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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Vagabonding Night in Spain

My First Story. Going back to When I First arrived in Pamplona.

The packed bus roared into Pamplona. And immediately getting off, I went to look for a place to stay for the night. Not a hostel or a hotel or pension, but a place where I could lay down and stretch out unbothered by petty criminals and too much noise.

This idea came to me while in Barcelona, paying nearly 35 dollars a night for an oven that overlooked the streets near the Las Ramblas where nothing pipes down til 5 in the morning, if ever. Believe me, I would have gone the economical route and gotten a cheaper one, but all beds were too hard to find. I had to accept the 25 euro price, that being not much more pricier than a shared room. I found my room without air-conditioning and without silence, and therefore found myself without sufficient sleep. I decided right then and there, I am sleeping in the streets.

I caught a rare bus to Pamplona a few days before the world reknowned Festival of San Fermin. Things seemed to be already awashed in festive spirits. I had little prominition of how that Spanish town was to erupt once the first festival day arrived.

I walked out of the bus station met by cool air. We were higher in the mountains and more north, so I observed how those kettle hot days in Barcelona were over for now. And to my delight, I looked over and saw this immense, old ancient fortress. Like a sort of park dug downwards into the ground offering many lush patches of green grass to beckon my sleep-craving body and lull myself to some soft trance of fairy-tale slumber and sylvan dream.

Practically, I thought to lock my bag in the bus terminal for a hefty price, so that I wouldn't have to worry about pickpockets going through my belongings while I dreamed away. I kept a small amount of cash in one of my pockets. I had no pillow nor sleeping bag, just a long sleeve shirt and a pair of shorts on. I only thought to lay and stretch myself out to fall right away into slumbers. I went bounding into this fortress area looking for such a convenient place. I found countless places of solitude, laying on the grass, hidden in the shadows of the ancient past. But I underestimated the mountain climate. Now, I was just a pinch or two too chilly. As the night deepened so did the temperature. I was not freezing, just mildly uncomfortable. It vexed me that I did not bring my sleeping bag from out of the bus station. I spent alot of time, trying to find a place away from the wind. Laying here, laying there. Sometimes the grass wasn't right, sometimes, I found what looked to be the habitation of a homeless person and didn't want to risk being woke up by his hand in my pocket.

After awhile, I went back to my first original spot. And lay down and closed my eyes, and maybe would've drifted off into enviable rest when I got this sense of someone nearby. I opened my eyes and saw this African lurking a few yards from me. It was obvious he was watching me and trying to be quiet. I immediately, jumped up, "What do you want?" I impatiently whipped out in a strong, steely voice. Very softly he mumbled something out in Spanish about there was no danger from him. "Be at peace". I could tell he was worried about someone hearing me. And then he sauntered off. Well, I knew that I couldn't sleep there. He would come back and probably try stealing something off of me, if he found me asleep. So, I decided to leave the park and try my luck in the churchyard.

There was this large, modernistic cathedral not far from this fortress. It looked like some sort of church designed in Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, it had an open courtyard off to the side, and from what I could tell this wasn't a cemetery, although this would be the usual place to put a cemetery. Not a tombstone nor headstone, besides I was too tired to worry about that. So I found me a spot next to a hedge and again closed my eyes and was about to make the sweet leap into slumber, when again my eyes shot open due to some sense of something approaching. This time, I saw two Spanish guys. They were young and dressed in normal clothes and they were approaching me. I jumped up again, and they were immediately trying to talk to me all in Spanish. All that I could ascertain was that they didn't want to startle me and they wanted me to come closer to them. Well, I didn't want to waste any time here. All evidence pointed to the fact that they wanted to mug me. So in the middle of their speech, I took off, dashing out of the courtyard and then leaping down the cathedral steps, vaulting over full flights in one bound. I took off like a rocket down the streets. They yelling after me. This was why I didn't want to have a backpack or sleeping bag with me. So that I could do this. One of the guys was after me. But I thought surely once I got into the streets where people were still about, he would stop following me. But this didn't deter him. I ran up the street. I saw people walking down. And thought that he wouldn't mug me where tons of people where at. So I stopped to catch my breath, he eventually caught up and began to grab me. He first tried talking to me. While twisting my arm. And then he grabbed my hair, when I was breaking free from that. I was still catching my breath. And that moment dawned on me, when I had to decide to either talk my way out of this one, or fight. The temptation was there, but luckily I didn't act on it. But meanwhile, people where passing by and I was just amazed that he was so persistant. I began to say to the people that walked right beside us, "Where is the police." But they didn't understand. His friend was coming up behind. Then they both, when they heard I was talking about the police, told me that they were police. I scoffed at this. "Where are your badges", I signalled with me hands. One of them flipped up a wallet and I saw what looked like a plastic little medallion. Something from a cracker-jack box, the other showed me some sort of card, that looked like a student ID. I tried reading it, but he wouldn't let me. Then they both began to escort me towards the church again. And I thought for sure they were going to mug me there. But as they walked, one on either side of me, they began to ask me silly questions for criminals, and they asked me for my passport. (Perhaps it is only policemen that can ask you a stringful of ridiculous questions; they and customs agents.) I told them that it was locked with my bag in the holding section of the bus station. With these question, I began to think that they may possibly be real policemen. We passed right by the church to my relief. And they were taking me to the police station. They were policemen. Undercover cops. And they were wanting to know why on earth would I run from police officers. They probably told me they were officers when I first saw them, but due to language barriers and my initial reaction, I never really heard that.

