Spain’s Pamplona stamp is no bull

Parental guidance: distressing truths about the world we live in

As this post goes to press, the Fiesta of San Fermín is in full swing in Pamplona, Spain (or Iruña, as it is called Basque). Cancelled for the past two years, it’s back as part of the enthusiastic worldwide delusion that Covid-19 isn’t a thing anymore, masks aren’t required, and the thousands of people who are sick or dead now should just get over it.

To mark the event, Spain released the latest stamp in its Popular Festivals series, and I love the design. It’s an official poster of the festival, the winner of a popular vote. Its title – ‘Como Siempre’, ‘as always’ – evokes the yearnings of both locals and thousands of tourists to don those traditional red and white costumes and get back to the annual business of the parades, religious festivities, and fun that the festival entails.

This was news to me, too – apparently the festival involves more than just the daily Running of the Bulls. But the bull run is back too, and, truth be told, there is something fascinating about watching people face Darwinism head-on with only a red kerchief to protect them. Three runners were gored by the bulls yesterday. Two of them were gored in the bullring, which must have really hurt.

By accident or by design, the Running of the Bulls was all I could think of when I saw this stamp. Doesn’t it do a fantastic job of capturing the mad chaos of the encierro? Scarves ahoy, legs akimbo, these revellers sure look like they have taken on the angry bovines and come off second-best. They’re about to hit the deck harder than they’ve been hitting the rioja. The style of the image even echoes some of the avant-garde art so popular in Spain in the early 20th century.

And yet, it feels like something’s missing. It’s like some major part of the story is present, but not illustrated. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Wait… could it be the bull? That’s it! There is a complete absence of bull in this design. The eye perceives the beast only in the chaos it leaves behind.

It’s a clever touch, but why would a stamp promoting San Fermín not want to illustrate the freakin’ bull?

I’ve got a theory that, maybe, they don’t want us to think too much about the bull. Because if we did, we might learn that hours after the crazy fun of the Running of the Bulls, the animal is released into the bullring, stuck with lances, harpoons, and swords, and stabbed multiple times over the course of twenty minutes or so for no reason other than human entertainment. A ‘brave’ matador might even chop off its ears as trophies while the animal is possibly still alive and incapacitated. That’s how 42 bulls meet their end over the course of the Fiesta, at the end of their last day on earth, a day that begins with them running confused and terrified through crowded streets, being jeered and struck by the happy revellers like those in this stamp. ¡Ole!

Want to really show the world how brave you are? Wear a mask.

Background photo by Parker Hilton on Unsplash

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© Philatelic product images remain the copyright of issuing postal administrations and successor authorities

2 thoughts on “Spain’s Pamplona stamp is no bull

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  1. Where’s the image of the stamp?! All I got was the article – funny as it was and tragic as the festival is. The Spaniards have been killing bulls for centuries – one can only assume they eat the meat.

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    1. My apologies Rick! With this post I discovered that the beautiful feature image that I so lovingly create at the top of my website doesn’t get sent with the email updates. I’ll be sure to include an extra image next time.

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