* * * * *
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Over the years, Chandler’s annual party had become one of the hottest invitations in Pamplona. One of the great bullfight aficionados of all time, a first-rate Hispanophile, and a veteran of more than forty sanfermines and countless encierros (the running of the bulls), which pass through the famous Estafeta below the scene of the Champagne parties, Noel Chandler had indeed become Pamplona’s Conde de Champagne.
Guests would make their way down the long hall past some exceptional taurine photographs, pictures from Fiestas past, and the Matt Carney Memorial Suite, the room where the great bullrunner and honorary son of Pamplona used to stay, complete with Carney’s old bullrunning costume and other mementos. In Chandler’s living room, Champagne glasses were lined up on a cupboard and a television set was strategically placed so guests can watch the firing of the cohete. The whole apartment scene was like a New Year’s Eve party, except it was held in July in the middle of the day.
The Champagne flowed freely as more hearty “¡Viva San Fermín!” toasts accompanied by big abrazos worked their way around the room. Guests took turns standing on either of the two small balconies overlooking calle Estafeta, where the crowd who watched the firing of the cohete from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, begins to pour into the surrounding streets, singing, dancing, and drinking as they go. The crowd surge effect is like popping the cork on a bottle of Champagne.
The first year I served Veuve Clicquot Gold Label Brut. It was a bit difficult to get Veuve Clicquot in Spain at the time, but I was still working as an executive for an international computer firm, so I was traveling a lot. Each time I passed through an international airport I stopped at the duty-free shop and bought a couple of bottles of “the widow.” By the time the next San Fermín came around, I would have 20-30 bottles for the party. Sometimes I would buy another case of Champagne just for insurance. The party grew. I was able to procure enough Moët et Chandon by then, so I served it for four or five years. Recently I found a local shop which could supply me with enough Taittinger, so now I poured that fine Champagne one year.”
Later in the week, Chandler was feted by Revue du Champagne magazine’s Tom Källene at a street breakfast. These traditional breakfasts are one of the most endearing customs of San Fermín. Trestle tables are lined up outside bar-restaurants in the cobblestoned streets of the old quarter for group breakfasts featuring eggs, ham, and fried potatoes accompanied by plenty of wine, singing, and laughter. The breakfasts are often interrupted as delivery trucks try to squeeze by within inches of the guests, who in turn become good-natured traffic directors, while others applaud the progress of the truck as it crawls by the gathering.
Each of Gerry Dawes’s three daughters, Erica, Elena, and Maria had drops of Pol Roger Champagne placed on their lips within minutes of their births.
Gerry Dawes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Alternate e-mail (use only if your e-mail to AOL is rejected): email@example.com