In 1926, Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises” portrayed a dangerous, 875-meter run with bulls in Pamplona, which would subsequently become one of the most famous events in the world because of it. On Thursday, January 26 from 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm, Hemingway’s grandson and Key West Art & Historical Society’s Distinguished Speaker guest John Hemingway will appear at the San Carlos Institute to present his own unique experience with the run and the Pamplona Posse affiliated with it.
Every morning at 8am during the festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, which runs from July 6th-14th and is attended by more than a million people annually, a herd of fighting bulls are stampeded through the streets. Thousands will test their skill, courage, and luck by joining in the stampede, a Spanish tradition that dates back to as early as the 14th century, when the urgency of transporting cattle to sell at market began to turn into a competition, and young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken.
Ernest Hemingway first attended the nine-day festival when writing for Canada’s Toronto Star in 1923, which he used as the basis for his novel. Though Ernest attended the San Fermin fiesta at least eight times after that, he himself never participated in the dangerous dash due to injuries sustained during World War I that rendered his running abilities difficult.
His grandson John, however, has run 16 times.
“Whenever I’m waiting for the rockets to be fired and the bulls to charge out of their pen I find myself doing things that I think will bring me good luck,” says the charismatic storyteller and author of “Strange Tribe,” a memoir revealing the peculiar family dynamics between Ernest Hemingway and his youngest son Gregory (John’s father). “I avoid stepping on cracks in the cobblestones. I roll the newspaper that I carry the way I have always rolled it, tightly and holding it in my left hand. I wear the shirt that I believe has protected me in the past, even though I know full well that the Toro Bravo is a wild animal and that there is nowhere I can hide and nothing that can be done to stop them when they come.”
This “wild animal” is likely one of six half-ton Iberian fighting bulls and six steers that chase several thousand thrill-seekers as they hurdle through narrow, cobbled streets in the early morning light. Some 50-100 “runners” are injured each year during the two-minute sprint, some even gored to death.
John Hemingway will recount his tales with the Pamplona Posse and more in his presentation at the San Carlos Institute on Thursday, and will also be a guest of honor at a special Key West Art & Historical Society event the following evening, Friday, January 27 from 5:30 – 8:30pm at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum courtyard (907 Whitehead St.) where Philip Greene, mixologist and author of “To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion” is to present an enlivening presentation and sampling of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite cocktails.
The Distinguished Speaker Series is sponsored in part by the Helmerich Trust and the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of the Arts and Culture and the State of Florida. Additional support provided by the Marriott Key West Beachside Resort. Tickets for this special event are available at through kwahs.org/event/john-hemingways-pamplona-posse; $25 for members, $35 for nonmembers. For more information contact Adele Williams, Director of Education, at 305-295-6616, x115. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island.