533 professional bullfighters killed in the ring since 1700

The Dead Toreador by Edouard Manet (c.1864)

Given the large number of people who have wandered to this blog in search of answers about the so-called ‘conversion’ photograph of Álvaro Munera from bullfighter to animal rights activist – which is actually not of him at all – I thought that I would set another record straight that has been bothering me for a while.

When the philosopher of animal rights, Mark Rowlands, was mistakenly commissioned by The Times Literary Supplement to review my book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, one of the multitude of mistakes he made, both logical and empirical, was his statement that there have been only fifty-two bullfighters killed or fatally injured in the ring since 1700.

(Ironically, he also said that my friend and former teacher, the matador Juan José Padilla, was more likely to die on the way to the bullring than within it. This was published eight days before Padilla had the side of his face destroyed, skull multiply fractured, and eye removed from behind, as the other recent posts on this blog show.)

Juan José Padilla teaches me the ‘banderillas’ at his home in ’09 (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

However, since I had never been macabre enough to try to add up the exact number of bullfighters killed in the ring, I did not have a statistic to hand to counter his general claim. I did, however, know the origin of Rowlands’ statement.

The American author on bullfighting Barnaby Conrad wrote in The People’s Almanac, No.2, Issue 2 (1978):

While hundreds of bullfighters have died in the arena, of the approximately 325 major matadors since 1700, only 52 have been killed in the arena.

I picked Rowlands up on his misleading misquotation in our exchange on the letters’ page of the TLS here (along with a few of his many other errors.) In his reply, he seemed not to have even understood that he was misquoting someone else’s statistic:

I say fifty-two in the last 300 years, Fiske-Harrison says (vaguely) “hundreds”… Fiske-Harrison’s language gives a false impression of the dangers to bullfighters.

Personally, I suspect that his intial error was actually to go on Google and take the first result he could find – Wikipedia – and, when challenged, he realised that this is absolutely no excuse for a tenured professor writing in a respected literary magazine which at one time took its reviews from the likes of T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Henry James.

Whilst I still do not know exactly how many bullfighters have died in the past three hundred years, I do now know what the minimum number is: it is 533.

That, by the way, is just the professionals notable enough to report on. The figure does not include amateurs killed in plazas and on ranches. And we can safely assume – looking that the documentary history of Spain and Latin America in the past three hundred years – that there were plenty of professionals whose deaths went unreported, especially in pre–antibiotic era when death would have come later from gangrene, tentanus and the other terrible routes which Hemingway described with such grim accuracy in Death In The Afternoon However, I think that speculating on figures without evidence is an excuse for bad scholarship.

In terms of evidence, every one of these 533 is described in detail in a four volume Spanish work entitled “Victims of Bullfighting.” All four volumes are available online here, and the numbers easily verifiable via the contents’ pages even for non-Spanish speakers.

http://www.fiestabrava.es/pdfs/MVT-1.pdf
http://www.fiestabrava.es/pdfs/BVT-1.pdf
http://www.fiestabrava.es/pdfs/PVT-1.pdf
http://www.fiestabrava.es/pdfs/NVT-2-1.pdf

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

GQ magazine on the comeback of the bravest bullfighter in Spain: Juan José Padilla

My British GQ article on the comeback of the now one-eyed bullfighter Juan José Padilla is online here. The US edition of GQ sent there own author to interview him afterwards, which was silly, as she hadn’t the first idea about bullfighting – whereas I’ve been doing it since 2009 – nor Padilla and his place in that world – whereas as I had the man as my first teacher. The photo below is of the two of us during one of those lessons. We were both very different men then. He had two eyes…

Fiske-Harrison and Padilla training with a young fighting bull in 2009.

By coincidence, Claire Danes, the beautiful actress on the cover of the issue on which the article appeared is a dear friend whom I thanked in the acknowledgments to the book that came out of those two years in Spain Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight in the first five chapters of which Padilla is so central. So I must thank her once again in the acknowledgments to this article, this time for providing such glamorous packaging.

Padilla is a man of great dignity, aesthetically and internally, but he isn’t exactly pretty. And, as Zed Nelon’s wonderful spread which opens the physical edition of the article shows, he ain’t no cover girl. The photo is in his house, which we went to the day before his comeback ‘fight.’

Please note, should you read the article, that, GQ holds the view, in common with many other publications, that when you pay a writer for his words, you have also bought the right to put words in his mouth.

I, personally, could not write a phrase like “my dread boiled.” (What I actually wrote was “I was worried.”) My dread just doesn’t boil (anymore).

Nor could I have written that the Spanish financial bailout was £80m. I used to work for the Financial Times and know a million from a billion.

