Juan José Padilla, matador, friend, my “Spanish brother”

I hear, courtesy of our mutual brother-in-arms Adolfo Suárez Illana (son of the founder of democratic Spain and its first president, Adolfo Suárez), that the matador Juan José Padilla is recovering following a long operation to try to repair the terrible damage wreaked on his face by a bull in Zaragoza on Friday evening. As the photo shows, the bull Marqués no. 8, from the breeder Ana Romero, pounced on Padilla as he tripped and fell during the act of the banderillas – Padilla being one of the few matadors in the modern era who places his own banderillas, rather than delegating it to his banderilleros. The bull, which weighed 508kg and was 5 years and 8 months old (only four months short of the upper age limit) entered its horn under the left hand side of his jaw and drove it up and out through his left eye socket. As the bull was drawn off him by the other toreros’ capes Padilla got to his feet saying “I can’t see, I can’t see” before collapsing into the arms of his assistants and being carried from the ring to the infirmary and from there to hospital. The bull’s horn severed the main facial nerve of the left side of Padilla’s face, which is now paralysed, and the optic nerve of the eye which seems unlikely to recover its sight. The bull was then killed by Miguel Abellán, who wept as he did so, having only recently recovered from a similarly bad goring himself.

Whilst researching my book, I came to know Padilla very well and he features in a half dozen chapters in my book, Into The Arena. He is a force of nature who dwarfs everything around him, as I am sure he will this terrible injury. The best description of him I have heard is that of my mother who met him with me at a bullfight in Cazalla de la Sierra in ’09. She said he was like Scaramouche, who in the novel’s opening line is described as “born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad, and that was his entire patrimony.” The photo below is from the tail end of one of our wild nights out, taken by my friend Nicolás Haro (as is the one above), with Padilla’s childhood friend, the great flamenco dancer Antonio ‘El Pipa’ in the foreground at his house. You can read the extract of that chapter of the book at The Pamplona Post here.

Suerte Maestro.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

P.S. All of this has quite rightly taken precedence in my mind over my dispute with the philosopher Mark Rowlands in The Times Literary Supplement, which can be found here, and which I will follow up further soon. Needless to say, any man who can write, “Padilla is more likely to die trying to get to the arena than in it,” clearly hasn’t got the faintest idea what he is talking about, nor has the dignity to keep his ignorance to himself.

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  1. Bullseye! What a shame… Now he has an extra hole to smoke that cigar with! Padilla clearly deserved a few banderillas in his neck as well, to even things up a bit. He got away very lightly compared to the poor old bull. And I bet the insurance covers his medical bills at some plush hospital and rest home? No veterinary hospital for the bull I bet? From the El Pais video doing the rounds, it looks like it hurt a lot? Now he knows what it feels like to be gored, maybe Padilla will stop with these barbaric, cruel, inhuman acts of shamefulness against bulls? Fighting? Pah! That’s like claiming the women and children of Guernica stood a fighting chance when the Condor Legion saturation bombed them in 1937! And shame on the crowd of aged imbecile Francoists who clearly enjoyed watching this sicko spectacle of cruelty! And as for the crocodile tears of the younger matadors… “Your time is going to come” as the song says. Good luck to the bulls! And may Spain come to its senses and ban this brutality very soon.

  2. Exactly the sort of small-minded, sordid nastiness I have come to expect from anti-taurinos. Inhumane and vicious. Do you also applaud when you hear of abattoir workers falling into the machinery? Shame on you marko.delancey@gmail.com AF-H

  3. Barbara Ritchie says:

    Mr. Delancey (comment but one above) seems not to make a distinction between HIMSELF (as a human) and the BULL (as an animal). He seems to have acquired “the brains of a bull” and to have conflated these two species into one. He appears to think that the BULL is a PERSON. ONE of the many cultural themes/”social messages” of La Corrida , is the distinction which ALL HUMAN CULTURES aim to make between “Nature” and “Culture”. In some ways, THAT is what “culture” is all about.(distinguishing “Culture” from “Nature”.) Perhaps, if Mr. Delancy is educated enough to know how to read, he might try some of the works by Claude Levi-Strauss for starters. HUMANS have ALWAYS “used” animals as metaphors for “social statements” about THEMSELVES. About HUMANS! (Aboriginal totemic thought, for example in which a group may substitute/conflate themselves with animals in their experience: “WE are the snakes”, or “The WOLF is our ancestor” for example.

