Over the years, gradually, it’s grown – this gang of girls. We share in common an extraordinary event, the best party of the year, every July, and although the duration of our stay in Pamplona varies depending on finances and family or work commitments, that moment – when the gun goes off and the champagne flows and the cathedral bells ring – is a precious moment when we are reunited and ready for anything to happen. Others start their new year on the first of January or in September with the new school season. The PPP (the Pamplona Pussy Posse) starts its year on July 6th at noon o’clock, and with a bang.
Dressed in white with red sashes and panuelos, we have our daily rituals, borrowed or invented over the years. We all know the general schedule (the Fiesta Nazi has done her best to train us) so if for some reason you don’t make it home or if you get distracted and pulled off to lunch with other friends, or you need a nap, or to put your feet up, you still know where to go, and at what time, in order to rejoin the posse. We are predictable that way, and yet within our rhythm there is deviation and surprise: a new favorite barman, a newly discovered out-of-the-way restaurant, a place to better view the fireworks.
The founding members of the posse are, though we don’t dwell on it, on the other side of forty. The younger members of the PPP are in their twenties and there’s a thirty-something amongst us, too. Together, we represent a range of the feminine experience. Young, daring, sexy things becoming thoughtful beauties and turning into witty, wiser (and still rather wanton) women. I’d like to think that when we’re out and about, we blend together. I know I’ve got a few more wrinkles and lot less stamina, but every one of us is laughing loud from the belly, dancing deep from the heart. These days, the younger ones get more attention, but I don’t mind as long as somebody buys us a drink while they’re flirting with our younger friends.
The posse experiences the fiesta fully. We watch the encierro every morning, vigilant for our friends who are running. At the corrida we bite our knuckles, shedding tears and/or applauding if it’s beautifully fought. We dance anyplace where there is music to dance (which is everyplace), turning strangers into friends at each stop. We befriend barmen, street cleaners and pastores. But there’s something that happens between us, in the middle of the non-stop revelry, when we look around and recognize how absolutely privileged we are to be here in the midst of it this madness, and to be in each other’s wild company.
In the wee morning hours (or else in the high heat of the day after a siesta) we’re splayed on the couch in the one air-conditioned room of our rented apartment, feet up on the table or soaking in a tub of ice-water, telling our stories. Funny stories about what’s happened to us at the fiesta morph into other stories about things in our lives outside the Pamplona party that we share, things that drive us, inspire us, annoy us, or amuse us. I love these talks. You can’t plan them; they happen spontaneously.
I couldn’t plan this, either – I wasn’t even aware of it until I was in the middle of writing this post – what I would gain from being part of this circle of women of disparate ages and life experiences. It’s one thing to be friendly with a few younger women who are at different places in their life, to be a colleague, or a mentor. It’s a whole different ballgame to go through what we go through in Pamplona, the intense highs and lows, moments of elation and disappointment back-to-back, feeling free and wild and strong, and then feeling instantly vulnerable as a result.
Knowing these women this way – and letting them know me – gives me a perspective about the curve of my own life. Who was I when I was at that age and stage? Who will they be, when they are in my place? And who and what are we all becoming? (Besides a little bit too drunk and really overtired.)
Those heart-to-heart late-night talks could happen anywhere, I suppose, but the exchange – and that’s the operative word, exchange – is somehow made more intense by the backdrop of the world’s greatest party, the boom-boom-boom of the music and people living out loud in the street, the constant roar all week long, all-day and all-night, these phenomenal moments when we get to be free, we get to be foolish, we get to be fierce, we get to be with friends, when we get to be the posse.
Photo credit, for the middle shot: Jim Hollander. (I have no idea who took the other two pictures.)