We got to the police station and they took me to their captain. Nobody spoke English. And I didn't speak much Spanish (Dang my laziness in college.) But somehow I managed to explain to them that I thought they were thugs and that I didn't want to get mugged. That I had my passport along with any other form of ID in the bus station, and I couldn't retrieve them til the morning. Other cops joined in on the spectacle. We were all in the captains office. They told me that sleeping on church property was illegal. I told them that all I wanted was some sleep where I wouldn't be bothered. The captain jokingly offered one of his jail cells. I almost took it. One of the undercover guys says that it is Pamplona around festival time and that I shouldn't sleep but go downtown and party. They let me go and I began to walk downtown. It must've been about 3. I found a group of Spaniards in a bar, they ended up buying me drinks and we were all dancing. I went to sleep the next day tucked away in the bus station where I sleep peacebly for 6 hours.

Fortunately, I did have one contact however. A woman who goes to my church back in the states told me that her brother lives in Pamplona. His name is Hal Ward and he is a missionary there. I met up with he and his family and they allowed me to stay at their church office. Even gave me a key. I was very lucky. The rest of my time at Pamplona, I always had a place to crash.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Long Awaited Anecdote of my 2nd Run of the Bulls

It appears that I have been whirling about Europe, unable to sit down and unwilling to pay a ludicrous amount to pay for internet in order to detail the very stories that I am experiencing. But now, a change has occurred. I am back in the states. So I will do what I can in regards for unleashing some traveller's tales for you. These are a large portion of what has passed since I embarked to Spain back on July 1st.
And now for the much anticipation account of my 2nd Running of the Bulls.

My 2nd Run was to me, every bit as fun, if not more so, than my first run. I can't really tell why. But again, the run started off early. And as jacked up as my sleep schedule was, I decided to go to sleep the night before at 7 and got up at 2:30 in the morning right when the party in Pamplona seems to be just warming up. This 2nd run I intended on running close to the arena. That way, the bulls may have slowed down a bit, it being the end of their run, and I might catch a better glimpse of them. I was standing around this end part, when I saw this tall Aryan fellow standing alone. Perhaps, I felt a little kinship with him. Because for some reason all that seemed to be getting ready for this run were the Spanish. We began to chat. He was from Germany. And it was his first run. He then introduced me to some of his friends. One guy from the states and another from Canada. All were going at it for the first time. I felt like a veteran. Though, I had little advice. I think when you see someone uninjured doing the run a second time, it kind of reassures you that injuries are really not that common. (In proportion to how many people run it, that is.) We were busy making mental notes. You know, -where to go, when to run, which fence to drop behind, and so forth. When our strategies were all interrupted by the police. They looked like riot police. They all descended upon the crowd and started moving us further up towards one of the most dangerous spots of the run. -The Estafeta. Then these other police men arrive with festive red berets and what looked to be the words, "Floral Policia" on the back of their uniforms. For awhile, I thought that this was what was called the "Flower Police." You never know with these festive days with what festive reinforcement is needed.

