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

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.

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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

My article on newspaper horseracing tipsters for The Times (full length)

Who to back in the Grand National? Not the tipsters

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

April 12, 2012

Alexander Fiske Harrison checks out the racing tips in the various newspapers before placing a bet (Photo: Times Photographer Matt Lloyd)

The “Sport of Kings” is not something I have ever wanted to know a lot about. I’ve had the odd flutter on the Grand National or the Ascot Gold Cup, but that no more makes me an aficionado of racing than the odd game of poker makes me a card sharp. Also, when I bet, I tend to lose, which – luckily for me – is something I really don’t like. Gambling is not in my blood.

Which is why it is ironic that the most dangerous thing I have ever done – to fight a bull in the Spanish style – resulted in my having to take up betting.

The short version is this: in 2008 I went to Spain to take a proper look at their bizarre national pastime of fighting bulls. I went with what I thought was an open, balanced mind – half full of doubts about what the animal rights groups were saying, half with doubts about pro-bullfighting authors like Ernest Hemingway.

After a year watching from the stands I decided I was for it (with serious reservations) and the matadors I met all said that if I really wanted to describe their world, I had to see it from the sand. I did, I survived, and I wrote the whole two years as a book which was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, the “Bookie” Prize. I didn’t win, but what I did end up with was a thousand pounds at William Hill which I had to bet.

You might think that someone crazy enough to become a bullfighter would just go hell for leather (excuse the pun) and put it all on the nose of a horse chosen with a pin and The Times’s racing section. However, bullfighting, for the survivors at least, is actually about risk management. The trick is to keep your cool and remain rational.

Now, I know a bit about horses, but this was clearly no help as people who have devoted their lives to studying them usually lose. That said, clearly some people make a living at it and they are called bookies. Or racing journalists.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison with an Andalusian (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

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Capote y Toros, 157 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5

Back when my book, Into The Arena, was published last year the Reuter’s editor Angus MacSwan decided to interview me at a new, bullfighting-themed tapas bar in South Kensington called Capote y Toros (‘cape and bulls’).

All the food was excellent, especially the gambas al ajillo – sizzling prawns in garlic. It also has the largest selection of sherries in London: not only the standard finos, olorosos and amontillados of Jerez de la Frontera and Puerto de Santa María, but also the manzanillas of Sanlucar de Barrameda. CyT is also the only place I have found in London with proper jamón ibérico de bellota – the pata negra name you sometimes hear refers to the distinctive black hooves of the ibérico breed. They import the 5J from the town synonymous with jamón: Jabugo.

So when a production company asked for a good venue in which to talk about bulls, this is where we ended up, under the photos of all the great matadors alive today from Curro Romero to Morante de la Puebla (its name is capote after all.)

While I was there, the restauranteuraficionado Abel Lusa came along to say hello. He recently opened CyT and also owns the more formal tapas restaurant Tendido Cero across the road, and the justly famed Cambio de Tercio a few doors down, a favourite of the likes of Rafa Nadal when he’s in town and most recently graced by the Duchess of Cambridge.

Abel Lusa

(I was meant to eat there with Giles Coren so he could review it along with my book as as follow up to his piece on my training as a bullfighter, but they don’t do lunch, so we went to 34 instead.)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

The matador Juan José Padilla triumphs

Juan José Padilla tours the ring in triumph on the shoulders of our friend Adolfo Suárez Illana (click to enlarge)

Juan José Padilla is a Spanish matador whose generosity of time, spirit and courage allowed much of my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, to exist (click here to purchase at Amazon UK, and here for Amazon US). And, without him, as many critics pointed out, it certainly have been as widely praised as it was (nor shortlisted for Sports Book Of The Year 2011, I suspect.)

Juan José was the first matador I met in Spain. It was he who took me to my first training session with cattle at the ranch of Álvaro Domecq, ‘Los Alburejos’ (and then onto his own nightclub ‘La Lola’ in Jerez de la Frontera afterwards). This – including the club – forms chapter three of the book. He was also with my when I first entered the ring myself at the ranch of Fuente Ymbro (chapter four), and much, much more besides.

So, when I heard about his horrific goring, detailed in the post here, in which he lost his left eye I knew that I had to be present when he inevitably returned to the ring.

However, no amount of confidence inspired by Juan José’s words when I visited him at home two days before the fight, nor seeing the calm beauty of the bulls in their natural wilderness the day before that, could prepare me for his triumph in the ring, ending with him being carried out on the shoulders not of the crowd as is usual with a great success in the plaza, but on the shoulders of the top matadors of today – who had gathered to watch – and now jockeyed to carry the Maestro themselves.

However, should you wish to know more of Juan José, read Into The Arena, and then go and see him in Valencia on March 16th alongside the No.1 matador in Spain, José María Manzanares or they will both be fighting at my own favourite ring, in Seville at the April Fair, on the 20th and again, with his old friend Fandi (the technical no .1 in Spain) and El Cordobés on the 28th (you can buy tickets here). I would suggest that in Seville those on a budget stay at the Hotel Adriano (website here) next to the bullring, those who want old beauty stay with my friends at the Hotel Las Casas de la Juderia (website here), and those who prefer the boutique, with my friends at the Hotel Corral del Rey (website here). Direct flights from London are by Ryanair and Easyjet.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Juan José Padilla with his capote (Photo: Daniel Ochoa de Olza / APMore Photos)

My interview on BBC Radio Oxford

As the Oxford Mail reported, my talk at Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford on my book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight was finally cancelled following a debacle involving purported death-threats and postponements for security reasons which all seemed deeply dubious.

However, as a result, I was invited to talk instead on Bille Heine’s Sunday morning show on BBC Radio Oxford. The other guests were a hunt saboteur, a representative of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – PETA – and the secretary of the Club Taurino of London – CTL.

You can find the interview by clicking here. It begins one hour into the show and lasts for an hour.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison

The Man of the Moment: Juan José Padilla

Screen capture of interview (videos embedded below)

I have embedded below, in two parts, Canal Sur’s Jesús Quintero interviewing the matador Juan José Padilla – and his wife Lidia at the end of the second part – about his forthcoming return to the ring in Olivenza on March 4th, following his horrific injuries I posted about here. Not for nothing did Continue reading

Matador Juan José Padilla returns to the ring… and so do I

My friend, the legendary matador Juan José Padilla who is the first four chapters of my book Into The Arena, whose terrible goring last year cost him an eye as detailed here, is confirmed to return to the professional arena in Olivenza, Spain, on the final day of the feria there on Sunday, March 4th.

The matadors who are to accompany him are two of greatest working today. Morante de la Puebla, the Divine Cape, is an artistic genius and a childhood friend of Padillas. The second is José María Manzanares, son of the great matador of the same name, who put in a performace last year which stunned Spain and elevated him to “man of the moment”. Only Julián López – El Juli – and José Tomás also fight at this level.

They will be facing the best bulls in Spain, Núñez del Cuvillo, whose cattle are known for their ferocity and courage (as I have experienced myself). It was one of their bulls, fought by Manzanares, who was pardoned for bravery in Seville last year – the first pardon in that discerning ring in half a century.

I will be at Padilla’s side in training on the ranch – my own return to the ring with cattle – and in the callejón – the bullfighter’s alley – at the plaza de toros itself.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Juan José Padilla with a Miura bull, Pamplona 2011 (Photo: AFH personal collection)