    Anthropomorphism has been increasingly popular in literature for the last 200 years or so (books with “life” as “seen through the eyes” of an animal protangonist and so forth, but this sort of literature consists largely of HUMAN stories, substituting animals for humans–animals who REACT to life as humans, FEEL as do humans, THINK like humans etc. etc. (Bambi, Ferdinand, etc. etc. Walt Disney, David Attenborough & co. , it seems, have allot to answer for!!!) . The difficulty here is that, just as many people these days increasingly seem unable to distinguish fiction from reality (as found by recent studies of children and their computer games), and so anthropomorphism and the inability to distinguish HUMANS from other ANIMALS is increasingly rife among our media-obsessed populations. Mr. Delancy might, if he is able to read, also try a bit of the ever-popular Richard Dawkins. What is “the world” like from (the REAL) mind of a dog/cat/elephant/bull/earthworm etc.etc.? Dawkins, if I read him correctly, would have it that this is a product of the development of that creature’s neurological structure and that only humans can think symbolically and metaphorically (which is why they are able to create the delusion that there is a God…and unable to realize that this IS a delusion)…

    But, and I apologize, this comment is becoming too long-winded—Mr. Delancy, if you are still reading A. F-H’s “stuff”: GROW UP and THINK!! Your time is going to come! YOU, too, will one day realize that you have a HUMAN brain which thinks metaphorically and symbolically and come to know that you are substituting YOURSELF for a bull.

  4. Barbara Ritchie says:

    Oh, and one more thing: Mr. DeLancey: one other of the themes/cultural “messages” contained within the ritual of La Corrida is (alas! poor Mr. Dawkins!) that there IS God by performing a metaphorical Catholic “Passion” re-enactment : “New Life” -THROUGH -Death (but substituting a BULL for a HUMAN)–thus La Corrida is one of THE most “LIFE-AFFIRMING” ritual performative re-enactments ever devised by any culture anywhere in the world!!

  5. Pass on our thoughts to Padilla. I like your mother’s description of him, he is definetly a larger than life figure, whether he is telling tendido siete where to go or wearing one of his unique trajes, and you always picture with a smile on his face.
    Marko, you are an idiot, and I should know i’ve met a few!

  6. Marko Delancey, if you spoke Spanish you could read “Imbecile Francoists” who support bullfighting like Francisco March, bullfighting critic of La Vanguardia newspaper (lifelong communist) or Víctor Gómez Pin, philosophy professor of the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona (lifelong communist) and perhaps start getting a clue to how wrong you are about everything. Poor England. So many rabid, petty, vicious, smallminded people like you in it, longing to lynch everyone who doesn’t agree with them.

  7. Re England, I was referring exclusively to its political and animal rights extremists, of which sadly it has more than its fair share.

  8. fiskeharrison !
    Inhumane and vicious??? Do you also applaud when you hear people throwing dogs from cliffs and kills kittens with gasoline and fire for fun? F#%¤ idiot , whats the difference? we can have a gladiator game and stick spears so you bleed to death, that would be fun right?

    its a shame that he didnt die, but i hope it hurt and his face looks really ugly.

  9. People who love humans less than animals are indeed inhumane, in a very fundamental and damaged way. Like you xeno_85@hotmail.com AFH

  10. Two points.

    1. Not good form to use this tragic accident in any way as ammunition in a petty spat with a journo. If you have to let him know then do so, but not in public.

    2. If an email address is ‘not for publication’ then respect that, A F-H. The blogosphere should welcome an open exchange of views but subject to the basic rule of anonymity if desired. Just because you don’t like what someone says, that doesn’t sanction your violation of basic rules and administrator rights.

    ps. the above does not mean that i in any way agree with RB.

