The Cult Of The Bull

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As the 2013 season draws to a close, I have just received my copy of Olé! Capturing the Passion of Bullfighters and Aficionados in the 21st Century, which is filled with chapters and photos by some the foremost among the English-speaking faithful in the Spanish ‘Cult Of The Bull’, brought together and edited by Hal Marcovitz. (Available at Amazon in the US here, and the UK here.)

Among famous names such as Edward Lewine of the The New York Times, and John Hemingway, grandson of Ernest, there is an amazing chapter by the primus inter pares among runners of the bulls of Pamplona, the great Joe Distler, a veteran of over three hundred and sixty  encierros, ‘bull-runs’, who “took me under his wing” (as I say in the book), and augmented and altered my afición, which was born in the flamenco and duende laden south of Spain.

It was he who suggested I write my own chapter in the book, and alongside us our friends and running mates Larry Belcher, a Texan rodeo rider turned professor at the University of Valladolid, Jim Hollander, the greatest photographer of Pamplona and the war-zones and torn places of the Earth for EPA, and ‘Buffalo’ Bill Hillmann, so justly noted among the young American bull-runners.

There are also wonderful photographs, alongside those by Jim (who is responsible for the stunning cover), from my dear friend from Seville, Nicolás Haro, shortlisted contestant for the internationally presitigious Photo España prize.

(Nicolás also took the black and white photos in my own William Hill Sports Book of the Year shortlisted Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight.)

His work on horses is being exhibited in an exhibition in Seville on December 3rd (for which I have literally just filed the ‘foreword’ to the catalogue.)

Photo Espana Nicolas Haro

I should add a mention of my review of the complete letters of Hemingway, from the period 1923-1925, when his interest in bullfighting and Spain first developed, for The Spectator, online here.

However, it is not my own writing I should like to promote in this blog post, but that of the other writers in Olé!, some of whom I have not exactly seen eye-to-eye with over the years.

The essay which most took me aback is on the history of bullfighting by the senior English aficionado of bullfighting, Michael Wigram. I have known Mr. Wigram a little for a while, and have always been impressed by his scholarship, even if I have vehemently disagreed with his assessment of one of the supreme toreros, ‘bullfighters’, of recent times – now stepping softly and slowly into retirement – José Tomás.

Michael Wigram & Joe Distler at Taberna Las Botas in Almería (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Michael Wigram & Joe Distler, Almeria 2013 by Alexander Fiske-Harrison

I had always assumed this was because of an admirable if misguided loyalty to his friend Enrique Ponce whom I termed in my book “The Rolex of Bullfighters” (meaning both connotations of that phrase.)

However, my judgment was false, on his motives if not his conclusions, which should not have been unexpected given his scholarship and study; after all, he was one of the founders of the most influential of Spanish bullfighting magazines, 6Toros6.

Where we differ is actually is in the very fundaments of our afición  (a word with a common etymology with the English word ‘affection’.) As I have come to understand, his interest aspires to be a emotionless fascination. In his own words to the press: “Es el problema de buscar emociones. Yo prefiero la inteligencia.” ‘It is the problem of looking for emotions. I prefer intelligence.’

Fiske-Harrison and Padilla with a Saltillo by Paloma Gaytán de Ayala

Fiske-Harrison and Padilla with a Saltillo by Paloma Gaytán de Ayala

My own obsession with the art-form of bullfighting, as with any art-form, is the emotion it inspires in myself and others, the mechanism of which I have tried to explicate in, for example, my writing on the toreo of José Mari Manzanares here.

Of course, I do understand - and admire - the craft required to create that art. I have faced the cattle of Miura – young cattle, I admit – more often than any torero who does not specialise in the toros duros, the ‘hard bulls’, and when I killed a three-year-old bull, it was a Saltillo, a breed I was actively warned against by the famous one-eyed matador of Miuras, Juan José Padilla. And it was he who personally helped me to learn their idiosyncrasies as the photo on the right shows.

However, just as I admire Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa as a writer, who only wrote one book, The Leopard, I really don’t care that certain toreros choose not to to slog away with impossible bulls in impossible places, even if I may agree with the meta-argument that it is unfortunate for bullfighting in general, and perhaps even damaging to it, if everyone fights a generic encaste Domecq bull that charges “mounted on rails”, in Hemingway’s memorable phrase.

That said, I was delighted to see Don Miguel offer a much more reasoned – and thus reasonable – assessment of Tomás’s place in taurine history in his chapter, which is why I reproduce it in full below. (This nicely mirrors our own personal dealings, no doubt assited by our mutual friends, Joe Distler and Burghie Westmorland. For this reason I also reproduce the historic family tree of the Spanish fighting bulls Michael handed me last time I saw him at Restaurant Horacio in the feria of his namesake San Miguel.

Anyway, I digress, below is Michael Wigram’s chapter.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Pulling the Cart

Michael Wigram

The expression “tirar del caro” or “to pull the cart” is almost as old as taurine journalism itself. It was used yet again in recent interviews by two distinguished toreros. First by El Juli, who implied that he was getting tired of the strain after so many temporadas. Secondly by Paco Camino, who was asked for his opinion on Jóse Tomás, and replied laconically, “That one does not pull the cart.”

The toreros who pull the cart are the figuras, the leading men, who are as the motor, which keeps the whole show on the road; and it is an exhausting task, since it means going from feria to feria, criss-crossing Spain and France, from Casellon and Valencia in March to Zaragossa and Jaen in October. Hence, Antonio Ordóñez’s succinct verdict, “If you cannot sleep well in a car you will never be a figura.”

Of course, the figuras are not alone. They have their cuadrillas, managers, mozos de espadas, drivers, to assist them and to worry about. Then there is a second bank of matadors, “toreros de ferias” or cartel fillers, who cannot fill the rings on their own, but who can supposedly help in that regard. The bull breeders obviously have a vital part to play, but very few of them have sufficient drawing power at the box office to stand alone. Because selling tickets, not just in one or two rings, now and then, but in feria after feria, year after year, is the acid test. For those who draw the cart.

