Monday, July 12, 2010

Running with Bulls #2: San Fermin Festival in New Orleans

The San Fermin Festival - celebrated for centuries in Pamplona, Spain, by running through the streets with real live bulls in the morning and holding bullfights in the evening - has now come to New Orleans in a much tamer version, which I observed in the French Quarter on Saturday, July 10.

This is the second of two posts that describe and reflect on the events in Pamplona and in New Orleans. My previous post provides information about the San Fermin Festival and the running of the bulls in Pamplona and reflects on why people might choose to run with real live bulls. In this post, I will describe and reflect on the running of the bulls in New Orleans.

More information about San Fermin Nueva Orleans can be found at the website below:


While the celebration of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona dates back to the twelfth century, it dates back only to 2007 in New Orleans. Thus, 2010 is the fourth year of the New Orleans event.

The exact origin of the Pamplona event is obscured by time, while the New Orleans event has a clear founder: Mickey Hanning, who conceived the idea for San Fermin Nueva Orleans after actually running with the bulls himself in Pamplona.

The San Fermin Festival in New Orleans is shorter than the one in Pamplona. In Pamplona, the festival runs from noon on July 6 to midnight on July 14, with a bull run every morning starting on July 7. In New Orleans, the festival occupies the weekend that falls within the above dates, with a bull run occurring only once on the Saturday of that weekend. In 2010, the San Fermin Festival in New Orleans occurred from Friday, July 9, through Sunday, July 11, with the bull run on Saturday, July 10, at 8 a.m.

The San Fermin Festival in New Orleans has these components:

  • Pre-Party on Friday evening, with tapas plates, a paella competition, Spanish wines, and flamenco dancers.
  • Bull Run on Saturday morning.
  • Pants Party on Saturday evening, with a concert of Spanish music and tapas plates. (I have no idea why this is called a pants party.)
  • Poor Me on Sunday at midday, with a spontaneous Hemingway skit contest, tapas brunch plates, and a screening of the World Cup Final Match. (Poor Me, or Pobre de Mi, is a sad song that marks the end of the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona.)


This is the most important difference between the Pamplona and the New Orleans bull runs. In Pamplona, real live dangerous bulls are used. In New Orleans, the bulls are the Big Easy Roller Derby Girls!

The Big Easy Roller Derby Girls are dressed in red, crowned with a horned helmet, mounted on roller skates, and armed with a plastic bat. They skate among the runners, hitting them with their bats.

Runners identify themselves, as they do in Pamplona, by wearing a white shirt and pants and a red kerchief and waistband.

In Pamplona, once runners enter the running corridor, there is no way to exit until the bull run is over because the corridor is flanked by barricades. I believe, though, that in cases of severe and immanent danger from the bulls, runners have somehow managed to jump the barricades. From what I observed in New Orleans, it seems obvious that runners can easily exit by scooting to the sidewalk. The New Orleans bull run takes place in the street, not on the sidewalk, which is for spectators. Anyone on the sidewalk will not be pursued by the New Orleans bulls.


Here is my experience of observing the New Orleans bull run on Saturday, July 10, 2010.

I woke up early and rode my bicycle to the French Quarter so that I could find a good place on the sidewalk, ready to watch, well before the 8 a.m. starting time. The assembly place for runners was the corner of Conti Street and Burgundy Street. People dressed in the white and red runner's garb were converging on this corner from all directions, arriving on foot, by bicycle, and in taxis. Runners were men and women of all ages, teenagers, and children. The rules stated that you had to be at least ten years old to participate, and some of the child runners looked barely ten. There was no registration to run - simply show up dressed as a runner!

At 8 a.m., the run began! Runners moved slowly at first up Burgundy Street to Bienville Street, where the bulls - the Big Easy Roller Derby Girls with their skates and bats - were waiting. As the runners turned the corner onto Bienville, they began to run and scream. The bulls were released into the crowd of runners at intervals, five or six bulls at a time, to skate after the runners and hit them with their plastic bats. Unfortunately, there were way more runners than bulls - the final group of bulls was released long before the line of runners had rounded the corner.

The chase continued to the 600 block of South Peters Street, where everyone could relax and cool down with drinks and music.

After the bull run, I decided to ride my bicycle around the French Quarter and the two neighborhoods behind it, the Marigny and the Bywater. Nearly everywhere I looked, I saw post-run runners, easily recognizable in their white and red outfits, as they walked along the street or sat in restaurants or coffeehouses.

I finally wound up at Cafe Rose Nicaud on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, where I decided to hang out for a while. At Cafe Rose Nicaud, I spoke briefly with a man from Lafayette, Louisiana, who had participated in the bull run. I asked him if he had gotten hit with the plastic bats and if it had hurt, and he answered yes and yes. He said that it didn't hurt a lot, but it did sting, and you wouldn't want someone hitting you over and over. I wonder if the bulls hit the ten-year-old runners with their bats. On the one hand, you wouldn't want to hurt a child, but on the other hand, the children would want to feel that they were full participants and that the bulls were including them.

After a nice morning in the French Quarter, the Marigny, and the Bywater, I rode my bicycle home. I was so hot when I got home, that I decided it was time for a haircut, as my hair had gotten a bit longer than I like and was making me all the hotter. As a result of that hot bike ride and the anticipation of cool short hair, my self-administered haircut came out extremely short!


In the New Orleans running of the bulls, we have female bulls - quite a concept - in the person of the Big Easy Roller Derby Girls with their roller skates and plastic bats. I can definitely see why people want to participate in this.

You have an exciting role reversal, with women acting as the pursuing bulls, the aggressors, while the runners, many of whom are men, become the pursued. To skate through the streets hitting people is a great way to release aggression. To run through the streets screaming with the bulls in hot pursuit also is a great way to release tension. The plastic bats sting enough to make it real, and yet no one is seriously hurt - and if you feel that you need to exit, it's very easy to simply scoot onto the sidewalk with the spectators where you won't be pursued.

The San Fermin Nueva Orleans running of the bulls is a relatively safe way to enjoy releasing strong feelings.

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