Between one feria and the next: a round-up

Lady Westmorland's Fan (property of Miss Sarah Pozner)

A Fan Of Seville (property of Miss Sarah Pozner)

Since my last post the number of unique views of this blog has gone from half a million to over 800,000, which makes me feel very lax for not posting in months. Here is something of a round-up of news etc.:

Rocío cartel of Cristina Ybarra
My friend Cristina Ybarra, wife of Enrique Moreno de la Cova who bred the Saltillo fighting cattle I so often faced in the ring, has had her painting selected as the cartel, official ‘poster’, for the pilgrimage of the Rocío which attracts about a million of the faithful to Andalusia each June. It is being exhibited for the first time at the ayuntiamento, ‘city hall’, of Seville, tomorrow morning at eleven-thirty a.m., and is open to all. For more details, on Cristina’s own blog, click here.

Sarah by Cathedral pool

I will be there as I am currently sat sweltering in Seville in air the same temperature as my blood. There are worse places to swelter than a terrace overlooking the most charismatic cathedral on Earth. (FYI: I have since moved from the lovely Hotel La Doña María to an apartment at No. 11, calle Almansa, in El Arenal by the plaza de toros. To rent one of the same – short term or long le – contact Joaquín Fernández de Córdoba by clicking here.)

Lounging at Almansa 11

However, it was for the bulls that we came to Seville – more fool us – and about the bulls this blog nominally is.

Photo: Sarah Pozner

Photo: Sarah Pozner

We came to see the corridas, ‘bullfights’, of the Feria de Abril – my parents, Sarah and I – but after an awful showing at the Maestranza bullring on Thursday with the toros of El Pilar facing the toreros Miguel Abellan, Manuel Escribano and David Mora, we sloped off to the pool of the Sherry Park Hotel in Jerez and the restaurants on the beach in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Sarah and I returned for the bulls of Victorino Martín with Antonio Ferrera, El Cid (who once so inspired me with these same bulls that I wrote this for Prospect magazine) and Ivan Fandiño on Sunday, but, as interesting as it usually is to watch a man solve the thuggish cryptic crossword of those encaste Ibarra-Santa Coloma (=Saltillo) monsters, I left after three bulls, missing, by all accounts (at least in the Spanish newspaper ABC) the best bull of the feria. No hay toros en Sevilla este año. In fact, the English aficionado Burghie Westmorland, who had sat through the whole week, said bluntly that the entire feria had been a fiasco in taurine terms, quoting a dictum he attributed to Hemingway that there are no good bullfights in Seville.

Photo: Sarah Pozner

Photo: Sarah Pozner

In fact, Hemingway never said this. I actually saw the best Miura bulls I’ve ever seen in Seville, in the Feria de Abril 2013 with Burghie, which was a pleasant surprise for us both as we’d seen El Juli gored a few days before and so he was substituted with the then unknown Escribano. (I bumped into three Miuras, Eduardo Miura padre, the principle breeder of the bulls, his son Eduardo Miura hijo, and his nephew, Eduardo Dávila Miura, the matador and my former teacher in bullfighting, outside the Maestranza bullring on Thursday and none of them sounded very happy about this year either.)

Of course, there were no figuras de arte in Seville this year, as the third generation empresario of the plaza de toros, Eduardo Canorea, had managed to publicly fall out with the G-5 group of matadors, El Juli, José Mari Manzanares, Alejandro Talavante, Miguel Perera and Morante de la Puebla (who is from Seville), so badly that they entered voluntary exile from the most important bullring in Spain (excepting, some say, Las Ventas in Madrid.) So, in order that Sarah wasn’t left with the abiding memory of ugly blood, unwilling bulls and botched kills, we extended our stay to incorporate the first corrida of the Feria del Caballo in Jerez to see the mano-a-mano of Morante and Manzanares this Friday. Aside from José Tomás – whom I will be flying to see in Granada on June 19th – there simply are no other bullfighters capable of such art when the stars align.