There is a minor division in the villages, where so called “modest” toreros are featured. These corridas are usually subsidized by the town hall, and have suffered heavily in the current [financial] crisis. They could not survive on their, because this modest market, on its own, could not support the ganaderías. It is useful, as it absorbs bulls that are left over, often with some minor defect, but even here the promoter will try to lure a well-known torero, to avoid the sad sight of an empty ring.

Pedro Romero, born in 1754, is the first major figura whose name has come down to us. At the end of his career he wrote a letter to a certain Antonio Bote, in which he states that he was active from 1771 to 1799, and killed an average of two hundred bulls a year, giving his total “que a mi sumahacen 5,600 toros.” In addition to his many corridas for the court in Madrid, he fought in the north in Vizcaya and Navarra, in Aragon, Valencia, Murcia, Andalucía, La Mancha and Extramadura. He also fought in Lisbon, but he does not mention Catalunia. He singles out Aranjuez, Alicante, Cartagena, Orihuela, Almadén, Madridejos, Almagro, Valdepeñas, and “other various villages near the court,” Cadiz, Puerto de Santa Maria, Jerez, Granada, Seville, Badajoz, his own home town of Ronda, Málaga, Loja and “many other places in this area.

It is an impressive list, all the more so bearing in mind the terrible state of the roads, often swarming with bandits. According to one account there was no road at all in parts of Andalucía, and travelers road across the country as if in the time of the wild West.

The other cart pullers at this time were Joaquín Rodríguez Costillares and José Delgado, known as “Pepe-Hillo,” succeeded by the great Francisco Montes, known as “Paquiro,” and then in turn by Francisco Arjona, “Cúchares,” and José Redondo, “El Chiclanero,” Antonio Sánchez, “El Tato,” and Antonio Carmona, “El Gordito,” Rafael Molina, “Lagartijo,” and Salvador Sánchez, “Frascuelo,” whose famous rivalry lasted more than 20 years (1868 to 1889) and divided Spain. The 19th century closed with absolute monarchy of the great Rafael Guerra, “Guerrita,” whose arrogance was as great as his considerable prowess and made him so unpopular at the end of his career that whistles were sold outside the plazas “to whistle as Guerrita,” as the public flocked to the rings in the hope of seeing him fail.

I was told one story by an old gentleman from his home town of Córdoba, which may be true, that it seems when Guerrita fought in Córdoba he would give a lunch party in his house—for men only. He ate a big meal complete with brandy and cigars. He then retired to his bedroom, in the same patio as the dining room, and made love to his wife, making sure that her cries of joy could be heard by his guests. He then emerged completely naked, and was sponged down under the pump. He was then dressed in his suit of lights, rode to the plaza in an open carriage, killed two or more bulls, and, if all went according to plan, was carried home in triumph, on the shoulders of his fans.

“After me nobody, and after nobody, [Antonio] Fuentes,” said Guerrita, when he cut his coletain Zaragoza in 1899, driven out by the public, as he also claimed. “I am not retiring, I have been thrown out,” he said. But, in fact, his heirs were Ricardo Torres, “Bombita,” from Seville, and his fellow Córdoban, Rafael Gónzalez, “Machaquito,” who pulled the cart together for the next decade, alternating in the leadership, in the number of corridas fought. Both endured numerous cornadas, in contrast to Lagartijo, and Guerrita himself, for that matter. Bombita was noted for his courage, his alegríaand his ability to dominate difficult bulls with the muleta. His weakness was the sword. He had an extensive repertoire with the cape. He fought 692 corridas during his career, at a time when there were fewer corridas. In contrast, Machaquito’s great strength was the “authenticity and honor” or his spectacular skills. One of which was immortalized in Mariano Benlliure’sLa Stocada De La Tarde.

Machaquito headed the list for the last time in 1911, with 66 corridas. The following year Joselito took the alternativa and the Golden Age began, namely the official rivalry, and de facto alliance, between José Gómez, “Joselito” and Juan Belmonte. In fact, it was short and sweet. Since Belmonte did not take the alternativa until the autumn of 2013, and took a rest in 1918, and José was killed in May 1920—they only had five complete temporadas together: 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1919. After Joselito’s death, Belmonte completed the temporada, and the following one, in 1921. Inspite of a painful wound in the mouth in Seville, which kept him out of action for two months, he finished the season with 69 corridas, far less than his record 110 in 1919, but still a respectable figure since the leader that year, MarcialLalanda, “only” fought 79. He then announced he was retiring because “every day the public is harder on me,” a complaint that echoed Guerrita’s some 20 years earlier.

Joselito and Belmonte pulled the cart with a vengeance. In 1915 Joselito fought 102 corridas, the first torero to pass the century mark. He fought 105 in 1916 and 103 the next year. We are told that he was contracted to torear more than a hundred every year from 1914 to 1919 inclusive, and only illness and injuries suffered in the ring reduced this figure. In all, he fought 681 corridas, 257 of them with Juan Belmonte, 81 in Madrid, 58 in Seville, 29 in San Sebastián, 26 in Bilbao and 19 in Zaragoza—the five most difficult plazas at that time. He killed all six bulls no less than 23 times, as a full matador, and twice as a novillero. He fought six Miuras in Valencia in 1815. In all he fought the Miruas 40 times, including seven corridas in Seville, four in Zaragoza, three in Bilbao, two in Madrid and one in San Sebastián.

Joselito also fought 24 corridas of [ganadero] Pablo Romero, including three in Madrid, three in Bilbao, and two in San Sebastián. The bulls of Victorino Martín did not exist, as such, in these days; but their ancestors—Saltillo, Santa Coloma and later Albaserrada did. Joselito fought 66 times, no less than 12 in Madrid and half a dozen each in Seville and San Sebastián. Moreover, in 1915 he took all six Santa Colomas in San Sebastián in August, and followed up with another six in Seville during the Feria de San Miguel. The next year he did the same thing in Salamanca with the Saltillos. Finally, in 1917 he killed six Albaserradas in Barcelona. Today, we are very impressed if someone kills all six Victorinos once—but four times in three temporadas is too much!