Nor did I write the paragraph below, which appeared twice, once as a pull quote. I don’t even really agree with it.

Just so you know. (Bullfighters do not compare bull’s horns to “a Louboutin stilleto”. Ever.)

Anyway, much of the article is mine, and all of Padilla’s words are his own, which on their own would make it worth reading. However, if you come across something in the article that feels wrong, then it probably is, and probably didn’t come from me.

Anyway, if you want to know Padilla’s whole story, and much, much more, read my book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight. You can purchase it as an eBook via GQ on their website where it tops their recommendation list here. (It was also shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, “the world’s richest sports’ writing prize”.)

If you live outside the UK or want it as a physcial book, other options are here.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Bullfighting and the Gallup Polls: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I was recently interviewed on the BBC and one of the people also interviewed, a representative from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), brought up an opinion poll “by Gallup” in 2006, which said that 72% of the people in Spain were “against bullfighting.”

Now, putting to one side the fact that PETA’s claim was not true – the poll actually said that 72% said they had “no interest” in bullfighting – this got me thinking. There was another “Gallup poll” I read about from four years before which said that 69% of Spanish people polled had no interest, and the most recent one, from 2008, gave the same figure. These are big swings: millions of people.

So I looked into it further, and what I found was fascinating. Continue reading

Rest In Peace Bomber: Friend, Adventurer, Traveller, Warrior

On February 24th, 2013, my friend Bomber died. I thought it fitting to write a little tribute of my own to him here and translate the one from the website of the regional newspaper of one of his favourite cities on Earth, Pamplona.

20130226-112713.jpg Breakfast on Sunday of the Miuras, Pamplona, July 8th, 2012, among good friends. We had both just run with the bulls, I in my striped jacket, Bomber in his black one. The great bull-runner Joe Distler on Bomber’s left had removed his white tuxedo in case of spillages. (Photo: Jack Denault)

I first met Bomber properly in Pamplona in 2011, when I returned at the insistence of Angus MacSwan who told me I had got the city wrong in my book when he interviewed me for Reuters. That year, when I was flushed with the novelty of the feria de San Fermín, the wonders of running bulls properly, and the sheer excess of Fiesta properly lived, I can not remember how much we spoke, or what about. However, in the months that followed, he was a frequent commenter on this blog, and would often drop me notes congratulating me on the success of my book or my defence of los toros in various pieces of journalism.

His favourite of these was when I went to visit a matador he had met, Juan José Padilla, and who had taught me back in ’09, after he lost his eye in the ring, but was making a come back despite the injury and lack of depth perception.

Bomber had a great fondness for Padilla as a man, a matador, and in one of Bomber’s favourite complimentary phrases, “as a warrior”. He sent me this photo of the two of them together with great pride.

20130226-113351.jpg

(When I visited Padilla at his house before his comeback, he looked like this. [Photo: Zed Nelson])
20130226-113532.jpg

On my first day in Pamplona last year, July 6th, I joined the High Table of American bull-runners for dinner – Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and Bomber – and there Bomber told me how much it meant to him that another generation were coming to Pamplona, were becoming involved with the fiesta de los toros, and – most importantly to a man who at heart was a traveller – were helping to defend the diversity of things and cultures in the world, most especially Spain.

As Bomber and I walked back from that down into the Plaza de Castillo – well, he walked, I staggered from wine, funny how he made the encierro, the ‘bull-run’ the next day and I didn’t – I was reminded of the tragic story I was told about how the love of his life, Goldie, had died prematurely on the operating table, and how the news was conveyed to him in the that very square as he stood among friends outside Bar Txoco, where we always stand after the 8am encierro to ‘talk’ off the adrenaline, and how Bomber had collapsed from grief.

20130226-111655.jpg From left to right, Bomber, Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and Me one morning outside Bar Txoco, 2012 (Photo: Jim Hollander)

I cannot claim that I got to know Bomber half as well as I would like, but anyone who knows Pamplona knows that the fortnight that makes up two Fiestas is like three months of normal time. The only consolation for his passing aged 65 is that when he spoke of Goldie, you knew that life was simply so much less bright for him without her. And I noticed in our communications that he spoke of her more and more often after the 2012 Fiesta ended, and then he moved out of their shared home in Garmisch in Germany, posting strangely prophetic photos on Facebook as he did so, saying goodbye and thank you not just to the place, but seemingly to all his friends as well.

I had planned on going to meet him in Germany in the Autumn, but I never did, and that will always be a sadness in my life. Even my father, who only met Bomber a few times, asks after him, just as Bomber made a point of sending me this photo of the three of us.

20130226-114855.jpg

No one could be better prepared for the final encierro which we all one day will run. In the words of Joe Distler upon reading this post, “Bless and keep you brother.”

