway,
all we wanted to do was find out why our last billing was so high given we had
only made a few calls. After
suffering through numerous operators ignorant of their company’s own programs
and policies, being cut off several times, transferred to the wrong person and
put on hold for an hour, we finally found that they had not acknowledged our
last two payments (although Bank of America says they were paid) and our bill
averaged about US$6-9 per minute. We told them about the phone card available
here that are US$0.50 per minute and they could only say “I’m sorry –
those are our rates”. We said
“we’re sorry, but you won’t be ripping us off anymore”.
Believe me, you do not want to be on the receiving end when Naomi is on a
roll for justice and fair treatment.
Anyway, we walked around the cobblestoned old town and
cathedral, had a great lunch, then spent a lazy day
at the beach recovering and people watching.
It’s great to see that some beach scenes are standard anywhere in the
world: little kids building castles and looking for shells; bigger
kids tackling each other in the water; teenagers flirting and trying to look
cool and be accepted by the “in” crowd, 20-something couples chatting,
reading, and sharing lotion; parents playing with toddlers; and older folks on
the sidelines with less skin exposed, but still enjoying the sun. Notwithstanding the similarities,
there are a few more topless women than we are used to (not that I’m
complaining) and a considerable number of naked toddlers. Naomi tans very
quickly to a nice golden brown, but after working up a nice red neck (since I
didn’t have one already), I decided to call it a day.
We watched the crowd gather for the dia del Carmen festivities, including
a boat procession and throwing flowers into the sea.
Later, there was a band playing local-flavored pop songs.
Some of the people seemed to know this special twirling Basque dance, but
it was too complicated for us. We
could have thrown in a little chicken dance or the Macarena, but I don’t think
it would have fit in very well.
Today’s statistic from Time Magazine: The combined income
of the 582 million people living in the 43 least-developed countries in the
world in 1999 = US$146 million. The
combined wealth of the 200 richest people in the world in 1999 = US$1 trillion.
Day 75 – Monday, July 17th – Since we
were not able to stay in San Sebastian, we decided to take a bus there to
see what all the attraction was about. This
“summer capital of Spain” is attractive and tasteful (at least when
separatists are not protesting) with a great old town with numerous bars and
restaurants and newer Belle Epoque architecture. The beach is beautiful, a wide
ending in rocky outcroppings. We
strolled along the promenade overlooking the packed sand. It was as crowded as a weekend in Santa Monica and it’s
Monday. The vacationers must be out
in force. We had our most
frustrating day of interviewing since about 18 of 20 people we spoke to did not
speak English. We walked to the end
of the beach, past the ritzy mansions to the old funicular. At the top of the hill was an amusement park with plenty of
kids having a great time. Since we
weren’t staying here, we went ahead and had a very nice dinner on the beach as
the sun was going down.
Back in Hondarribia we made some calls home (like our good
friend Brenda’s birthday) and caught up on laundry and writing.
Day 76 – Tuesday, July 18th – We had
a great tortilla Espanola breakfast at
Maitane across from the hotel where we’ve become regulars, then I
downloaded some videos. We arranged
to take a van tour across the border into
Basque France since we were so close anyway.
Apparently, the French portion of Basque country is similar in terms of
culture and history, but they are not strong separatists and they thankfully
lack the related terrorist organization that Spain has.
The tour went through Hendaye, the famous meeting place of Hitler and
Franco to discuss Spain’s involvement in World War II, and stopped in St.-Jean
de Luz, a beach town famous as the wedding site of Louis IV to a
Spanish woman. It had a beautiful
church with the unique Basque wooden galleries of pews on the upper floors. They also devised a clever way to protect the beach houses
from storms without diminishing the beach experience: a hill was raised as tall as the first floor of the houses
and a promenade paved on top, then bridges were built to the second floor doors
of the houses. We continued to
Biarritz, playground of French royalty and celebrities (although not quite the playground that Nice and Cannes are).
The town is beautiful, but our tour was
very brief, including drive-bys of the chateaus of the famous and two stops
overlooking the beach and scenic coast. It
had an aristocratic air to it that goes with its royal history and expensive
casino. All in all, it was a nice
trip, but no substitute for the South of France (as our friend and native
Frenchman Philippe will attest to). We didn’t get back until late and had a
Maitane fish dinner.
Several news items for the future of our journey: The Fijian rebels have released the parliamentary hostages they had held since May. We will need to research the effects on the tourist industry before next year. Also, the AIDS epidemic continues to ravage Africa. Due to lack of affordable medicine and information, less than one half of one percent of the 5 million Africans with AIDS are receiving any form of therapy. We hope that drug companies and their investors on Wall Street are satisfied with their profits.
To Follow us to more of Spain, please click here: Photojournal July 19 - 28.
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