The week-long festival of San Fermin is in full swing in Pamplona right now, and I’ve been following the reports on the daily bull runs with a little extra interest this year, thanks to these ladies who have been blogging and tweeting about their trip to Pamplona, culminating with their actual run on Monday morning.
The running of the bulls is complicated. It stirs up strong feelings and opinions. But having been there–as one of the relatively few women who have participated in this crazy, terrifying, life-changing event–I am filled with pride for these women who took on the run this year. So I watch the daily news videos with a cheer and a wince and a gasp. There is an intimacy to the footage because I know the streets and doorways and wooden barriers of the encierro in the deepest sensory memory of my gut. I note the bulls who cause a little extra mayhem and roll their names around on my tongue: Navajito. Fugado.
Of course, the festival is not only about those few minutes of pounding hooves and adrenaline, although that is surely what leaves an indelible mark, the touchstone I return to when I need a reservoir of extra courage.
I remember the press of the crowds, all dressed in white with red scarves and sashes, swaying together like a body of water. Balconies filled with spectators, up and down the narrow streets. The smell of sweat and cigarettes and wine. Hot air balloons in the blue sky. Churros and chocolate at Café Iruna, Hemingway’s old haunt. A quieter moment following a few of the scallop shell waymarks of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route where it passes through town. Young people sprawled out in the grass, sound asleep. Food stands surrounded by families with shrieking children long after dark, and old gentlemen intent on their wine and conversation over platters of boiled octopus.
The city of Pamplona crackles with energy for the entire week of San Fermin. It is noisy and drunk and the celebration goes on non-stop. It could be awful, but somehow it is wonderful.
Steamed Mussels with Spanish Chorizo
- 2 lbs mussels
- ½ lb Spanish chorizo
- 1.5 cups white wine
- 1.5 cups chicken or seafood stock
- ¼ tsp pimenton (Spanish paprika)
- ¼ cup butter
Scrub and debeard mussels, discarding any that are cracked or not tightly closed. If chorizo is in casings, remove casings. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook chorizo, breaking up gently with spatula, until lightly browned. Add wine, stock, and pimenton and increase heat to high. Let boil for a few minutes to reduce slightly, then add mussels and cover for one minute. Remove cover and continue cooking for about two more minutes, until mussels are fully opened. Reduce heat to low and stir in butter.
Spoon into two bowls, including all of the broth. Serve with large hunks of crusty bread to soak up broth (And the rest of the bottle of white wine).