It was too much for the respectable public of Madrid, as lovely then as they are now, who gave Joselito a terrible bronco the day before his death in Talavera, in spite of all his superb triumphs in that plaza—or was it because of them? Guerrita, Joselito and Belmonte all suffered in the same way for their pains in pulling the cart, and so did Manolete twenty-five years later. “The greater the torero the bigger the bronca” is an old taurine maxim.

Joselito was a torero in the classic tradition: very athletic, superb with the bandilleras, and master of a variety of different quites.  In those says, a quite was a real quite. The matadors took turns in taking the bull away from the horse, very often to rescue a picador in danger. There was great rivalry in this department, especially when a bull killed several horses. At the start of the golden age the cape was at least as important as the muleta, which Joselito also dominated. His weakest point was the sword, which was also the case with Belmonte.

Belmonte was different, a genuine revolutionary, although he had forerunners, such as Montes, Augustín Rodríguez, “La Reverte,” and Manuel García, “Espartero.” He had a limited repertoire with the cape, mainly his verónicas and his famous medias. He did not place the banderillas, but always enjoyed at least one brilliant banderillo in his cuadrilla, to keep the public more or less happy. His great strenth was the muleta. He stood very still for those days, his “quietud,” he he moved the sloth slowly, again for those days, his “temple.”

The great Gurrita’s reaction to these two is very significant. When he first saw Joselito, as a novillero, he predicted great things for him. When he first saw Belmonte he declared, “The bull that is going to kill him is already eating grass.” Fate proved otherwise.

Joselito and Belmonte became very close, so much so that in the course of time, Joselito often arranged the contracts for both of them. When they traveled on the same train, as they often did, they shared a compartment, but they took care to leave the train by separate doors, to maintain the official rivalry, from which they both benefitted enormously. They divided Spain, and their supporters often came to blows. An aficionado from Santander told me that his father only went to bars or restaurants run by the Belmontistas, but he had his hair cut by a Gallista, on a condition that they never talked about the bulls.

A famous corrida of Concha y Sierra bulls in Madrid in 1917 gives us a thumbnail sketch of what went on in the rings. First, three of the bulls were rejected for lack of trapío. Some critics wrote that they should all have been rejected since they were all more or less the same size. The rejected animals were replaced by three huge bulls from the undistinguished ganadería of Gregorio Campos. The third man that afternoon was the brilliant Mexican Rodolfo Gaono, a great athlete of the classic school.

Joselito and Gaona covered themselve with glory with their quites and banderillas. Belmonte had a disaster with his first bull, a big ugly manso.  The corrida was the eighth that year in which Belmonte had appeared in Madrid on the same cartel as Joselito, and the public turned on him. A sector started to  chant “Los Dos Solos!”— “The other two alone!”–they wanted Juan to take no further part in the proceedings. The last bull was the famous Barbero of Concha y Sierra, a small but astifino animal, weighing some twenty-three arrobas, roughly 420 kilos (live weight, impossibly small by today’s standards.) There were loud protests, which inhibited Belmonte with the cape. However, Barbero was a brave bull that proceeded to kill four horses. This evidence of his destructive power silenced the protests.

Belmonte then produced a faena of 22 pases, with such temple and quietud that it has been called the first modern faena. It was not—because Juan never linked thepases in series. He started with a paseayudawith his feet together. Then he gave a natural and a chest pass, very close to the bull, which produced the first olés de entusiasmo. There followed a natural described as “sublime,” followed by another natural and a chest pass “con mucho valentia,” and two ayudadosporbajo. Then came a derechazo, a high pass with the left hand, and two of his famous molinetes. He then went down on both knees for three more derechazos.

These fifteen muletazos made up the main body of the faena, before he went in to kill for the firs time, which resulted in “un pinchazo superior.” There followed seven more pasesthat are no described, presumably to realign the bull, and a “media estocada un poquillo delantera” which did the trick.

The public were on their feet, “hoarse with shouting “Olé! Olé!” One critic wrote, “I have often seen Juan do well, very well, superior. But like last Thursday, never. So varied, so precise, so suave, with such emotion, never.”

This triumph was of such importance in Belmonte’s career that for the rest of his life he always took his hat off, whenever he passed the Concha y Sierra’s house. Joselito.afte watching the drama unfold, said. “They say that I am the best, and I am. But out there today that man reinvented toreo.” It was a mutual admiration society, as these two learned from each other.

It is important to point out that bulls like Barbero were very rare in those days, when selective breeding was beginning. The faenas de muleta were still very primitive, and often very vulgar, by the tastes of today. Both Joselito and Juan went down on their knees with most of the bulls and indulged in horn holding, putting hats on the bulls’ heads, and so on. A torero could cut an ear in an imporant plaza after a faena made up entirely of punishment pases, if he killed well.

Joselito was an all-rounder outside the ring as well. He spent most of his winters on the ganaderías, studying the bulls, and he helped in the selection of some historic stud bulls. He took an active part in the design and promotion of larger bullrings. His power was so great that the empresarios consulted him on the makeup of their cartels. Had he lived he probably would have been a great ganadero and a very successful empressario.

According to his close friend José Maria De Cossio, author of the invaluable encyclopedia Los Toros, Joselito was melancholic in private life, especially after the death of his mother, Doña Gabriela, in 1919. The love of his life was one of the Pablo Romero girls. His love was returned, but the family would not allow her to marry a torero. Another of his worries was the very erratic behavior of his older brother Rafael, an artist in the ring and a problem out of it.