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

And here is what the newspapers said… Continue reading

‘World’s Scariest Animal Attacks’ on Channel 5* (UK) & Discovery Channel (USA)

It is nice to see that the inteview I filmed at my favourite tapas bar in London, Capote y Toros on the Old Brompton Road, was broadcast again as narration for the fighting bull segment in ‘World’s Scariest Animal Attacks’ on both sides of the Atlantic last night.

If you missed it in the UK, on Channel 5* at 9pm BST last night, you can watch it again here. If you missed in the US at 10pm EDT last night on the Discovery Channel as part of ‘Shark Week’ (when is it not Shark Week on Discovery?), it can be seen again today, August 16th, at 12 am & 2:00 pm, and then again on Aug 18th at 11 am.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison is the expert witness on the toro bravo – Spanish fighting bull – segment of ‘World Scariest Animal Attacks’, first broadcast in the Spring on Channel 5 in the UK, re-broadcast on the Discovery Channel in the US…

In 2010, a fighting bull went on the rampage through the crowded audience at a bullring in Tafalla in north-eastern Spain. The event was not a bullfight, though, but a spectacle of acrobatic bull-leaping, in which the bull normally leaves the ring unharmed to be used again. However, this time, things ended very differently, and very badly, for the people in the audience and the bull…

Mentorn TV

You can read more about Alexander Fiske-Harrison’s account of his two years in Spain, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight here, where there are also links to purchase or download from Amazon, iTunes etc.

The famous ‘conversion’ photo of the ‘matador’ Álvaro Múnera is…

Fraud

…actually of the real matador Francisco Javier Sánchez Vara, while the words associated with it were actually written by Antonio Gala Velasco in the Spanish newspaper El País. Read the full story on my updated blog post hereAlexander Fiske-Harrison

Juan José Padilla: The Comeback of the Century for the NYCCT

The Comeback of the Century

By Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Editor’s Note: Alexander has been contracted by GQ Magazine for an article about his experiences with Padilla, which is due to be published in August 2012. Material for the GQ article could not be included in this article, as the author notes below.

(Right: Juan José Padilla leaving on shoulders of Adolfo Suárez after his triumphal return in Olivenza)

OF all the gorings I have ever seen on film (I have, gracias a Dios, never seen a bad one in the flesh), the most horrifying is that of the great matadorof corridas duras – the Cyclone of Jerez, Maestro of the Miuras, and adopted son of Pamplona – my first teacher, Juan José Padilla in Zaragoza on October 7th last year. His skull suffered multiple fractures, his left eye lost its sight, that side of his face lost its movement, and his body lost one third of its weight.

So, when I heard he was going to stage a comeback less than six months later in this year’s Feria de Olivenza, I knew I had to be there with him.

Last year I published a book on my two years in the world of the bulls – 2009 as spectator, 2010 as trainee torero ending in my killing a three year old toro de lidia from old Saltillo in Spain – and the first few chapters of Into The Arena describe in detail my time with Juan.

So I knew this story was the epilogue the book was missing. There was also a debt to be paid. Toreros face death and injury in exchange for gold and glory, and Juan had risked himself several times – in a minor way – to save my skin during the research for my book. What success it has had is owed in part to him, although he received no royalties from it. Which is why I got British GQ magazine to commission me to cover his reaparición. My formal interview with Juan before that corrida is thus owned by Condé Nast. However, the rest of that story is all yours…

* * *

I first met the madness, laughter and astonishing courage that is Juan through his good friend, Adolfo Suárez Illana. Adolfo is one of the finest aficionados prácticos practising today, having killed over one hundred full-size bulls puerta cerrada – behind closed doors – and a host more in festivals around Spain.

(The author, Padilla and Suárez on a ranch 2010 by Nicolás Haro )

(It helps when your father is the founding Prime Minister of democratic Spain. It is little known, even in Spain, that Adolfo’s father, now the Duke of Suárez, also fought bulls, although only once in public in the 1959 Festival de los Noveles in the plaza antigua in Ávila – see photo at right – Suárez Family Collection.)

It was actually Adolfo who had pressed Juan to get back in front of animals before 2011 had ended – less than three months after his goring – on December 30th. Juan, unable to eat solid foods, was at the time a mere hundred pounds of sinew hanging on a five foot ten skeleton. The big worries, though, were psychological. Well, that and the loss of half his visual field and his capacity to gauge distances…

So the two of them went to the finca of Fuente Ymbro – the first place I ever caped a vaquilla under their instruction in ’09 – and Juan began with some two year old vaquillas. According to Adolfo everyone was stunned by the total mastery and confidence Juan showed with these snappy little cows which turn on a dime as no toro bravo can. So the breeder Ricardo Gallardo offered Juan a three year old animal to kill. At which Juan turned up his nose and demanded a proper cuatreño, a four year old. This Juan caped and dispatched with exactly the same he always had on a ranch in the past.

