The Pamplona Post goes to Cuéllar (again)


The Streets of Almería by Night (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

The Streets of Almería by Night (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Almería is a pretty little town of extreme heat at the eastern end of the Andalusian coastline. I first came here last year during their feria of the Virgin of the Sea, in order to meet with the greatest American bull-runner Joe Distler. ‘Buffalo’ Bill Hillmann and I, the young pretender to Joe’s throne – a Chicago Golden Gloves winning boxer and Chicago Tribune freelancing writer – came to ask for some advice about the encierros, ‘bull-runs’ of Cuéllar. Less famous, and less spoiled, less drunken and less glorious than Pamplona – all in all, less ‘Hemingway’ – I wrote it up for the Financial Times, as Bill did for the Tribune, both of us using photos by my old friend Nicolás Haro (who took the black and white photos for my book on my time as a torero, ‘bullfighter’, the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2011 shortlisted Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight.)

As a result of our writing and running… well… if I’m honest, as a result of their need for tourism, Bill, Nicolás and I have been awarded a prize by the town which, of course, we have to go an collect in person. So, I thought I’d recreate my pilgrimage, coming to sit at the feet of Don José Distler once again. Not least because he didn’t come to Pamplona this year, breaking a tradition of running all eight daily encierros there every year for 45 years straight! (My own adventures in Pamplona this year were of minor interest, the crowds being so thick that the only day I got truly close to the bulls I was so surprised and admiring of the pulse and surge of jet black toro bravo beside me that I failed to see the man in front of me trip and fall, bringing me down. So I was trampled by man an animal alike until I rolled clear to the side of the street and was yanked to my feet by none other than John Hemingway. I was also pulled up by our friend Graeme Galloway, who runs the Pamplona Posse, but that is not quite so serendipitous a namedrop as the man whose grandfather brought the crowds who trampled me in the first place.)

Joe is, like all truly wild men, also a creature of traditions and habits. Read on by clicking here.

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  1. I visited Almeria a couple of years ago and really enjoyed my stay. I’ve seen the town being described as ‘The Marseille of Andalucia” which I find is a pretty good description. There were no festejos during the period I was there, though, but I did visit the ring. I hope you stayed at the Gran Hotel; the hotel have hosted many a torero and also some great actors such as Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood. I would guess though, that you would be their first guess who has experience in both professions.

    I come here on a different subject though, and if you have the time, maybe you could help me. The other day I found myself trapped in one of the endless and somewhat tiresome discussions on the morals of bullfighting. It’s no secret among my friends and acquaintances that I’ve attended some corridas, and some of them love to make me explain why.

    This particular discussion ended up focusing on the horses, and my friend claimed that the picadors’ horses vocal chords are cut in order to render it impossible for them to ‘scream’. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I actually never had (and I have read quite a bit about the fiesta) and at the time I just dismissed it as absurd.

    I still sounds like an incredibly strange practice for me, If it ever existed, but I’ve found that it’s a very common claim on animal-rights and anti-taurine pages and such.

    Do you know where this comes from? I cannot find any facts about it. It’s actually quite hard to find good information about the horses in general, especially in english (my castillano is no where near good enough for this), so If you have tips on where or what to read, please point me in the right direction. I would really like to have some hard facts, like actually how common is a serious injury to the horse?

    I’ve not attend many corridas, but from what I’ve seen I never felt that the horses were suffering, stressed or scared at all. Even if they fall they seem to be properly trained for it. But, like I said, my experience is somewhat limited.

    Thank you for a great blog and a great book.
    (I understand your desire to move on, but I hope you
    stay in the taurine world and write another book.
    There are a lot more questions to be answered, and
    stories to be told.)


  2. Mikael, Sorry for the delay. I have running with bulls in Spain. I believe I talk about the horses in my section on Bullfighting Ethics – hit the link on that page. I’ve never seen a picador’s horse injured, although in rejoneo, which I do not like, they sometimes are. They’re trained to do it, which is why they do not whinny. Although I have heard one or two neighs in the ring. AFH

  3. Thank you for your reply Alexander! I have read your Bullfighting Ethics section, as well as your book and other books (such as Catherine Tosko’s interviews you mention on this blog) where the subject of the horses (in corrida de toros) are quite thoroughly examined.

    It was the specific claim, the one about the vocal chords, I was wondering about – since I had to dismiss it without actually having heard or read about it before. Then, the lack of fact is sometimes proof in it self, and I have done some more research after I posted the last comment.

    Seems like although the claim itself seems to be a regular one on anti-taurine pages, the origin of it is impossible to find. I struggled through some spanish pages – they are more moderate and not as quick as the northern-european ones to call absolute truths – and in Spain the claim exists but is formulated more in the form of “there have been documented cases where the horses’ vocal chords have been cut, but there is no proof that this practise exists today”.

    I never found those documented cases. Like you said, 99% of the horror pictures floating around are either historic or from rejoneo, not corrida.

    Thank you again for a great blog – and for your answer – and I hope you had a couple of good runs.
    I for my self will have to settle for a somewhat less adventurous trip to Madrid
    in a couple of weeks for the end of the temporada. Cheers.

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