Joselito went to Talavera by train on the morning of May 16, 1920. The corrida was arranged for the benfit of the powerful critic Gregorio Corrochano, who had to be kept happy. The bulls were appropriate for a festival and the maestro and his group of friends were in a happy mood. It seems they were drinking on the train and there was a scuffle at one of the stations en route. The Guardia Civil were called in and could have arrested the party but decided to let it continue the journey with a warning.

Joselito saw that Bailador, the bull that would kill him, was dangerous, and ordered his brother Francisco to leave the ring—only to be caught himself; whether his reflexes were affected by any excess on the train, we will never know for sure.

In 1922 with Joselito dead and Belmonte retired the responsibility for pulling the cart fell on the shoulders of the second line led by the new boy MarcialLalanda. The period between the first abdication of Belmonte and the outfreak of the civil war has been labeled as the Age of Silver because of the number of talented toreros who came to the fore. They included Antonio Márquez, Manuel Jiménez y Moreono, “Chicuelo,” Joaquín Rodríguez, “Cagancho,” CayetanoOrdóñez, “Niño de la Palma,”

Félix Rodríguez, Francisco Vega de los Reyes, “Gitanillo de Triana,” Vicente Barrera, NicanorVillalta, ManoloMejías, “Bienvenida,” Juan Luis de la Rosa, Victoriano de la Serna, and Domingo Ortega, who headed the list in the number of corridas fought fom 1931 to 1934.

It was a time of technical advances, in large part due to the improvement to the quality of the bulls. In particular the Pérez-Tabernero brothers from Salamanca—Antonio, Graciliano, Alipio and Argimiro. It is no accident that Chicuelo’s famous faenain Madrid on May 24, 1928, took place with the bull Corchaito,bred by Graciliano Pérez-Tabernero. This faena is another candidate for the first modern faena, which extended the boundaries of the possible, and amazed all who saw it. The same year also saw the introduction of the peto to protect the horse, which led to dramatic changes in the lidia.

However, the shadow of Juan Belmonte hung over the happy scene. After his last corrida in Spain in Jaen in October 1921, he fought a further 22 corridas in Mexico, and eight in Peru, which brought the total number of corridas he fought up to 605, with 1,291 bulls killed. He took a two-year rest, and was tempted out of retirement in 1924 by a fabulous contract. He was paid a half-million pesetas to fight seven corridas in Peru, a part of the centenary celebrations of the independence from Spain: An enormous sum at a time when the leading toreros in Spain earned 12,000 pesetas a corrida if they were lucky.

The Peruvian expedition led to Belmonte’s first comeback in Spain. Eduardo Pages offered him a guaranteed minimum of 25,000 pesetas, twice what Lalanda and company were paid, with a bonus if he filled the ring. He fought 29 corridas in 1925 and 46 in 1927 before retiring for the second time. In three seasons he fought a total of eight corridas in Seville, five in Madrid, three in San Sebastián and one in Zaragoza. He did not go to Bilbao, the most difficult plaza of all. So to a certain extent he took things easier. However, he fought a dozen corridas in the Albaserra-Saltillo line, eight of Pablo Romero and two of Miura, both in Murcia.

On June 24, 1934, Belmonte came back for the last time in Nîmes. There is a well-known film of this event. The Clairac bull looks tiny, there are no decent paseson view and the enthusiasm of the public seems incomprehensible. He fought a total of 32 corridas with a big triumph in Madrid in the new plaza of Las Ventas on October 21 when he was awarded a tail after a faena of only eight pases. What could have it been like? Better than Nîmes, I hope!

In his last season in 1935 he fought only 14 times; his best afternoons were in Seville and Madrid where, according to taurine critic and author José Luis Suárez-Guanes, he cut another tail as well as an ear from his first bull. Cossio describes these faenas as “the real swan song of his art” since he was now lacking in physical strength “su falta total de falcultides.” This, combined with his sense of honor, led to his being caught a number of times and although he escaped a serious wound he lost a number of contracts.

Inspite of his decline he still drew crowds. He once famously declared “the best is the one that pays the most,” so that by his own standards he was still Numero Uno, although Bienvenida, Lalanda, Domingo Ortega and the great Mexican, Fermín Espinosa, “Armallita Chico,” bore the brunt of the workload in these years. In his decline the public treated him better than they did when he retired for the first time, while still really drawing the cart.

Belmonte became a close friend of a number of important Spanish writers and artists, and the idol of future generations of toreros. He was also a ganadero and landowner on a large scale but after the bulls, women were his big passion in life. Alonso Moreno told me that his father, Félix Moreno, who purchased the all-important Saltillo herd, had some difficulty persuading the great torero to come and stay. He finally guessed the problem. He told Belmonte the ladies of the family were in Madrid, and he was free to bring whomever he wished. Don Félix was somewhat taken aback when his distinguished guest turned up with two very attractive women and insisted on sharing a room with them both.

Belmonte was even more melancholic than Joselito. He did not cope well with old age and was tormented by family disputes. When he was told of Ernest Hemingway’s suicide his only comment was “Bien hecho”—“Well done.” A few years later he shot himself.

After the civil war the next great torero, Manuel Rodríguez, “Manolete,” rose to power. He was the son of a failed matador of the same name from Córdoba and related to a number of other matadors and bandilleros so that he started learning at an early age. Born in 1917, he took the alternativa in 1939, the year the civil war ended. Manolete carried Belmonte’s revolution a stage further. He stood very still, in profile, and cited the bull with the muleta at the level of his body. Then he left the muleta in the bull’s face, as far as possible, keeping it in the jurisdiction, and linking one pass with another taking the bull round him in a magic circle. He stood very straight but he moved his arms slowly, and his shoulders were relaxed. He had great personal magnetism when in the ring, and he was a magnificent swordsman.

