The secret’s out. We do things a little differently here in New Orleans. Usually bigger, louder, and with a hell-of-a party at the end. So when I heard about the Running of the Bulls, NOLA style, I knew Mr. Wonderful and I had to be a part of it.
Officially, the Festival of San Fermin in Nueva Orleans, NOLA’s Running of the Bulls is a little different from the centuries-old event in Spain you may have seen on the news this week. It starts off with the traditional procession featuring the statue of San Fermin, the patron saint of Navarre, who is rumored to have met his death by the horns of a bull on the streets of Pamplona in the fourth century. But our version differs from the traditional after that.
Our “bulls” are roller derby girls, clad in red and black with horned helmets and baseball bats. They roll through the streets amongst the runners, shrieking and swinging their bats. It’s one of those things that you really can’t explain. You have to be there.
We started our day early, pulling out of the driveway about 6:30 a.m. By 7:00 the crowd was already thousands-deep. Some had coffee, others Bloody Marys (blood being the theme of the day), and the purists had their beer. The bulls were tightening up their skates and straightening their fishnets, while the runners roamed the area seeking friends and photo ops. It was surreal.
At 7:30, the formal procession began, with the statue of San Fermin carried through the streets accompanied by musicians and hordes of the “faithful.” As his procession concluded, the announcer called for the line-up.
The Encierro (bull run) is led NOLA-style, by the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi. (Yes, the plural of Elvis is Elvi.) As they blaze the one-mile trail thousands of runners follow behind, waiting for the release of the bulls from one of the three “bull pens” along the route. When the bulls hit the pavement, the casual pace turns frantic as runners hear the bulls coming up behind them, and the sound of the bats striking (and I do mean striking) is immediately followed by yelps from the runners. The first couple of strikes let you know exactly what you’re in for, and gives you the chance to make the decision whether to remain in the street or seek refuge on the sidewalk. I chose the former. (No regrets.) I did skip the gauntlet at the end, though. (Maybe next year.)
Some of the bulls took their roles with a bit of humor. Others took it very seriously. About 1 in 10 “whacks” was delivered with a vengeance. I understood fully the sign announcing that we were to “run at our own risk” once that first serious blow struck my hind quarters.
At this point, you may be asking “Why?”
To that, there is only one response, “¿Por qué no?”
It was, without a doubt, one of the longest and most fun miles of my life! Accompanied by my BFF Elena, (our husbands and Elena’s firstborn left us behind) I experienced a strange explosion of fear, excitement, and chaos, wrapped up in adrenaline. Words can’t describe it. So here are a couple of videos:
The first video was professionally produced, and is worth the 10-minute investment to watch. It tells the story well.
The next video was taken by a cell phone, so its quality is less impressive, but it was taken by my BFF’s son Ryan, and makes you feel the chaos. One of the shouts you will hear is Mr. Wonderful.
As with all things, there is something to be learned. Never attempt to block a bat being swung at your backside with your hand. There are no bones in your backside, and it can survive a blow better than a hand. (I drove myself straight to the Urgent Care Clinic after the party for an x-ray. Hairline fracture. Well worth it!) Mr. Wonderful took one on the thigh.
So if you feel the need to experience this unique event next July, give me a shout. I’ll bring the sangria.