Wednesday, September 20, 2006

the running of the bulls (la pamplonada)

This article originally ran a few years back in a cultural magazine called El Independiente. The lady referred to as my girlfriend is now my wife and the actual date of the event this year (2006) is Saturday, September 23d. I will not be there, but came to feeling a bit sentimental about this time of year in Mexico. So, here you go...

Do You Wanna Dance?
It's Pamplonada Time!

By Kid Daniel

"Are you going to get out and run again?" A familiar question at this time of year as I have participated in the Pamplonada (running of the bulls) annually since 1995. My response this time around? "Probably not." Why? I suppose for the same reason I no longer care to consume LSD. I did enough of that stuff in my younger days and got the general idea. It has ceased to be an activity that is necessary or even desirable.
Still, I have done a story on the Pamplonada in San Miguel each year since my inaugural running and see no reason for September 25th,1999 to be an exception.
So, that being said, my mind reels back to the first time ever to experience this splendid madness. I did not know anyone here and nobody I spoke with could give me the faintest idea of what to expect. I only knew that bulls were going to be charging down the street and that I was quite terrified at this prospect. Thrilled as well.
Okay. The first time for anything is going to be the most exciting. I shall, in this brief space, attempt to give all you first-timers an idea of what to expect.
A: Odds are that you will not be gored or even come close to being struck by a bull.
B:You will see people get hurt. Sometimes severely.
C: Odds do not mean diddly squat if you happen to be one who gets it.
The running of the bulls is a fantastically exhilarating happening that will cause screaming and wild laughter, yet is to be taken very seriously. To see a person be tossed like a beanbag can be quite the unnerving experience. The sight of blood is rarely of a pleasant nature.
As far as I can tell, the thing is supposed to kick off at noon, but I do not ever recall the bulls actually being released until 1:00 or so. I recommend waking up early and eating a light breakfast. I have usually prepared a mixture of sliced cantelope and banana with lime juice squeezed over it accompanied by a slice of buttered bread and a cold beer. For those of you out there who are of the non-alchoholic nature, some mango juice mixed with mineral water is quite tasty and soothing for a nervous stomach.
You may as well don the standard attire: jeans, a white t-shirt and a red bandana around the neck. Bandanas are readily available.
So, after a shower and one more beer, it's time to head down to El Jardin (town square) and soak up some of the energy. The testosterone level down there is so thick it's tangible. Machismo abounds, although there are some females within the barricades as well.
Barricades. The East and West ends of Calle San Francisco and Correo are blocked off at Recreo and the portales where the bank is located. It's easy enough just to squeeze through, but bear in mind that it is not nearly so easy, practically impossible, to get back out once you get in there.
The best thing to do at this point is simply walk around and relax. There are generally several false alarms and screams of "Toro! Toro!" Don't freak out. I assure you that you will be aware of the presence of bulls when they are released.

Walk to the Southwest corner of El Jardin and you will be standing in the exact place where the bulls will begin their notorious romp through the streets. I have usually hung out in this area just to keep tabs on the action beforehand. A parade of brightly dressed senoritas will ride by in convertibles, usually Volkswagon Things, tossing out carnations to all the participants. This, by the way, is the easy part. No sweat.
A short time later, however, things get a bit creepy and surreal. A huge, dark blue truck, red trailor in tow, comes slowly, very slowly around the corner. I have often compared this to the nightmare of a child. It's scary. If you stand close enough, you can hear the horned ones stomping and snorting. This is when you will come to the chilly realization that there is no exit. Too many people. The street becomes visibly narrow.
How many bulls are let out? To be honest, I do not know or care. I've been told by supposed afficianados numbers that range between 8 and 12. Trust me here, there are enough to go around.
I have also heard the rumor that these are incredibly scrawny versions of fighting bulls. The first person you see get tossed will quickly and surely dispell that myth. They may be smaller than the ones that will take to the ring later that day, but are no less dangerous.
If you are with a friend, make plans to meet later, for it is likely you will be separated. I swear this thing is nuts! People are running every which way and so are the bulls.
Unlike Pamplona, Spain, these beasts are not herded and do not run in one particular direction. You may well be escaping the charge of one bull only to turn the corner and be facing another one. I have personnally experienced that horror and, to this day, have no idea as to how I managed to not get sandwiched.
Other advice. After 30 minutes or so, the bulls will appear tired and their tongues will be hanging practically to their knees. Would-be matadors will then flash red capes and taunt them. You may want to avoid these guys. After the bull passes throught the cape, he will charge the first thing he spots. If that thing happens to be you, if I may embark upon a cliche, Adios Amigo!
I have read and have been told that the running of the bulls here is referred to as dancing with the devil. A pretty accurate description as it takes place the nearest Saturday to St. Michael's day. Saint Michael, of course, is said to be the arc angel who cast Satan out of Heaven. Perhaps this day of madness is merely the devil getting his due.
My girlfriend looks over my shoulder at this article and asks with a touch of disbelief, "Jesus! Are you going to get out and run again?" "Probably not." is my response. Then
The 25th of September. Do you wanna dance? It's Pamplonada time!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