Since he was breaking new ground he was thrown a lot at the start, and once critic described him as a “poor devil.” However, once he perfected his technique he swept all before him. The pre-war generation led by Domingo Ortega and Lalanda was reduced to supporting roles, as Manolete filled the rings wherever he fought. In a nine-year career as a full matador he fought a total of 510 corridas, 52 of them of them on the other side of the Atlantic. So great was his fame that the Monumental in Mexico City was built especially for him, and he inaugurated it on February 5, 1946, with Luis Castro, “El Soldado,” and Luis Procuna.

Manolete fought 27 times in Madrid, 20 times in Seville, 19 times in Zaragoza and 10 times in San Sebastián. It should be remembered that he had six complete seasons in Spain only; since he fought there only once in 1946 (his fantastic year in Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.) And his last season, in 1947, did not start until June 22 and was interrupted by his cornada in Madrid on July 16. It ended with his death in Linares on August 29.

Manolete killed 16 Miuras, 19 Pablo Romeros, 38, Escudero Calvos (now Victorino Martín), 28 Saltillos of Félix Moreno. 24 Santa Colomas of Buendía and seven more of Bartolomé. He also fought no less than 54 Conde de la Cortes and 37 Atanasios. He had no real rivals. He fought 122 times with Pepe Luis Vázquez, the unreliable artist from Seville, and 60 times with the athletic Mexican, Carlos Arruza, both of whom had useful contrasts in style, rather than anything else. He also appeared 12 times with the young Luis Miguel Dominguín who might well have become a serious rival if Manolete had lived and continued his career.

Manolete was another melancholic out of the ring, like Joselito and Belmonte before him. On the evidence we have, it seems that he would have retired at the end of the 1947 season, and married his girlfriend Lupe Sino if Islero of Miura had not intervened. One lie needs to be knocked on the head, which is the ridiculous fable that he was all washed up in 1947, before Linares, and had a terrible season. In fact, he triumphed in Madrid, San Sebastián, Pamplona, Barcelona (twice), Vitoria, Gijón, La Línea, and Valdepeñas. That is to say that he cut at least two ears in all these plazas. In five of them he also cut tails. He cut two tails in Pamplona from the bulls of Carlos Urquijo. He also cut single ears in Alicante, Huesca, and his second corrida in Vitoria. Not bad going for a down and out drug addict.

Manolete was the national hero. His death in the ring had an enormous impact. He had an emperor’s funeral in Córdoba. His technical advances changed the structure of the faena de muleta forever. He was also hated. He was criticized for his profiled stance, a movement led by Domingo Ortega, once finally retired, whom Manolete had crushed in the ring. In was in vain, no one was interested in going back to Ortega’s style of walking with the bull.

The extent to which his enemies hated Manolete was made clear to me by a friend from Bilbao, one of four brothers, all aficionados and followers of Pepe Luis Vázquez. When the news of Manolete’s death broke, one of the brothers was on holiday in London. He sent a telegram to the others, which contained one word. The word was “enhorobuena,” which means “congratulations.”

We now come to a series of cart pullers, all of whom I saw in action at some stage of their careers—and many of whom I met. Luis Miguel Dominguín was a winner, good at everything. Handsome, extroverted, elegant, a man of great personal charm and a great torero in the althletic line of Lagartijo, Guerrita and Joselito. He triumphed in all the important rings, with bulls of all sorts, with ease. His  many love affairs with film stars, one of whom he married; his friendship with Picasso; his safaris, and so on, kept him in the headlines: even in those temporadas when he did not torear in Spain. He dominated the decade after Manolete’s death.

His only rival was his brother-in-law, Antonio Ordóñez, whom many serious aficionados regard as the greatest torero of the last half-century. Luis Miguel’s father was a failed torero who became an empresario and a manager. Ordóñez’s father was El Niño de la Palma, a figura who became an alcoholic. They both had older brothers who were matadors. Ordóñez was managed by Luis Miguel’s fatrher and married his sister. Moreover, in his first two seasons as a full matador he fought 63 times on the same cartel with Luis Miguel (in Spain, France and the Americas) out of a total of 137. Luis Miguel’s older brother was with them on a number of occasions.

There is no doubt that Antonio learned a great deal from Luis Miguel during these temporadas. He had a brilliant season in 1952 with the corridas and important triumphs in Seville, Madrid and Bilbao. Then Luis Miguel went off on a three-year holiday, chasing women and big game, and Antonio fought less, and was less successful. In 1955 his career was interrupted by military service. He had reasonable seasons in 1956 and 1957 and great one in 1958 with 78 corridas. By now Luis Miguel was back and they met nine times in September with bulls of Carlos Núñez. Ordóñez cut two tails and Luis Miguel two single ears.

Then came Hemingway’s Dangerous Summer. How far it was a genuine rivalry, and how far it was a family alliance, is open to debate. Probably a bit of both. Don Ernesto’s account makes a good read. They did not fight together again in Spain, but they had six corridas in Colombia and five in France the following year. Curiously, when Antonio retired in 1971, Luis Miguel came back for the last time.

The Dangerous Summer ended for Ordóñez in Albacete on September 11, with Antonio under arrest and banned from the rings, for trying to use a picador who was under suspension. (The picador was using an assumed name.) In 1960 and 1961 Ordóñez fulfilled his obligations as the lead horse pulling the cart: The highest paid and deserving of it. There were a number of cornadas. The following year he started late and was out of sorts. There were more broncas then orejas and in November he retired in Lima and took a two-year rest.

I saw him for the first time when he cut two ears from a big Pablo Romero in Madrid on May 30, 1965, and I followed him for seven temporadasuntil he retired in San Sebastián in August 1971. I did not try to get to know him well although we had three or four friends in common. I had been warned of his moods and his difficult personality—kind of sensitive at one moment and then unpleasant and even cruel—and I wanted to remain objective. His toreo changed with his moods. He could be brilliant and majestic one day, even with a difficult bull, and then deliberately waste a good one, on occasions even in the same corrida.

