Sunday, July 13, 2014


The Great Pumkin Trojan Horse

 The pumpkin has been around in the U.S. long before the pilgrims first landed on the shores of Cape Cod Bay.  Most scientists seem to think that the tasty squash (pumpkins are part of the squash family) was first cultivated in southern Mexico over a thousand years ago, and gradually the large vegetable spread north along with maize, squash and beans.  These newly developed crops greatly changed the way the Indians lived.  Native populations increased and cultures flourished as many parts of North America saw a change in Native life that went from hunter and gatherer towards farmer.
   Every yer the Thanksgiving holiday gives us a chance to have a big feast, reconnect with long lost relatives and watch football.  Most Americans have some inkling of the vast array of modern foods that originated in the Americas, and also of the importance of corn in the aboriginal diet, but the story is much more fascinating and complex that.

   Sometime between a thousand and two thousand years ago, the first agricultural seed plants of the western hemisphere were developed.  They were first culled from wild species and ten cultivated to improve the quality and quantity of the plant.  This is nothing new in the civilized world, it is just another part of the long story that began thousands of years earlier, when rice was first cultivated in southeast Asia.  Rice was the first seed crop, which meant that farmers could save the seeds from one years harvest, and plant them the next spring. this is a story that has been repeated around the world at different times and locations with different plants.
   Pumpkins are really neat because, not only is the pulp good to eat, but the seeds, sometimes called pepitas, are very tasty as well.  Technically speaking, pumpkins are a fruit, not a vegetable.  That is because they form from the female flower, which is pollinated by bees.  Instead of eating all the delicious seed, you can save some for the next years crop.  This is what defines a seed crop.  That means you can trade some of the precious seed stock to your neighbor for some arrowheads or even a subscription to a magazine, and then he can also grow pumpkins in his backyard.  More than likely both parties will be satisfied.  Before you know it, everybody in the country will be growing pumpkins  and reading some different magazines.  It is by this means that pumpkins spread northward to New England and were available to the pilgrims, when they first arrived, although since the pilgrims didn't watch t.v. I doubt they had many magazines to read either.  Today, if you want to grow some pumpkins in your garden, there is a large variety to choose from.  You can grow pumpkins for pies, for seeds, for carving at Halloween time.  Yeas believe it or not, there is a small cult of very ingenious people here in the U.S., who hold competitions, where they build homemade catapults that can hurl a pumpkin high and far into the air, in order to see whose pumpkin can travel the furthest.

   To win one of these contests the participants need an excellent understanding of old fashioned physics and kinetics in order to build the most effieient pumpkin launcher.  These same engineers have also delved into the fascinating world of plant genetics in a attempt to breed an aerodynamically and compact pumpkin that will travel a quarter of a mile through the air without breaking up into a thousand pieces.


   The festival of San Fermín (or Sanfermines, in basque language Sanferminak) in the city of Pamplona (NavarreSpain), is a deeply rooted celebration held annually from 12:00, 6 July, when the opening of the fiesta is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo, to midnight 14 July, with the singing of the Pobre de Mí. While its most famous event is the encierro, or the running of the bulls, the week-long celebration involves many other traditional and folkloric events. It is known locally as Sanfermines and is held in honor of Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarre. Its events were central to the plot of The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, which brought it to the general attention of English-speaking people. It has become probably the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain. Over 1,000,000 people come to watch this festival.

Saint Fermin

   Fermin is said to have been the son of a Roman of senatorial rank in Pamplona in the 3rd century, who was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus, a disciple of Saint Saturninus. According to tradition, he was baptised by Saturninus (in Navarre also known as Saint Cernin) at the spot now known as the "Small Well of Saint Cernin"  Fermin was ordained a priest in Toulouse and returned to Pamplona as its first bishop. On a later preaching voyage, Fermin was beheaded in Amiens, France; and is now considered a martyr in the Catholic Church.  It is believed he died on September 25, AD 303. There is no written record of veneration in Pamplona of the Saint until the 12th century. Saint Fermin, as well as Saint Francis Xavier, are now the two patrons of Navarre.  At Pamplona, Saint Fermin; is now sometimes said to have met his end by being dragged through the streets of Pamplona by bulls, a fate more commonly attributed to his mentor, Saturnin.

   The celebration of the festival has its origin in the combination of two different medieval events.   Commercial secular fairs were held at the beginning of the summer. As cattle merchants came into town with their animals, eventually bullfighting came to be organized as a part of the tradition.   Specifically, they were first documented in the 14th century. On the other hand religious ceremonies honoring the saint were held on October 10.   However in 1591 they were transferred to the 7th of July to take place at the same time than the fair; when Pamplona's weather is better.   This is considered to be the beginning of the Sanfermines.  At that time they lasted two days but they were extended until the 10th and nowadays endure until the 14th.  During medieval times acts included an opening speech, musicians, tournaments, theater, bullfights, dances or even fireworks.  Bullrunning appears in 17th and 18th century chronicles together with the presence of foreigners and the first concerns on the excessive drinking and dissolute behavior during the event.  The Giant's Parade was created by the end in the mid of the 19th century.  The first official bullring was constructed in 1844.

