6:47 PM EDT, August 27, 2013
If you read a synopsis of "Ivanhoe," you might think it's filled with exciting episodes, so how could it be so excruciatingly boring for an adolescent? Then came the real torture, an assignment to read a dolorous soap opera called "Silas Marner."
It was around that time I discovered Ernest Hemingway, starting with "To Have and Have Not," which caused me to make up my mind, at the age of 12 or 13, to run away from home and go to work on a speedboat smuggling contraband from Cuba to Key West. Alas, I never made it.
I also never wrote a school book report on any of the Hemingway books I read as a youth. Book reports were unpleasant work, associated with the hellish experience of reading something like "Silas Marner." Hemingway was a joyous escape from all that; a book report would spoil it.
All through my teens and well into adulthood, I had an intense yearning to see a bullfight, all because of the way "The Sun Also Rises" filled my head with the romance and adventure of the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain.
Then, in 1998, in Mexico, I finally got to see a real bullfight, which ended that yearning once and for all. Real bullfights are long on savagery and short on artistry (except for the great pasodoble music played by live bands), and my worship of Hemingway took a slight downturn.
The other dramatic part of San Fermin, however, still tugs at my soul, although now I think I'd rather be a spectator than a participant. The way Hemingway described the festival's running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona was magic.
I sure hope this does not turn out to be as distressing as my bullfight experience, but the running of the bulls is coming to Berks County, and already has occurred in Virginia, just four days ago.
As reported in The Morning Call two weeks ago, The Great Bull Run will be held at the Maple Grove Raceway, south of Reading, on June 7 of next year, one of 10 such events scheduled across the nation.
The series of Pamplona-style events was organized by a Boston-based company known as Rugged Maniac, run by a former Wall Street lawyer, Rob Dickens. The Aug. 14 story quoted Dickens as saying the bulls that will chase people for fun will be less aggressive than the ones in Spain, where the bull-run bulls are bred for bullfighting. The American version will feature rodeo bulls and steers, which, in my experience, are not exactly sissies.
Tickets, it was reported, will go for $65, but I think that's for the full package, including the privilege of running away from stampeding bovine horns.
The first Great Bull Run was held Saturday in Dinwiddie, Va., south of Richmond, and 12,000 people showed up to run or watch. There was a series of runs, with the humans assembled in groups of 500 to be chased by several bulls along a corridor.
Sunday's story in the Petersburg, Va., Progress-Index newspaper did not include much detail about injuries except to say the bulls "sent runners in every direction but backward" and at least one runner was carried off on a stretcher.
However, I asked Leah Small, the reporter who covered the event, about that. "Two concussions, which resulted in ambulance rides," she said. "Also some minor scrapes and bruises."
Any of the bulls hurt? "Not that I know of," she replied.
I also asked if she noticed whether the horns of the bulls had been blunted, as is often done in rodeos. "They certainly didn't look blunted to me," Small said.
That settles it. If I go to the event in Berks County next year, it definitely will not be as a participant in the running of the bulls.
Nevertheless, animal rights activists, including the, um, colorful People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, howled in protest, saying the events are cruel for the bulls. The Morning Call's story said the Humane Society has asked the U.S. Agriculture Department to investigate whether the events "constitute commercial exhibitions of livestock," which require a license.
You might think PETA or the Humane Society would have some concern about what happens to a human being in a conflict with a stampeding bull, but that apparently is not on their agenda. As in the case of conflicts with pit bulls, humans don't count.
Two other Great Bull Run events will be held this year in Georgia and Texas; the remaining events will be in 2014 at various locations in several states.
Incidentally, some people may be confused by my description of the "To Have and Have Not" plot if they think mainly of the movie of the same name.
When they made the movie in 1944, they changed the location from Cuba to Martinique, ruled by the Nazi-aligned Vichi government of France, and made Vichy despots the heavies. Also, the speedboat captain survives in the movie, to provide a hackneyed Hollywood happy ending.
The movie was superior to the book in one regard. It featured 19-year-old sexpot Lauren Bacall, the source of many delightful fantasies in my youth, along with the one about running away to Key West.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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