In a nutshell he had a superb temporada in 1965 and a poor one the following year. He was in brilliant form in 1967 but after his fabulous triumphs in Seville he demanded as much money as Manuel Benítez, “El Cordobés,” and the empresarios refused. So he was left out of the big ferias. Then he was thrown by an  Albaserrada in Cuenca and hurt his back! He had to cancel all his corridas except for Ronda when he wore a special corset—and cut four ears and a tail although in great pain.

According to one of his oldest friends who followed him since he was a novillero, 1968 was his greatest season because he cut out some of the crowd pleasing vulgarities, such as manoletinas, that he used on occasions in 1958. He cut ears in Seville, Madrid, Pamplona, San Sebastián and Bilbao, and almost everywhere else. During San Isidro he fought the three best-presented corridas, with bulls of Urquijo, Conde de la Corte and Marqués de Domecq, and triumphed with all three. He ended with 70 corridas, only the third time that he reached that figure.

In 1969 the empresarios refused to meet the financial demands of El Cordobés. He was left out of the big ferias in his turn and fought in the villages with Palomo Linares, another crowd pleaser. How far they relied on Antonio to pull their cart in Benítez’s absence, I do not know. But if they did they were disappointed. Ordóñez dropped out of San Isidro with a fake medical certificate and went into his on-off mode. On many occasions he seemed completely dis-interested in the proceedings. Unfortunately there were enough great afternoons to keep me on the road. His last two seasons followed a similar pattern. The good was very, very good and the bad was horrid. With the passage of time it is the good; the very, very good—Málaga, San Sebastián, Badajoz, Burgos, Almería, Ronda, and the swan song in Valencia that stick in my memory.

One afternoon in Toledo, Ordóñez was going through the motions, keeping the bull at a prudent distance, looking bored more than anything else. A man called out very politely, “Maestro! If you keep him any further out you will have to use a radar.” Antonio joined in the laughter that followed, pulled himself together, and began to torear like the genius he was. On another occasion in Jerez, when a drunk called him the son of a whore, he went to the fence, put hismontera on, collected his real sword and stabbed the bull in the neck. Then he stood with his hands on his hips glaring at the crowd. They removed the drunk and the dead bull at the same time.

El Cordobés co-existed with Ordóñez throughout this period. In fact, they both retired during the temporada of 1971. He filled the rings as nobody had since the death of his fellow Córdoban, Manolete. Nicknamed the “Beatle in the Bullring,” he achieved international fame. He was an outright tremendista, who crowded in on the bull, getting covered in blood, often with his suit ripped to shreds. He was also a clown. If he made the public scream, he also made them laugh. He was the the complete showman—never a dull moment. He knew what he was doing. He triumphed with great regularity even in Bilbao.

He cut a tail in Seville and in one San Isidro he cut all eight ears from his four bulls. He had long arms and a flexible wrist and he knew how to link a lot ofpases in a small area, very close to the bull, which usually hit the cloth of bumped into him. The crowd loved it. I avoided him whenever I could.

El Cordobés and Antonio Ordóñez went to the same ferias but not on the same days. It seems that Luis Miguel was paid more than Ordóñez when they fought together. Something which Antonio accepted for a variety of reasons: But he made a vow that in the future he would never again appear with a torero who earned more than he did. They were like two rival suns, and the other stars revolved around them.

Three of these other stars pulled the cart for many long miles, both together and separately. They were, in order of seniority: Diego Puerta and Paco Camino, both from Seville, and Santiago Martín, “El Viti,” from Salamanca. Puerta, known as “Diego Valor,” was another tremendista, who was always getting caught. He suffered more than 20 serious cornadasand an equal number of minor ones. But he had alegríaand a certain grace of movement. If Cordobés was clowning, Diego was really looking for trouble. I saw him cut a tail in Seville in 1969.

Paco Camino, nicknamed “El Niño Sabio” (The Wise Child) was a prodigious torero with an instinctive knowledge of the bulls. I caught bull fever from him in Palma de Mallorca on September 17, 1964. He changed my life. He had a good cape, a great muleta, and he could kill superbly, if he was in the mood, which he often was not. The famous “mandanga” of Paco Camino was made worse on occasions by heavy drinking (later in life he had a liver transplant.) He had many great triumphs in Madrid and every other important plaza, with the exception of Seville, where he was very unlucky with the bulls he drew. He was an idol in Mexico.

El Viti, nicknamed “Su Majestad” (His Majesty, for very good reason) was very serious, solemn and unsmiling. He constructed his faenas with great care, piece by piece, with patience and extraordinary temple. He rivaled Camino for the number of triumphs in Madrid but he also had a great record in Seville. So much so that Vincent Zabala Sr. once wrote that River Tormes (in Salamanca) had mingled its waters with the Guadalquivir.

With the two suns in eclipse we all expected these three would take the lead but they were by now battle-scarred veterans. One by one, over the next decade, they gradually faded away, like the old soldier in the song. There was a moment in 1973 when it looked as if Paco Camino had finally decided to seize the crown. Tragically, his brother, who was a banderillo in his cuadrilla, was killed by a bull in Barcelona, and Paco was never really the same Paco after that.

In 1962, the year before El Cordobés took the  alternativa, 372 corridas were celebrated in Spain. In 1971, the year he retired, that figure had risen to 682. The combination of Benítez and Ordóñez in the major ferias, backed up by the three musketeers in the midst of a tourist boom was irresistable. And there was a knock-on effect—people went to the plazas, anyway, even if none of the big five were on the cartel. A host of lesser lights rode on the cart they were pulling.

It is impossible to overestimate the Cordobés effect. In 1970, the yer after his big row with the empresarios, he smashed all previous records fighting 121 corridas and cutting no less than 240 ears. The plazas were sold out. Men climbed the roofs and were chased off by police, old women dressed in black and got down on their knees and kissed his hands. Young women dressed in very little and sought him out anywhere. He was so powerful that the sorteo was suspended for him. His cuadrilla simply selected the two bulls they wanted.