Modern Times

   The worldwide fame of the modern festival, and the great number of foreign visitors it receives every year, are closely related to the description by Ernest Hemingway's book The Sun Also Rises and his job as a journalist.   He was greatly amused in his first visit in 1923 coming back many times until 1959.   Hemingway was also deeply fond of bullrunnings and bullfights. Different city locations are famous in part due to the fact that the writer used to visit them, such as the La perla hotel,  or the Iruña café.

Single Day Events


   The opening of the fiesta is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo (or txupinazo in Basque language). The rocket is launched at 12:00 noon on the 6th of July from a city hall balcony with thousands of people celebrating the act in the city hall square and other locations in Pamplona.


 The Riau-Riau

   The Riau-Riau was a mass activity held on 6 July. The members of the city council would parade from the City Hall to a nearby chapel dedicated to Saint Fermín. Protesting youths would mass blocking the way, dancing to the Astrain Waltz played by the city band. The councilors would be stuck for hours sometimes being unable to exit the City Hall. The procession was finally removed from the festival calendar for political reasons as extremists used the "Riau-Riau" to promote unrest and clashes with authorities, police and other participants. Nevertheless in recent years in has been held unofficially without the participation of the members of the city council.

 San Fermin procession

   The most important day of the festival is 7 July, when thousands of people accompany a replica of the statue of Saint Fermin along the streets in the old part of Pamplona. Saint Fermín is accompanied by dancers and street entertainers, such as the Gigantes and the Cabezudos and different political and religious authorities.

Pobre de mí

   After nine days of partying, the people of Pamplona meet in the Townhall Plaza at midnight on 14 July, singing the traditional mournful notes of the Pobre de Mí ('Poor Me'), in a candlelit ending.

 Daily events

 Running of The Bulls

   The running of the bulls involves hundreds of people running in front of six bulls and another six steers down an  0.51 mile stretch of narrow streets of a section of the old town of Pamplona. The event begins at 8 a.m. when a first firecracker is lit to announce the release of the bulls from their corral. It is held between the 7th and the 14th. Runners gather earlier at the beginning of the itinerary to ask for the protection of the Saint by singing a chant three times before a small statue of San Fermin which has been placed in a raised niche in a wall. A second cracker signals that the last bull has left the corral. The run ends in the Pamplona's bullring taking a mean time of around 3 minutes where the bulls would be held until the afternoons bullfight when they would be killed. Once all of the bulls have entered the arena, a third rocket is released while a fourth firecracker indicates that the bulls are in their bullpens and the run has concluded. The event is dangerous. Since 1925, 15  people have been killed during the event –– most recently on 10 July 2009 -- and every year between 200 and 300 people are injured during the run although most injuries are contusions due to falls and are not serious.   
   After the end of the run young cows with wrapped horns  are released in the bullring and toss the participants, to the amusement of the crowd.

Giants and big-heads parade

   Every day, during the morning, there is a parade of gigantes y cabezudos (in English giants and big-heads respectively), with the giants figures being 150 years old. The eight giants figures were built by the painter from Pamplona Tadeo Amorena in 1860, and represent four pairs of kings and queens of four different races and places (Europe, Asia, America and Africa). Their size is around 4 meters each and are carried by a dancer inside a wooden structure. During the parade giants dance following the rhythm of traditional music. The remaining 17 figures include 6 kilikis, 5 big-heads, and 6 zaldikos and were built at different times between 1860 and 1941. Kilikis and big-heads are caricaturesque, but human-like figures that are carried as helmets. Big-heads masks are up to 1 meter high and kilikis slightly smaller. While big-heads simply precede the giants and wave their hands at spectators, kilikis run after children and carry a foam truncheon which they use to hit them with. Zaldikos are figures representing horses with its hiker and also run after children with a truncheon.

 Traditional sports



   There are exhibitions and competitions of Basque rural sports every morning in the "Plaza de los Fueros", a square close to the city citadel, although they were formerly held in the bullring.   Sports include stone lifting, wood cutting, or hay bale lifting.  On the other hand the Jai alai tournament of Sanfermin is a prestigious competition of this variety of basque pelota. It is held in one of the courts of the city.   Betting is common during these events



   Every afternoon between the 7th and 14th there is a bullfight in which the 6 bulls that have been driven to the bullring during the bullrunning of that day are killed. It begins at 18:30.   In addition the 6th a bullfight with younger bulls and not fully trained bullfighters is performed while the 6th features bullfighters on horses (in Spanish "rejoneo"). While the bullring of the city is the third in size of the world, it is full every afternoon and tickets are hard to find.


   Every night a firework spectacle is held at the citadel park. Fireworks spectacles have been known to occur in Sanfermin as far back as 1595. Since the year 2000 an international fireworks contest is held.  Thousands of people watch them seated on the grass around the citadel.