We ended up getting kicked out of the run. Yes, and the regular police and the flower police wouldn't explain why they were doing so. So for a second we all thought that our run was not to be. But we thought to run down towards the beginning of the run and see if we could slip in down there. This was back where I ran my first run. So down through the back alleys we ran. Passing by partygoers who were still going strong at 7:30 in the morning. We came to the city hall and slipped underneath the fences and crammed ourselves into the throng of the other Americans and Australians. Blocking off the last section of the run was their way of crowd control to keep the path from being too blocked from people when the bulls were unleashed. 5 minutes until the gate would open, They allowed people to pass up ahead and try to get further up the street. So we took off jogging and walking to make it to the section at the end. I made it. And had maybe one minute or two til the rocket was to go off. That same cottonmouth feeling. That same sort of restless anxiety.

Then BAM! The rocket goes off, and that same panic seems to fill the crowd. I wasn't content with my position. I wanted to get up further so that I would have a little more to run. Some people started to whiz by me as I started to scoot up. Then the bulls began to advance. You could feel that they weren't that far. But at this place, it was impossible to really see the bulls like before. You just caught the sense of dread and mayhem as some people shot past and others remained craning their necks to see. Then, the absolute intensity of dread breaks out, and you know that they are not far behind. I turned around and began running. There was these fences, and in this particular spot, this fence sort of jutted out. It was a slight turn just before the arena. A cop, I couldn't remember if he was part of the flower police or not, was sitting ontop of the fencepost. Pointing down, hinting at me to jump under the fence. I think from his position he could see the bulls and they were almost here. But I wanted to get around this slight curve and immediately after I made it past him, I dove through the fence, headfirst. Falling on the crowd. I propped myself on one arm lying there, and turned around, maybe 2 or 3 seconds pass and the bulls with their heavy hooves striking the crowd pass by. Sitting there, I stuck my head out of the bottom section of the fence and was about to jump through when I remembered that at this point the bulls can seperate and that there could be a straggler. I push my head back from the opening, when this 2nd wave of bulls comes. All of them that pass are on my side of the road. There was this one that was skimming the fence. Just this wooden beam seperate us. Had I not jumped through the fence, and stayed on that side standing like I did the first time, I would have been drilled. The bulls passed and then people began to swarm after the bulls. I wanted to, but couldn't because I didn't want to then get my head knocked off by people, crawling back through the fence. So I looked for an opening and got through. And up and ran for the arena which I wasn't far from. It was near this spot the very next day when I had already left Pamplona, that a man was killed. For some reason the bull got isolated and when a bull gets isolated from the rest of the herd, that's when they are dangerous. I was in Madrid by then, but all the TVs in all the cafes in the early morning air were showing the run. It was brutal.

Here is a recording of the 2nd run. There is no way possible to see me, though.

As stated before, after the bulls enter the arena. Everyone else enters also. Then they bring out the smaller, yet still violent cows with the corked horns. These run about charging everyone and smacking into them if you happen to be in its path. One of these cows, was blatantly ballistic, running every which way knocking people every which way as well. The cow even turned to the stands and began knocking people who were perched up on the outer wall. I think there was one girl that got her pants tore off her. I just remember her legs in the air and her pants around her ankles as she fell back into the crowd away from the cow. Most everyone that gets hit is not seriously injured. Maybe a scratch there or a bruise here. A few bloody-noses but these are people that try to gang up on the bull and wrestle it down. Which the local Pamplonians hate. They throw things at the crowd when this happens. This last run of mine, there was a fight in the arena between a local and possibly someone from Central America. I think the Central American tried grabbing the animal and forcing it down. This infuriates the Pamplonians and even some of the locals in the ring will smack you on the head with a newspaper very hard, when you try this. I think that's how the fight erupted. The fight almost broke out into brawl. I thought that they should just let them fight, but yet send out one of the cows while they battled and that would, surely, break them up.
This 2nd run, I actually managed to touch the horn of one of these cows. Not intentionally, I was standing there, learning that you don't have to run from the cow. Only make a few hasty side steps, when it started to veer in your direction. Well, the cow came rushing straight towards me, and I barely got out of the way. Instinctively, I grabbed its horn and pushed his head away from me while I side stepped. The cow went in the direction of the tug and never made contact with me. Here is footage of the arena. It's alot of fun. I was in there somewhere, though, I haven't been able to see myself.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Run

San Fermin kicked off and it had been up until that point like a gathering and a sizzling of little bubbles until the pop off the cork of a champagne bottle. People by the thousands assembled all wearing their whites and their red sashes around their waists along with their red handkerchiefs about their necks. I slipped into this festival wear as well.