I should add here that to see Juan torear ‘on the ranch’ is a very different experience to seeing him do so in public. There is no tremendismo and, as a result, his action is wonderfully smooth, the linkage of his passes better, and the ‘running of the hand’ more controlled and longer. For a long time I couldn’t understand this until Adolfo explained to me that Juan is actually very shy. Not among old friends, not with bulls, and not after drinking rum.

(The author, Padilla and flamenco dancer Antonio ‘El Pipa’ after much rum in Padilla’s house 2009 by Nicolás Haro)

However, as a result, in the plaza de toros under the watchful eyes of thousands, he has developed amask of bravado to hide behind – which explains some of the more exciting points of his style – but he still has too much adrenaline, which explains the constant movement, the shorter passes, the incessant cutting into the bull’s terrain and failure to let the animal – and in theatrical terms, ‘the moment’ – breathe.

Since the first time I ever saw Juan’s toreo – in 2009 – was from the burladero at Los Alburejos with Álvaro Domecq’s Torrestrellas, then from the sand next to him in Miravalles with Félix and Enrique Moreno de la Cova’s Saltillos, when I finally saw him in public, I was quite shocked at the difference.

(Left: The author and Padilla in Los Alburejos 2009 by Nicolás Haro)

(Right: Finito de Córdoba and Padilla teach AFH in Miravalles 2009 by Nicolás Haro)

Returning to 2011: after this breakthrough, Juan went on to killed a dozen or so bulls in the campo, including on the ranch of Ana Romero, the breeder whose bull almost took away his livelihood and life. Aficionados seldom want to admit this in public – but the honest ones do in private – but there is often a darkness in the heart of those who kill, and those who regularly kill bulls with swords are no exception. Which is why I will not comment on Juan’s need to not only wear the suit of lights in which he was gored that day, but to demand to kill a bull from the same mother and father as the one which nearly killed him.

It was a fortnight after Fuente Ymbro that Juan went public, announcing his reappearance at Olivenza. The Spanish press went to town, running story after story with the subtext that Juan was emblematic of the fiesta brava itself, his wounding in Zaragoza coming so soon after the ban on corridas in Catalonia came into de facto effect. His return with the opening feria of the temporada was perfectly designed to show the world that bullfighting was bloodied by Barcelona but unbowed. They even detailed the suit he was to wear, from Justo Algaba in Madrid: its green representing Spring and rebirth, and embroidered with the laurel leaves so associated with ancient Rome.

(It was Adolfo who pointed out to me after Olivenza that the press had got the symbolism on this one wrong: Juan was not claiming a Roman Emperor’s laurel wreath here, nor even that of a triumphant gladiator. The original laurel wreath was given to surviving gladiators as a restorative, to be taken as an infusion to heal wounds. Juan later confirmed this, although he has said other things since. The symbolism was that of injured warrior, not conquering hero. Justo Algaba’s brother Pedro in Seville, who has also made trajes for Juan and I have never heard Pedro speak so highly – in personal terms – of a torero as he does of Juan, which explains why he was to be seen in Olivenza as well.)

* * *

Juan invited me to his house just before the corrida, so with a day to kill I called up Álvaro Núñez Benjumea – who runs his father Joaquin Núñez del Cuvillo’s ranch – and asked if I could see the bulls for Olivenza. Although I had not met Álvaro before, I knew his sister Tilda well and had faced his brother Curro’s cattle in Portugal in 2010 under the tutelage of my Maestro Eduardo Dávila Miura. (They were infinitely preferable to the ‘minotaurs’ Eduardo used to drag me to face at his family ranch Zahariche with alarming regularity, much to the amusement of his uncles, Eduardo and Antonio Miura.)

After taking me round the paddock to see the bulls – they looked fine – Álvaro suggested I stick around to watch the tienta he had on that day. I asked who the Maestro was, and he answered José Marí Manzanares. Which, given his historic indulto in Seville last year, was not an opportunity I was going to pass up.

There are many things that stuck in my mind from that tentadero. One was quite how personable and gracious Manzanares hijo is. I mean real, come-up-and-shake-your-hand before and after the event polite. (Which made me regret short-changing him in my book, although in my defence, I do think his style has developed considerably since then. Something proved to me in this year’s April Fair in Seville when he took four ears and the Gate of the Prince again, a thing of beauty which I witnessed a few rows in front of that Prince of Pamplona, Joe Distler, who introduced me to your President, who invited me to write this piece for you.)