jury duty

JURY SUMMONS: You are required blah, blah, blah…
The above are the last words you really want to read after retrieving your mail. I recently got one of these notices and grimaced. I had about two weeks to think about it before I had to appear.
The list of things that went through my mind that I would rather do than spend a day, or possibly more, in a courthouse would be far too exhaustive than space here allows. Tedium, I would like to think, is rarely anybody’s objective.
However, when the morning of the day arrived, I put myself into the mindset that if be a juror I must, then be a good one. Maybe it would even turn out to be somewhat interesting.
First of all, I at least learned that one does not have to be a registered voter to be selected for jury duty. One merely has to be eligible to become a voter. This is explained in incredibly long-winded fashion when you are seated, then asked to stand and then try to remember the words to the pledge of allegiance.
After about a half an hour of telling you what it takes to not be a qualified juror, it happens to be that to be disqualified, you pretty much have to be over the age of seventy or a convicted felon. (Insert sigh here.) Not that I ever aspire to be a felon. While my hair might be graying at a more rapid rate than I care for, I would be hard pressed to pass for elderly.
There had to have been three hundred people crammed into what is referred to as the “Central Jury Room.” Names were called and seats assigned. Maybe, as others have told me about, my name would not be called at all and I could just go home and forget about it.
There were 48 seats to fill in one particular section and 12 of those assigned to those seats would eventually be selected to serve. One group got to leave as whatever it was to be decided had been suddenly settled out of court. Hope did indeed exist.
My name lasted all of the amount of time it took for the facilitator to say my name and the number 2. So I went and sat down in seat #2 and read for a bit while other names were called.
I wondered to myself who the heck would want someone like myself to decide upon the fate of another. Maybe they would just want me to plug in an amplifier and provide some dramatic background music. This, of course, was not the situation.
We were all herded up to the eighth floor were we could sit or pace for a while. I chose to pace as I figured I would probably be sitting a fair amount of time.
Once called into the courtroom. I was seated in #2 and looked upon the scene in front of me. To the right, there was a lady seated next to a podium. To the left there was a seedy looking guy and a professional looking guy. Just have to use your imagination there.
We were all asked to stand as the judge entered and were then told to sit again. Everyone obliged.
The lady by the podium turned out to be he prosecuting attorney. She gave a brief explanation of what was to be taking place and that the man going to trial was accused of sexual indecency with a child and could face up to twenty years in a state penitentiary.
Then the seedy looking guy stood up and said pretty much the same thing. It was he who was the lawyer and the professional looking guy the defendant. Go figure.
It was sometime around that moment that the gravity of the responsibility of a juror hit me. I mean, I could possibly be selected to be a part of a team of people that could send some dude to prison for twenty years.
There were to be several witnesses describing what allegedly took place. I actually began to be interested in what was going to transpire. Was it possible that somebody was lying about an innocent man, or was the guy guilty as sin? He was probabaly not more than fifteen feet from me and we did make eye contact several times. I tried to gain an impression, but there was none there.
Alas, I was released after the first set of questions. I am not sure why they did not choose me, but it probably was because of one answer.
The prosecuting attorney asked if would I would hold her to proving guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.
“Yes,” I said