  11. Hello from Spain, and congratulations for the effort you (Mr. Fiske-Harrison), have made in order to understand and to promote the inner nature of toreo. It is sad to see how some extremist enjoy watching a man suffering just because it fits in their insane point of view. I think they are not very far away from those jihadists who celebrate the death of infidels, with a complete lack of remorse or commiseration, just because it is justified by their extreme philosophy.
    Besides, even vegetarians don’t give a damn of the myriads of animals that farmers “kill” (with pesticides and other products) so as to get them their fresh and green meals. Alas, those tiny animals have multiple eyes, several legs, and antenna, so they don’t seem to be worth the effort of “fighting for their rights” nor they look “humanizable” enough to raise any concern or sympathy from these groups.

  12. Dear Bob, I could not disagree more. I think that it is only the feeling of anonymity which allows people to say such terrible things and I will gladly do what I can to stop it. They are like individuals in mobs who hurl rocks at policemen but would lack the courage to confront one in person. And whatever the prevailing “blogosphere etiquette” (if ever there was an oxymoron…) has been, I did not sign up for it and have never taken advantage of it. If you come onto my blog and say things like that about my friend, all bets are off. Second, as the matador Vincente Barrera just said when he dedicated a bull to Padilla: this shows bullfighting is real. A sentiment Padilla has expressed to me many times. This is thus a perfect opportunity to point out the absurdity of the views of a critic in passing, especially as his most recent letter sits on the coffee table of tens of thousands of British homes. Whilst this has its accidental nature, it was far from beings a “tragic accident” and, to some extent, Padilla was fighting for something – and against people like Prof. Rowlands. Rgds, AF-H

  13. I totally wish this had not happened to Padilla. I don’t know him personally, in fact I never even heard of him before this happened…but I so wish he didn’t have to have gone through this! Do I agree with bullfighting? well, I don’t know about that. But I would never in a million years wish this type of thing on anyone and I certainly wouldn’t be happy that a human being is suffering like this!!! You all should be careful who are making fun of this man! It could be you next who has a horrific accident! Have you never heard what the Bible says? You SHALL reap what you sow!!! Making fun of this man is wrong!!! My prayers and thoughts go out to Padilla and his family/friends. God bless!

  14. Well said Bea. A humanitarian voice. AFH

  15. Thanks.

  16. I’ve only met Padilla a few times during Sanfermínes, but enjoyed his work and art.

  17. Aye. Gracias.

  18. Concerned says:

    How is he recovering?

  19. Not well. Not well. The eye seems to be gone and recuperative depression is setting in… AFH

  20. I am terribly sorry to hear this. I will keep him and his family & friends in my prayers!!

  21. Going to post more on Padilla very soon.

  22. Thomas Wallace says:

    i have just finished reading,Into the arena-truly compelling.I had seen the outcome of Juan jose Padilla`s last contest on video,not knowing he would feature in the book,i got as a present.A larger than life character, the likes of which make this world a much more interesting place,when there is so much negativity around at present.My thoughts go out to Senor Padilla,his wife,family and friends.Stay strong you make this world a better place!God bless.

  23. Thankyou and Merry Christmas. AFH

  24. STEVE LEEK says:

    I am british we drop bombs on men women and kids daily for profit.even nuclear weapons ready to go.we are the second bigist arms exporter in the world.we british are barbaric.All the best to padilla

  25. Jean-Pierre says:

    I do not support bull fighting. I think if we could simply ask a bull what they wanted, the bull would have nothing to do with the challenge of a matador. I think that this is not a sport. Bull fighting is a show of lessons and culture in a theatrical setting.
    I was horrified to see the picture and read about the injury sustained by Mr. Padilla. I think he shows character in keeping the mind set that he has kept. He inspires respect. Good Luck Mr Padilla. Other humans can learn from your recovery.

  26. Sorry to post this, but couldn’t find your email quicky. I’m a journalist with Canada’s largest newspaper publisher. If you get this on Friday March 2, and are able to reply today, can you email me back about Juan Jose Padilla? It’s for a weekend piece. Thanks in advance.


  1. [...] those that missed the news story (here) Spain’s bravest matador, Juan José Padilla – a friend of mine and major character in [...]

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