(The author and his father – circled left- watching José Marí Manzanares, padre y hijo, in La Maestranza, Seville, 2012 by Guy Walters)

The second abiding memory was a side-effect of that graciousness. Manzanares spent over half his time at El Grullo giving tuition to a class from a nearby taurine school who took on the vacas after he had tested them for Álvaro.

At the top of his game, Manzanares had apparently decided that burladeros are only needed by mere mortals and simply stood in the ring chain-smoking and chatting about the animals to Álvaro through the breeders viewing-slot onto the plaza de tienta. One young man, determined to show his hero that he too could ‘run the hand’, overextended the pass before turning his wrist so the vaca kept going, and it ended up cantering, horns lowered, at Manzanares.

The Maestro, with neither capote nor muleta to hand, gave his cigarette to Álvaro, rubbed his hands together while gauging the charge and then did a standing two-footed jump, recortador-style, clean over the animal. Then he calmly picked up where he left off – both cigarette and conversation – as his banderillero Curro Javier took the vaca away with a capote. Now, I’ve seen a fair few top level toreros in the plaza de tienta, but not only have I never seen one do anything like that, I cannot even image them doing that. And it’s not like Manzanares has a recortador background.

The next day I went to Juan’s house in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. For fear of breaching my contract with GQ magazine, there isn’t much I can say other than his home is suitably called Puerta Gayola, and you can read about my first visit there in Into The Arena.

(The author and Padilla at Padilla’s home, 2012, by Zed Nelson)

One thing I can say is that he was worryingly thin, reassuringly confident, and as devoutly religious and unnervingly fidgety as I remember him – no man needs to alter sofa cushions and light switches that often. His young children, Paloma and Martín, had grown large enough to make me feel old – Paloma made a good stab at translating a passage from my book on her father into Spanish – while his beautiful wife Lydia looked a little more careworn than her years alone explain.

I would also later learn that Juan could still not eat solid food, that he had permanent tinnitus depriving him of sleep, and that he had made the mistake of foregoing his montera in training, an omission which caused him agony in the ring in Olivenza as it rested directly one of the dozen tiny titanium plates that now held his skull together. (When I heard Juan had an operation to have that plate removed after Olivenza, I wondered if he wasn’t having surgery just so he could still fit his remarkable collection of hats.)

* * *

The next day up in Olivenza the atmosphere was unnerving. I’d arrived at the Hotel Heredero the night before the corrida and met up that other Prince of Pamplona, Noel Chandler, along with various members of the Club Taurino of London. The concern for Juan’s wellbeing was tangible, and not just among aficionados. That night I also met up with Cayetano – who I am working on a documentary with – and he seemed more worried about and interested in Juan than his own corridaof Zalduendos alongside Ponce and Ferrera the next morning.

Cayetano’s corrida having passed without incident – good or bad – I saw Juan briefly on arrival and left him to dress with Adolfo and Ponce in attendance.

* * *

At the plaza, the sense of excitement and fear in the tendidos was like nothing I had ever felt. It was a cold night, but we were so packed together in the sold-out stadium that I was sweating. Juan’s arrival in the ring was greeted by a standing ovation, followed by chants of “tor-er-o”, and that was just for turning up. This was something Juan judiciously downplayed, not least with the man-of-the-moment Manzanares and the artistic genius that is Morante de la Puebla to his left.

(It is notable that Manzanares has signed to fight so many of this year’s corridas alongside Juan. Morante, a family friend of Juan’s, has fought alongside him many times, including both in the plaza with muletas on the same bull.)

(The author and Padilla, by Paloma de Santa Coloma)

The bull, Trapajoso No.53, a negro of 480kg, came in hesitantly. The peones got him to criss-cross the ring with capote flicks from behind the planks until he started chopping up a burladero in earnest.

Juan stepped out and began with a couple of preliminary passes with one knee bent like a lunging fencer, keeping the bull at a distance, and you could tell he was studying the bull in exactly the same way the audience was studying him – for capacity and disposition, strength and weakness.

Decisions made, Juan took his stand and gave three sound verónicas. With each pass the crowd shouted olé, and he followed with the media and the walk away. His second tanda was similarly technically proficient. However, the effect was electric.

At this point I realised that it was going to be all but impossible to objectively judge how good this performance was, personal relationships aside: everyone was simply amazed he could do it all.

Then picador did his job, neither notably well nor badly, and the crowd asked themselves one of the biggest questions of the evening: would the lidiador Juan place his own banderillas? Since it involves calculating intersecting geometries on the run, how is it possible with only one eye, especially given that he had nearly died doing it with two?