Sangria with Coke was thrown about the crowds often converting th general white festival uniform into slaphappy pinks and purples. Everything seemed to have exploded, and the result was the biggest party that I've ever seen.

All day and night long the party was constant and never ending. The streets late through til morning were packed with the Spanish youth. Many of these drunk, many dancing, many bouncing from bar to bar not collecting dust in one corner of this old Spanish city. The music and the tipsy clamor constantly crashing in the air. Whole procession bands and sometimes the most incredible drum lines banging and clanging through the streets packed people dancing like they were dancing the Tarantella. Bitten by some poisonous spider that made people hop and prance madly through the streets long ago during the Middle Ages. Bottles, cups, trash, and an occasional party-goer strewn haphazardly about the alleyways. It was wild. And put any frat boy attempt to shame.

This was the first night of San Fermin; there was to be 6 others. The Running of the Bulls takes place so early that instead of going to bed, I reckon I'd stay out all night. That way by 5, i could start to claim my position. I also had to study the famous route of the bulls to know which way to go. Sometime after 4 in the morning, while the first night of partying was still going strong, I began to survey the possible positions. I even made it to the corral and took a look at the huge bulls that were to be the stars of the morning.

Near the start of the route, I came to a large group of Americans. All young men in their early twenties. And all from New York City. None of these guys had run before. They were a little nervous. So I started to speak to them. And because I had done some research, they began to bombard me with questions as though I really knew anything about what we were about to do.

The area where we were at, was called the Ayunomiento, or the City Hall. It was regarded as one of the best places for beginners. Because there is this steep hill from where the bulls are coming from. The advantage is that you can actually see the bulls coming. That, and running up the hill the bulls are a little slower than usual. The area also has lots of places to exit. So for the next two hours, we stand in this area waiting, while more and more runners assembled.

The sun finally rises and shines, bringing a pinch of commonsense to what I was attempting. One New Yorker kept wrestling with the idea of getting out of the run. That he didn't want to die and so forth. But everyone encouraged him and told him that he'd only regret missing this opportunity seeing how he was leaving Pamplona the next day.

Closer and closer, the time got. 30 minutes turned into 15 minutes. 15 minutes into 10 min. And then 5 min. And all the while I'd been standing for so long, and had been dancing with Spanish girls the whole night through. I begin to wonder if my feet would hold out; they were so tired. And then that one golden minute arrives, and everything hangs as though the universe stops expanding during that one minute. The streets are packed with white-dressed runners. Many worried looks and anxious glances at watches. And a brave tightening of the red sash. And the "BLAM!" the first rocket shoots off. People begin to cheer. That's when the corral doors open. There is a certain strange anticipation not just perceived within myself, but within the entire crowd. Then the 2nd rocket goes off, which signifies that all the bulls are out of the corral and into the streets, running my way. All eyes are strained towards the road. Some people begin to run early before a bull is even seen. But then, up and around the slight turn advances these huge white creatures. Maybe it was my imagination, but what seemed to be even a cloud of dust behind them. And in that glance I saw where people used to be, vast spaces. Everyone in front of the bulls was scurrying. I didn't waste my time either. The bulls would be here in no time. I began sprinting up the hill, people rushing every which way. When running its hard to tell how close they were behind me. It didn't take me too long to get to the large space in front of the City Hall Building and cut a sharp left next to the fences. Though swarms of other people were doing the same thing. I ended up getting packed next to the fence by other people. One person jumbled up onto the sides, as soon as everyone had packed themselves up against the fence, said, "Ok. Now everyone keep still." Just then, these massive white blurs whizzed past. Totally oblivious to all the people bunched up to either side of them, with nothing to separate us from them.
The first group had rushed by, and I had just craned my neck around, and almost decided to chase after the bulls, when 1 or 2 other bulls passed by. As soon as these passed, I rushed out from the wall of people and began to chase after the bulls at full throttle. I didn't know I had it in my poor, poor feet to run that fast that far. Of course, the bulls had already long gone left my sight of vision. But if I kept on running I just may be able to make it into the arena. I knew there was a slight chance in that.