Oxford Cartel

It is watching these corridas with a first-timer that I once again remember how strongly I used to feel about the ethics of bullfighting. Everything for the English-speaking novice is seen through the lens of the injury and death of an animal, and yet for me, those thoughts and sentiments are so far distant now as to seem absurd.

Tens of millions of cattle are needlessly slaughtered in the UK, US, Canada, Australian and New Zealand: killing something because you like the flavour would be no more justification for a bull than it would be for a human, if such a justification were needed. The fact is that it isn’t: we kill animals, let them die, and let them kill one another with moral boundaries wildly different to anything that applies in the sphere of human congress.

I recently gave a speech at my old university, Oxford, and rather than trot out a version of my usual talk on the so-called moral issues surrounding the corrida (such as I did here, for the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2011) I gave something much closer to how I speak in Spanish on the subject (such as I did here, in English translation, at the University of Seville in 2012.) It went down surprisingly well. Perhaps people really don’t want to be sermonised at about rights and wrongs, but are more interested in just understanding something so fundamentally alien. Perhaps when I present a paper at the Fundación de Estudios Taurinos de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla in early November, this is theme I should follow.

Interestingly, as a keen rider, it turned out that Sarah’s main initial interest was – as Hemingway’s was - the welfare of the horses. And part of the reason she is willing to come and see another corrida is that, after watching a picador’s horse overturned, she saw that its armour was impenetrable, that its confidence in its training was so strong that it remained immobile in the face of the bull’s assault until it was caped away, and its lack of panic or even upset when it was righted onto its feet and walked out of the ring without so much as a limp. Those are the things you cannot fake to a trained set of eyes.

Speaking of Hemingway, it seems that he is flavour of the month in publishing terms. I read The Paris Wife, of which I thought little, as I said in my review for The Spectator of the latest edition of Hemingway’s complete letters (online here.) However, I did praise the excellent eBook by Prof. Allen Josephs, Beyond Death In The Afternoon, which so influenced my blog post ‘The Dead Gods With Cold Eyes‘. Jospehs’ collected essays On Hemingway And Spain are now available as an eBook and I look forward very much to reading them on my return to the UK and get a replacement iPad (it is on Amazon US here, Amazon UK here.) I also read a good piece by the London Reuters burueau chief Angus MacSwan on the book Mrs Hemingway (online here) which looks to be worth a read (the author’s website is here.)

My own contribution to the glut, a submission to the Prix d’Hemingway short-story competition in France, failed even to make the shortlist. I would have taken that news badly – it was a good story – but after I had sent it in, I went to stay at the bull-running legend Joe Distler’s Pamplona apartment and took advantage of his taurine library and so read, for the first time, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s famous 1908 novel, Blood And Sand. There is no denying that my story, set in 1929 Seville, with its matador protagonist, Roberto, his destructive – of self and others – lover, Doña Estafanía, and her carelessly wrecking father, the Barón de Mazama, bear a superficial but undeniable resemblance to that novel’s 1908 Seville, its torero Juan, his lover Doña Sol, and her father the Marqués de Guevara. What are the odds?

I was in Pamplona to finish researching the forthcoming eBook Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona which I am editing, with chapters from John Hemingway – grandson of Ernest – Joe Distler, Bill Hillmann and photos by Jim Hollander, along with contributions from Beatrice Welles – daughter of Orson – Julen Madina, Miguel Ángel Eguiluz, Jokin Zuasti, Josechu Lopez and Nicolás Haro. All I am waiting on now is a prefatory letter – and backing – from the city hall of Pamplona and regional government of Navarre to whom the Minister-Councillor for Culture at the Spanish Embassy in London has passed it.

In the meantime, I see I am appearing on the Discovery Channel in Bear Grylls new(ish) show, ‘Escape From Hell’. Perhaps another medium is the way forward. The movies beckon…

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

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