Friday, July 12, 2013

Still Running with Bulls


“What’s on TV?” I asked yesterday and every morning, it’s the next day’s run at Pamplona. Today was especially difficult, an errant bull who trapped a young man and literally tossed him with his horns, while others pulled the bull’s tail and tried to distract him. Unsuccessfully, I might add, until someone finally pulled the guy away.

In this case, it seemed to be the bull who wasn’t playing the game correctly. But the commentary was all about the Americans and Australians who think it would be fun to cross Pamplona off their bucket list. They come into it casually, as part of their paradigm of the world as existing to entertain them. They know nothing of the reason for the event, the history of the event, the ritual songs, the details of the art of running. They just think it would be a cool thing to do. And preferably while drunk.

The Spaniards, by contrast, come to the event from inside the culture, They train assiduously, learn how to run while looking around, sing to San Fermin  and kiss their Rosary beads before the bulls are released. When the event flows smoothly, it actually is a beautiful dance, less people taunting and teasing the bulls and running for their lives and more (from this spectator’s point of view) running alongside of them in a stunning choreography, the waves of runners parting as the bulls run through the middle.

Of course, the bulls don’t differentiate between the nationalities, but I did notice that the photo of the American who was gored today showed him holding a camera in his hand. That camera was symbolic of a vast gulf in attitude. (I’m aiming for a point here, but the bulls running in my head are not exactly turning the corner!) It has something to do with the difference between deep ritual and casual entertainment. I admire greatly the former and am sometimes impatient with the latter. To the casual observer, it seems like the American, Australian and Spaniard are all doing the same thing— running like hell so they don’t get killed! But the preparation, the intention, the respect, the depth of understanding are all quite different. And that difference matters.

I just finished my Madrid jazz course with a moving closing circle in which each spoke the truth of their experience here this last week. Followed by a rousing performance of two pieces for the other 80+ people in the general Orff course. It was a fitting culmination to five days of running alongside the bulls of inspired pedagogy, soulful jazz history and powerful music-making. We prepared ourselves, took risks, sang to the Saint or Buddha or Orisha or Ancestors of our choice, watched out for each other running side-by-side, left the cameras closed while immering ourselves wholly in the experience. No one got gored and all the bulls were corralled into the ring.

Properly exhausted myself from 8 days (counting Barclona) of teaching the course, I’m not quite hitting the bull’s-eye here— and mixing metaphors besides! (Hmm. Where does that expression come from? Was that how one best killed bulls with bows and arrows?). But it has something to do with a level of preparation, depth and ritual seriousness that I often find missing in our “anything-goes-whatever” culture. World as our frivolous playground, to document and throw up on Facebook in place of deep participation in its mysteries and ritual engagement. An Orff course well-taught and well-received is a healthy mix of hushed solemnity, boisterous humor, joyful surprise and much much more. I’m grateful for every minute of it.

But we can’t stay in church all the time. Right now I’m opting for the swimming pool. No bulls allowed.

1 comment:

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