Of course, he knew it. On one occasion he dedicated a bull to Franco. He said, “I dedicated this bull to Your Excellency because you and I are the two most famous Spaniards alive. First myself, and then Your Excellency.” Fortunately, Franco had a sense of humor and invited him to shoot on many occasions.

It was too good to last. A gradual decline set in and by 1981, we were back down to 390 corridas. A number of good, very good, and even great toreros did their best in vain. Francisco Rivera, “Paquirri,” was a powerful athlete. The senior José MaríaManzanares, a great artist with superb technique, lacking ambition, but the torero of toreros, none the less. And then there was Dámaso González, the lion of Albacete, with his magic muleta; Ruiz Miguel, the great  legionario, who killed more Miuras and Victorinos than anyone else; Pedro Gutiérrez Moya, “Niño de la Capea,” who developed from a vulgar pass machoine into a great torero, and Angel Taruel, Julio Robles and Ortega Cano, three very talented toreros who gradually developed their techniques. Another two solid performers were the brothers José Antonio and Tomás Campuzano.

Their efforts were in vain. The decline was inexorable. In their desperation the empresarios tried to pair up two terrific artists, Curro Romero and Rafael de Paula, who relied on the occasional magic moment to see them through. They went around together for awhile, collecting broncas,being pelted with cushions, having to be protected by the police. It was a lamentable spectacle. I remember one occasion in Madrid when they were on with Curro Vázquez, another of their ilk, with a better tecnique and less empaque.  They gave such a terrible exhibition that I left the plaza ashamed of having bought a ticket.

In 1981, when we reached the nadir, help arrived. First, Antonio Chenel, “Antoñete,” and Manolo Vázquez (two members of the old school) came back with great success. Then, late in the season, Paco Ojeda, the next genuine revolutionary, broke through. We achieved liftoff. By the end of 1985 we were up to 492 corridas. Then came the Espartaco years.

Juan Antonio Ruiz, “Espartaco,” was 22 years old, with five years as a full matador, when he made his big breakthrough in Seville in a televised corrida in 1985. He had already headed the list in the number of corridas fought in 1982 but it was as a cartel filler, not a figura. In fact, he was paid so little that the members of his cuadrilla ended the season with more money in their pockets than he did after he paid all the expenses. According to legend he intended to become a banderillo himself. He followed up with another triumph in Madrid and the rest is history.

Espartaco pulled the cart for seven temporadas, passing the 100-corrida mark on two occasions and never falling below 80 corridas in a season. He was determined with a sound knowledge of his profession. He believed in doing everything in favor of the bull: Going to the part of the ring the bull wanted; gradually bringing out the animal’s qualities, which meant not lowering the muleta too soon, or turning it too sharply at the start. Many “experts” among the critics had no idea what he was doing, or why he was doing it, and criticized him for taking “advantage” of the bull when in fact he was trying, and usually succeeding, to bring out its casta. Once he got it going he could lower his hand and bring the bull in closer. He had great temple and he was an expert with the sword.

In 1991, the last year of Espartaco’s reign, the number of corridas rose to 583. This was the year when César Rincón had his four triumphs in Madrid and Enrique Ponce had his famous faena with a Torrestrella in Bilbao. Ponce took over the leadership in 1992, fighting exactly 100 corridas. He then proceeded to break the century mark for another nine consecutive seasons and has gone on to pass the 2,000-corrida mark with repeated triumphs all over the taurine world, on both sides of the Atlantic, with bulls of all encastes, including 44 Victorinos.

Ponce makes the impossibly difficult look ridiculously easy. This very ease, his “facilidad,”  has worked to his disadvantage at times because only the professionals realize what is really going on. He is the epitome of Hemingway’s famous phrase about grace under pressure. His weakness is his “irregularidad” with the sword. He can kill very well. He has been awarded prizes for the best estocada in some important ferias, but he has failed, after too many historical faenas, and had to settle for a vuelta instead of the puerto grande.

Ponce formed an alliance for some years José Miguel Arroyo, “Joselito,” the classic torero from Madrid who had given Enrique his alternativa in 1990. So much so that Ponce’s manager negotiated a lot of corridas for both of them together in a package deal. Another important cart puller at this time was Jesulín de Ubrique, a flashy crowd pleaser with a lot of courage, a lot of temple, and determination to succeed. He actually fought 153 corridas in 1994, 161 in 1995 and only 121 in 1996—a record that will probably never be equalled. He had to torear every day for weeks at  time and sometimes twice in a day. On one occasion he got on a motorbike in his suit of lights and raced from one plaza to another. In 1996 Francisco Rivera Ordóñez took his alternativa in Seville. Son of Paquirri and grandson of Antonio Ordóñez, he had three splendid temporadas and joined the Ponce-Joselito alliance, which was then dubbed the “Three Tenors.” By 1991 the number of corridas given rose to 941.

Two important new figuras arrived on the scene during these years: José Tomás took the alternativa in Mexico in December 1995 at age 20, and Julián López, “El Juli,” took his in France in 1998 a few days short of his 16th birthday. Tomás is a curious mixture of classic toreo and tremendista. On the classic side he has a lovely verónica and a superb pase natural. On the tremendista side are his statuary passes, and his horrible and inevitable manoletinas. Above all, as with Diego Puerta and El Cordobés before him, he is always getting thrown by the bull. He loves getting covered in blood, preferably the bull’s. He has suffered a number of nasty cornadas, not as many as Puerta, but too many. In addition, he is nearly always thrown, or at least bumped, by the bull. It is part of the show.

The great picador Antonio Saavedra maintained that there are five mountain peaks in the temporada: Seville in April, Madrid in San Isidro in May, Pamplona in July, Bilbao in the August feria, and the Feria of Pillar in Zaragoza in October, when they are all exhausted. These ferias are the acid test for the matadors and their cuadrillas—because of the serious bulls, because of the public, because of the pressure from the media. They are also the backbone of each temporada.