While running, I do recall full vaulting over someone in the middle of the street. Further down on the other side a worker was trying to hold off the crowds from running, due to keeping someone who fell from getting trampled on. By the time, I got near the arena, the crowds were thick. And it looked like I was going to make it. I picked up speed and made it into the tunnel which led into the arena. When, I got this sense of panic from people behind me. I heard people begin to yell and scream in fright. And then I realized what it was, it was the steers that follow up the run. I heard their large bells clanging. And I also knew that being in the tunnel was the worst possible place to be with a herd of enormous bovines plowing through. Though, they were not as wild and ferocious as the bulls, all it takes is to get knocked down and trampled on by these "tamed" animals to complete a visit to a hospital. The end of the tunnel was near, and from what I could sense the steers were right behind me. There was this random girl to my right, who began to yell, and as we finally exited the tunnel into the arena, I cut an immediate left and grabbed the girl by the shoulder and pulled her with me. Fortunately doing so, for immediately behind us were the steers, which charged straight out of the tunnel, just barely missing us who cut over out of the way just in time.

Then the feeling of elation arrives. I found myself in the middle of an arena with thousands of people watching and cheering with all the runners that made it into the arena. It isn't too long before, the cows are unleashed into the arena which means all types of more fun and more mishaps. But I will share more about this later. Thus, this concludes my first running of the bulls. I was going to detail my 2nd run here also. But seeing how I am in an internet cafe in Ireland and its really expensive. I will hold off on my 2nd run, which I think I rank it above my 1st run. Until then,

Friday, July 10, 2009

Running of the Bulls; the Process

50 years ago Ernest Hemingway had last run with the bulls of Pamplona. He was of old age. I didn´t know this until getting to Pamplona. The city was celebrating this fact along with the usual absolute insanity of San Fermin.

The process of the running of the bulls goes like this. At 8 in the morning a rocket is shot off, the corral door is lifted, and 6 monster bulls emerge along with 6 smaller black bulls and they begin to run into the ancient streets of Pamplona, Spain. It´s a run of less than a mile. In between are little sections where the runners assemble. Some of these areas are more dangerous than others. This is due to the presence, or lack thereof, of possible exits; how narrow the street is at that particular section, and the presence of any curves or turns; or in one case a huge turn, which they term the Dead Man´s Corner where the bulls many times go slamming into the wall not anticipating a sharp turn to the right. If any person takes this corner on the left then he nearly risks a good crushing from a bunch of massive tonned bulls. The running of the bulls is actually the transporting of bulls from their corrals to the Plaza del Toros, a big arena where later that day all of them are to meet their death at the graceful hand of a matador, in the day´s bullfight.

How such a process has turned into a huge risk-indulging, machismo-showing for people who like a good thrill, I cannot say. But this custom of running of the bulls has been going on for 5 centuries now, and it is entirely tied to San Fermin, a very early Christian in Spain who was matyred by the Romans, some say by being dragged through the streets by bulls, others say his teacher and mentor was dragged through the streets this way. Either way, the entire world knows of this custom and may willingly participate.

These runnings happen every year between July 7th and July 14th. So that´s 7 mornings a year in Pamplona that a person can have this experience. (And actually smaller festivals throughout other towns in Spain, France, and Mexico.) Each day it seems that thousands participate. Alot of them are locals. Though it seems that a majority of the Pamplonians that I met have not run, and some of the local girls are happy to express their thoughts that the whole thing shebang ¨loco¨.
For the most part the participants are alot of Spanish, alot of Australians, and quite a number of Americans, with here and there a German, or a Frenchman, a Kiwi, or a Canadian or a Brit in there. And surprisingly enough, both times that I ran, there were a few women that ran.

I was told that there are 3 rules and one golden rule to remember when running.
Rule 1) Don´t run drunk. It´s surprising how likely this can actually be during the Festival of San Fermin. Though the police look out for any drunks and kick them out. Not only is it a danger to oneself, but to a whole slew of people that may trip because you trip, and get trampled because you tripped.

