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Microuniverse of madness

'Sanfermines' sees the small city of Pamplona become pandemonium

Only chaos theory can explain, from a scientific perspective, the fact that during sanfermines the days have no end. And no beginning, for that matter. Pamplona exceeds all logic, and that is why many locals define their fiestas as organized chaos.

A distance of barely 849 meters, covered in seven two-minute doses of pure adrenalin, were all that the old Navarran capital needed to become world famous. Yet the running of the bulls and the bullfights are but a mere annex of the fiesta. If we take away all things bull-related, there are still 12,224 minutes of uninterrupted partying, beginning at noon on July 6 and continuing round the clock for eight consecutive days.

For the entire duration of those 204 hours, it is quite impossible to get away from the music and general bedlam. Pamplona's population balloons from its year-round 200,000 to some two million people, all packed into the narrow streets of the historical center. Fortunately, authorities have 600 years' experience organizing this pandemonium.

If the Void exists, it surely looks like Pamplona the day before sanfermines

If the Void exists, it surely looks like Pamplona the day before sanfermines. The city is holding its breath until noon of the following day, when festivities commence with a colossal Big Bang. When officials set off the chupinazo at City Hall before a crowd of thousands, it releases a dynamic and unstable microuniverse where it becomes possible to add, subtract, divide, multiply and elevate oneself to the umpteenth power, only to end up as a fraction of oneself.

An hour before the rocket goes off, the barely 2,500 square meters that make up City Hall square already have a density of five to six individuals per square meter. That means around 12,000 people, whose joint frenzied action creates a zero gravity effect. At times, it is entirely possible that one's feet will not be touching the ground. A word of advice from real Pamploneses: it is bad luck to make a knot in your red neckerchief before the fiestas have actually started.

It is all too easy to be swept up in the vortex of drunk Australians and kalimotxo (Coke and cheap red wine served in large communal glasses), and forget that old Pamplona also hosts folkloric events such as dances, bertsolaris (improvised rhyming competitions in Basque) and sports competitions in decidedly rural categories such as stone lifting and log chopping.

But for real sport, try getting served at any bar during sanfermines. The legendary Café Iruña is traditionally the drinking hole of choice. This elegant oasis for parched throats was frequented by Hemingway, and it is a mandatory stop for fans of the Nobel laureate - and for everyone else, for that matter, this being one of the oldest, largest and prettiest cafés in town.