However, do them he did – two al cuarteo and the last al violín – and all to the music of the brass band and a crescendo of applause for each pair placed, their blue and white papers fluttering in his the colours of Jerez de la Frontera. (I did note one change, which was the careful choreography so he always ended his run with two of his cuadrilla cutting between him and the bull with capotes after the sticks were in. Before, Padilla wouldn’t have let them into the ring.)

Entering for the tercio de la muerte, Juan summoned two men over from the callejón whom I recognised from one of his interviews. They were the two surgeons who had put back together the organs and bones of his life. He dedicated the bull to them, embraced them both, and then walked out onto the sand.

His derechazos were again good and pure. Not as long as one might like, but still excellent, midway between Fandi and Tomás. However, the image that stayed with you was of a man with an eye patch standing implacably upright besieged by a plunging and furious toro bravo. (As he said to me with a bizarre pride, “I may not be the first torero with one eye, but I am the first with an eye patch.”)

The bull, which had nobility but no stamina, rapidly came to the end of its wind and Juan accepted this with a resignation and grace many other toreros could learn from and killed well and cleanly with a well-placed media estocada..

The crowd were on their feet before the bull had hit the dust, white handkerchiefs out, petitioning the president of the plaza for a trophy for their hero, who had not so much earned an ear as gallantly failed to lose it.

The next two bulls were fought by Manzanares and Morante, and fought well, although like Juan’s bull they seemed to lack a little something in aggression and stamina. In a nice adorno de afición, each matador dedicated his bull to Juan.

When Juan entered the ring for the second time – again, as he told me afterwards – he knew he had won back the trust, and had lost the pity, of the audience. So, now he had to show them what he could really do. His second bull, Reposado No, 118 a colorao y chorreado, was faster and lighter – in weight and colour – and Juan walked into the middle of its charge with the capote and dropped to his knees for a signature larga cambiada de rodillas. In a single, simple and incontrovertible taurine gesture Juan had said, “I’m back!”

Then, as the bull turned to find him, he rose to his feet and began a series of four perfect veronicas, followed by three walking chicuelinas, before finishing with media verónica and then a spinning and apparently spontaneously created remate which, if it has a name, I do not know it. This was, quite frankly, better than anything I had ever seen Juan do before. The audiences fear and sympathy was now replaced with pride and exultation.

After the picador Juan took his first set of banderillas and invited the other two matadors to join him so they could each place a pair alongside him. Morante de la Puebla does this very rarely and Manzanares almost never. You could see Juan ask him if he was okay with it and Manzanares smiling say he had no idea (Adolfo, who was in the callejón, later told me Manzanares actually said he hadn’t done it “since school”.) And yet each one of them placed their pair brilliantly, with Juan inevitably the best, the closest to the horns.

He then invited his elderly father into the ring. Padilla padre, a baker to whom his son was apprenticed when young, once told me of his own foray into the ring: “I heard the breath of the bull in the ring, just the breath, and I said f*** this for a job and went back to baking.”

Juan dedicated the bull to him. They embraced, clearly emotional, Juan’s forehead against his father’s tearful face as he spoke rapidly and quietly. His words to his nine-year-old daughter Paloma, though, were clear enough as she sat barrera with Adolfo’s wife Isabel in the front row of the audience: “I love you.” (Juan’s wife Lydia was back at the hotel, unable to face watching, sat dreading a phone call like the last time he had gone “to work”. Their son, Martín, too young to understand was at home in Sanlúcar.)

Juan then walked into the ring and gave people an exhibition of the matador he had become. Although it included much of his trademark toreo de desplante, he seemed to have developed a more understated style which better suited these smoother animals. He took the bull through a catalogue of passes – including a tanda which began with a molinete and then danced the compass with derechazos en redondo with the band in blazing accompaniment. His mastery, though, was finally shown on a mistimed pase de pecho which ended with the bull taking the muleta from his hands. Despite a nervous cuadrilla – and audience – Juan merely stood unarmed before the bull, front leg bent towards it, jacket held open to bare his chest to the horns.

(Right: Padilla in Pamplona 2011 by the author)

This time he killed on the second attempt, losing the second ear to a pinchazo caused by the error of trying to time his entry to the cante jondo of an audience member who had come all the way from Jerez to sing flamencofor his friend (as, notably, had the finest bull-runners from his other taurine home, Pamplona.)

We watched the other two matadors fight and they did beautiful things: Morante with his exquisitely nonchalant trincherazos discarding the bull at his feet, Manazanares killing recibiendo with a confidence no one has outside of Ernest Hemingway’s fictions.

However, it was Juan alone who was swept up on to the shoulders of the crowd and toured the ring. At least, at first I thought it was the crowd, and then I saw it was actually Adolfo, then El Juli, then Serafín Marín and all the other toreros like Perera, Tato and Javier Solís who had been watching hidden from view in the callejón.