Rule 2)Make sure your shoelaces are tied. That´s pretty given.

Rule 3)Make sure you count the bulls as they pass you before you chase after them. If you miscounted you could run smack out in the middle of the streets with a unforeseen bovine charging straight at you.

And the one golden rule to remember. If you fall down either by tripping or even getting knocked down by a bull. Stay down. Back in 1995, an American got killed because after he was knocked down, he got up to be in the path of a bull who lowered his horns and killed the poor boy right on the spot. Also, the bulls try not to step on you because doing so can hurt them.

When I first desired to run with the bulls, I thought that it was possible to run in front of them the entire time. I was grossly mistaken. The bulls are so fast that only a few seconds before you start running have they passed you. It is possible to run directly in front of them, but this action is usually only done by those either very brave or very insane individuals who have probably run with the bulls enough times to know what they are doing. They run alongside the bulls swatting them with rolled up newspapers. Call me a weiner, but I contented myself with running a good many yards ahead of the bulls. (Not too far for it to be easy, though.) and then ducking out, very quickly, right when they were about to be on me. And after they had passed, then back out into the streets chasing after them. Usually a person must be satisfied with only a few yards devoted to their tails actually getting chased. The rest of the running is done with you chasing the bulls, (which you'll almost never catch). You chase them into the Plaza del Toros. The big arena where the bullfights transpire. Shortly thereafter this the steers are ushered in and then the gates are shut. It is in this arena, that alot of the runners make it before they shut the door with crowds watching. The bulls run to their corrals. The audience cheers, in the morning sun, and that fine thrill of adventurous accomplishment awaits you. They show replays on the big screen in the arena of the run, mostly of either people getting hitvery dramatically or having close calls while everyone oohs and aahs over the danger of that run. Every day, there may be on average about one or two persons hit but with minor injuries. This is out of the thousands of people that run per day. However, just the other day there was a death. A lone bull went crazy and gored some young man. It was the day after my last day. And almost near the same spot that I was at. These bulls can be very unpredictable at times. But for the most part, the running is not that dangerous if you use your head.

Once in the arena, you cannot put your guard down, for without warning they unleash the black cows that run with their horns corked. These cows, they let go in the arena one at a time. And they go about knocking people over, at first charging at full speed. All of us runners, inside are allowed to taunt the cow and when he comes at us, we dodge him. Some even try to wrestle him down. Though the local Pamplonians hate this and throw things at the aggressive perpetrator who tries to wrestle the cow. In some ways this spectacle is almost as thrilling and probably more entertaining to watch than the actual running of the bulls. A number of people get downed by these 5 or 6 bulls that they free one at a time. Some get knocked through the air. Probably suffering all types of bruises. Occassionally the cow is overpowered by a group of men, and an almost dogpile is commenced. But soon the cow is up again knocking people around like a bunch of bowling pins. Sometimes she comes out of no where, catching people unaware. The crowds loves this. And seems to always cheer for the cow. I ended up touching the horn of one of this cows one time, and fortunately dodged a good pommelling. When these cows get tired, a massive steer comes out that is pretty much harmless except for its sheer size. He walks towards the cow to lead the cow back to the corral. Many times, people are so enmeshed in the riot of the cow, that they are caught unawares by this huge steer that knocks them down from behind. This almost happened to me a time or two, but I learned to keep my ears tuned for a dull clanging bell, which the steer wore around his neck. That's about it. I think in my next installment, I'll tell of my individual experience of the running of the bulls. Of what happened and how it all went down.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Running of the Bulls; An Invocation

I had wanted to approach this age with all the zest, all the candor, all the panache, that a passionate, thriving soul possibly could.

As the age of 30 looms near it was time to celebrate what it means to enter into summer-ripe manhood and finally brush off what was meddling and trite.
I guess that upon the threshold of such a pivotal age, I should take up golfing, start investing in stocks, buy a big house, and worry about the economy crumbling in.

My rite of passage, I could start swaggering about the office cubicle, find myself a wife who paints her nails while watching ¨Desperate Housewives¨, and deem myself loyal to one sport´s teeam, whooping my ancient, primitive war cries into the mundanity of ESPN. But no, I chose instead to go running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain on a bright summer´s morning, my red sash whipping through the wind.

More to Come....