With the single exception of Madrid, Tomás has failed the test in no uncertain manner (he has triumphed and been carried out the Puerta Grande seven times in Madrid! – AFH). He has not been to the Feria of Pillar since 1997. He has not been to the Feria of Bilbao since 1998. He has not been to Pamplona since 1999 (He also triumphed there in 1998 and 1996, his debut year with the bulls of Cebada Gago! – AFH), and in his entire career he has only fought in three ferias in Seville. What is more, he ran away from Bilbao in 1998, avoiding his second corrida, with a phony medical certificate, saying that he had hurt his finger. He then turned up the next day in Málaga and cut three ears. How did he get away with it?

The other acid test are the bulls themselves. genuine figurasare supposed to make gestures. Back in the Sixties, when I began, they made them with Miuras and Pablo Romeros—Ordóñez, Camino and Viti  all did this. El Cordobés did not. Today, Victorino Martín is the ganadería that separates the men from the boys. José Tomás has not fought a single Victorino in his entire career (It is worth noting that Victorino is Tomás’s great uncle – AFH). He only (ahem… “almost always” - AFH) fights animals of Domecq origin, handpicked from the most “comercial” ranches (which means those that have the highest proportion of noble animals.) Once again, how does he get away with it? (If it were possible for noble animals to be picked in this way, then why the hell hasn’t a commercial ranch managed how to work out how to do it reliably for themselves?- AFH)

Let me answer my own question. He gets away with it because he draws the crowds. Because the Tomás show is exciting. He asks for a lot of money but he nearly always delivers the goods. I saw quite a lot of him before he took his five-year rest; his only really poor temporadawas the last in 2002. He planned a more exigent season than 2000 and 2001. He avoided Bilbao, Pamplona, and Zaragoza, but he did go to Seville and San Sebastián. He failed to cut a single ear in any of the seven corridas that he fought in these rings. He had a triumph in Madrid in San Isidro and he made a big effort in Valladolid and Salamanca, but his last corrida in Murcia was a disaster. He was burnt out.

His return has been a triumph of marketing. He has fought very few corridas and he has made a great deal of money. The public relations people have done a brilliant job. If he sneezes it gets into the news. His very powerful friend Luis Abril [CEO of Telefónica] has ruled the press with a rod of iron. He refuses to give any interviews or cooperate with the journalists in any way. He bans the television reporters and in return they lick his boots. We are told that he asked for 600,000 euros for one corrida in a provincial ring in Mexico. It is a mystery like so many other things in his strange career.

El Juli is the opposite of José Tomás, a genuine figura, who has pulled the cart with no excuses for close to 15 years. In his first full season in 1999, at the tender age of 16, he fought 134 corridas and cut 16 tails with 92 main gates, and he has never looked back. He has been equally successful in his corridas in Mexico and South America. He has fought bulls of all the main encastes including Victorinos. In short, his career has been exemplary.

At the start Juli was an athletic torero in the classic pre-Belmont style. He had great variety with the cape. He as an excellent bandillero. He had a sound technique with the muletaand he was efficient with the sword. With his baby face and ready smile all the mothers in Spain wanted to mother him and their daughters pinned up his photos. As far as empresarios were concerned he was just what the doctor ordered.

Juli is a student of taurine history. I remember seeing him studying Cossio in the library of a bodega many years ago. He has deliberately changed his style. First, he cut out the banderillas. Then he reduced the number of quites, retaining the most classical. He has also “purified” his pases with the muleta, seeking temple and depth. He kills with a jump. Photos show him with both feet off the ground with sword up to the hilt. One hundred years ago Macnaquito was criticized for doing the same thing. However, it is spectacular and it works.

Recently, Juli has been purifying his cape as well, which is a difficult and risky thing to do, especially before the bull has been pic’ed. He was caught doing this in Aranjuez in 2012 and in Granada but it has not stopped him. In Aranjuez he recovered and cut a tail and José Mari Manzanares replied with another tail.

Manzanareshijo is the closest thing to Antonio Ordóñez, as he was in 1965, that I have seen. His stance, his positioning in front of the bull, his temple, the way he lengthens the pass and links it with the next, his empaque. He is even criticized for the same things as Ordóñez. I hope he does not change. He is a superb swordsman. He has killed receiving on a regular basis in a way that no one has in living memory. He also has great volapié. I want to see him as often as possible.

The supporting cast includes Morante de la Puebla, who torears as Curro Romero and Rafael de Paula imagined they would do if only they had Morante’s courage and technique. It also includes Alejandro Talavante, who is another odd ball. He has done some lovely things. He can also be vulgar. He has a horrible line of Bernadinas and those Mexican touches, arrucinas, and so forth. Breaking up a nice tanda are a pity. He has not decided if he wants to be  a crowd pleaser or a classical master.

I cannot close this account without mentioning David Fandila “El Fandi,” and Manuel Díaz, “El Cordobés” the younger, both of whom have sold a lot of tickets in their time. Fandi is the most complete bandillero I have seen, and 2013 was my fiftieth season. He has a great cape and I have seen him torear with great temple with the muleta. He is a superb athlete. El Cordobés clowns and exchanges jokes with the crowd but he is very popular in a lot of rings. His birthday corrida is Burgos each year is an event. Fandi has passed the hundred mark and headed the list on several occasions.

No doubt I have forgotten some names that should have been included—the members of the Litri dynasty from Huelva spring to mind, now that it is too late to put them all in their proper places—but old men forget.

My thank you letter to Cuéllar in the regional newspaper. Click to read (in Spanish.)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison with the son of the Duke of Alburquerque at the running of bulls in Cuéllar, in his thank you letter to the town in their the regional newspaper. Click to read (in Spanish.)

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  1. […] Olé! Capturing the Passion of Bullfighters and Aficionados in the 21st Century, we direct you to this post at The Last Arena. However, before you go, we should say a few words about the chapter by our friend […]

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