That night, an entire profession seemed to be holding Padilla up in the air so an entire nation could applaud him.

As Noel Chandler, usually so immovable in his wise and well-travelled afición, said afterwards in the bar: “Alexander, I had tears in my eyes.” And so did I.

(Padilla went onto to great triumphs – 4 ears and shoulders – in the plazas of Arles and Jerez, among others, but sadly took no trophies in the Feria de Abril, and did not appear in San Isidro, at least not in the ring. He will, however, being appearing in Pamplonain the final corrida on July 14th with El Juli y Daniel Luque and bulls of Torrehandilla y Torreherberos.)

(Left:Suárez and Padilla in Las Ventas 2012)

*********************************************************

Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight is published in the UK by Profile Books and is available from all major British bookshops and online from Amazon or Amazon UK, also as an eBook.

©Alexander Fiske-Harrison 11 June 2012

(Above: Padilla with 700 kg Miura in Pamplona 2011 by the author)

The Barcelona Ban on Bullfighting: Two Years on…

Two years after the regional parliament in Barcelona voted to ban the corrida de toros, known in English as bullfighting – although not other forms of ‘playing with bulls’ – throughout Catalonia, it looks increasingly like this will piece of legislation will be overthrown by the federal government in Madrid when they, following France, make the corrida a matter of protected cultural interest.

It is interesting to review the arguments on both sides in this matter, and, despite asking me – who am avowedly anti-ban not least because I am politically a liberal – to write the foreword, the most balanced book produced on the subject remains the series of interviews with animal rights groups, bullfighters, politicians and journalists by Cat Tosko. Just take a look at the contents list below. I also enclose my foreword in full.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
 
The book is available as a paperback or eBook for £5 at Amazon UK here, or Amazon US for $8 here.
 
 

The Bull and The Ban

Interviews from both sides of the debate on the controversy surrounding bullfighting, its recent ban in the autonomous community of Catalonia and its future in Spain, the rest of Europe and the Americas…

Contents:

Foreword by Alexander Fiske-Harrison – author of Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight.

Introduction by the interviewer, Catherine Tosko – documentary filmmaker and former Animal Rights activist.

The Interviews

Alfred Bosch: Catalan MP & Coalition Leader, Catalan Parliament

Antoni Strubell i Trueta: Catalan MP & Author

Rampova: Catalan artist

Marilén Barceló: Catalan Psychologist, Bullfighting aficionada

Bob Rule: British aficionado, member: Club Taurino of London

Miguel Perea: Spanish bullfighter (picador)

Emilio Bolaños Arrabal: Spanish bullfighter (banderillero)

Fernando Cámara Castro: Spanish bullfighting teacher (ex-matador)

Francisco Rivera Ordóñez: Spanish bullfighter (matador)

Frank Evans: British bullfighter (matador)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison: British author & bullfighter (aficionado practicó)

Gaspar Jiménez Fortes: Spanish bullring manager

Equanimal: Spanish Animal Rights lobby group

Graham Bell: British Animal Rights activist

Jason Webster: British writer: author of Duende: In Search of Flamenco and the novel Or The Bull Kills You…

Foreword

In this book you will find the entire range of views on bullfighting represented in a series of interviews – from those who are completely against it to those who are completely for it – backed by the strongest arguments they can give. And although in my own interview I give the views I have come to hold after two years in Spain researching my own book on the subject – namely against any form of ban, but with grave misgivings about the cruelty of the activity – I have actually inhabited each position given at different times along the way.

Continue reading

My interview about bullfighting on Australian Broadcasting Corporation National Radio.

Spanish bullfighter José Tomás performing a pass on a bull at the Plaza Monumental bull ring in Barcelona. (Lluis Gene: AFP)

This interview with ABC National Radio was done sometime during the madness and thunder of Pamplona’s Feria de San Fermín – contrary to what is said, I had run the bulls exactly an hour before the interview and, consequently, sunk two large brandies mixed with vanilla milk to take the edge off the adrenaline (a concoction invented in Navarre for exactly that purpose) – hence the ramble. I then borrowed the landline of Graeme Galloway’s Pamplona Posse and stood in the stairwell – hence the echo (why the sound engineer who tested the line didn’t comment and ask me to move, I don’t know.)

Listeners might like to know that not only am I an Australian citizen (I hold joint citizenship with the United Kingdom), but as my mother, who was born and raised in Sydney likes to point out, her uncle was a cattle drover who worked the great overlanders including the Canning Stock Route.

You can listen to it here. It was broadcast this morning, Australian time.

My book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight was also reviewed in The Australian by Matthew Clayfied here

It is available for purchase online in Australia here and is published there by Allen & Unwin.

All in all, though, I felt Geraldine Doogue did a fair and good job on the interview (and with thanks to Nick Ridout on the research).

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

The text of my speech at the University of Seville on ‘Into The Arena’

(In the original Spanish here.)

Last Friday, before the opening of the Feria de Abril here in Seville, I gave a conference on my two perspectives on bullfighting: from far away – England – and far too close – the sand of the bullring.

It was a great honour to talk in the main lecture theatre in the antique Royal Tobacco Factory of Seville, the setting for Bizet’s Carmen among other things (which was in turn based on the novella of that name by Prosper Mérimée.)

The speech was particularly well-received. Rafael Peralta, a poet, author and amateur bullfighter from a great family of bull-breeders and rejoneadors – horseback bullfighters – had the following to say about it in the newspaper La Razón, ‘The Reason’ (my translation):

An Englishman in the arena; by Rafael Peralta Revuelta

This past Easter Sunday, a British diplomat, Lord Tristan Garel-Jones, made a defense of bullfighting from the lectern of the Lope de Vega theatre in the classic Pregón Taurino, ‘Taurine Proclamation’, of the Royal Maestranza of Seville. Bullfighting has always appealed in one way or another to the English. For some, it is a show that, far from their Anglo-Saxon culture, they describe as barbaric. For others it may mean something curious, full of mystery and romance. Such was the case of Joseph William Forbes, a boxing manager who every summer went to Spain for his own particular taurine “tournament”. As do the members of the Club Taurino of London, who every year visit our city to attend the bullfights of the April Fair. Alexander Fiske-Harrison is an English writer and actor, whom we find at the entrance of the Plaza de Toros. Several years ago now, he began to have contact with the world of bullfighting, with the help of family and close friends. Little by little, he went deeper into the secrets of the world of the bulls. He became an amateur bullfighter, fighting on the ranch “Zahariche” of the Miuras, and arrived at the point of killing a Saltillo bull on the ranch of the Moreno de la Cova family. He became friends with bull-breeders, with bullfighters like Juan José Padilla and Adolfo Suárez Illana. His experiences are contained in the book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight. As a philosopher and writer specializing in analyzing the behavior of animals, he recognized in England that there is a lot of hypocrisy about bullfighting. Last week gave a lecture at the University of Seville, explaining his vision of bullfighting. Fiske-Harrison opens a new door, fundamental and necessary, to the Fiesta Brava in Anglo-Saxon culture.

I enclose the text of my speech below. The text of Lord Garel-Jones’s Pregón Taurino, which he has kindly provided to me in English (his speech, like mine, was delivered in Spanish), is viewable as a PDF by clicking here: El Pregón Taurino de Lord Tristan Garel-Jones – English. I will finish by saying how happy I am that after leaving a lecture like this, the entire audience went to the Seville bullring, La Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla (in whose 250-year-old library, Into The Arena is the only book in English). There we saw the very essence of what I was talking about in terms of beauty in the toreo of José Mari Manzanares who cut four ears and left on the shoulders of the crowd through the Gate of the Prince. (We met in the training ring a month ago.) I must also mention the astonishing valour of the now one-eyed Juan José Padilla.

In the photo below, by the historian and author Guy Walters who was sitting with my mother and my girlfriend, you can see Manzanares embracing his father, a former matador of great note. Circled left are myself and my own father, in seats generously provided by Enrique Moreno de la Cova and Cristina Ybarra. Leaning on the planks in the foreground is Padilla.

“Into The Arena”: The bullfight as lived by an Englishman

Ladies and Gentleman,

You will forgive me but in the eighteen months since I completed the research for my book I have forgotten as much of my Spanish as I have of my bullfighting – as a little bull of Astolfi discovered to his delight a week ago. However, I hope that more language remains than my technique of tauromachy and that I walk away with fewer bruises!

First, I would like to thank the University of Seville – and especially Jose Luis and Antonio and their Forum of Analysis for inviting me, an Englishman, to speak about my perspective on the bulls. I was going to say that this is a rare honour indeed, until I read in the newspaper that my fellow Briton, Lord Tristan Garel-Jones, was doing just that two weeks ago. I would like to say it doesn’t count, because he is Welsh and not English, but then I might offend my dear friend and deep aficionado Noel Chandler who is here today. Also, since Lord Garel-Jones’s talk was the annual Pregón Taurino of La Maestranza, and it was delivered with such eloquence, I must doff my cap, and have provided a copy of it courtesy of its author.

So I am now faced with the problem many matadors have in facing a bull immediately after a colleague has taken two ears. Continue reading