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.

[Read more...]

The Dead Gods With Cold Eyes

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I submitted this article for my column in Taki’s Magazine. However, I was told by the editor that she’d had quite enough about bulls. Which is ironic, given what it says. Anyway, here it is, for what it’s worth.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Alexander Fiske-Harrison waiting for the bulls, Cuéllar 2013 (Photo: Enrique Madroño Arranz)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison waiting for the bulls, Cuéllar 2013 (Photo: Enrique Madroño Arranz)

Dead Gods With Cold Eyes

I nearly died the other day. Not, like the time before when John Hemingway, Ernest’s grandson, pulled me out from a stampede in Pamplona or the time before that when Eduardo Dávila Miura pulled me out of a bull-ring in Palma del Río. This time was for real.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison begins to run with the bulls, Cuéllar 2013 (Photo: Enrique Madroño Arranz)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison begins to run with the bulls, Cuéllar 2013 (Photo: Enrique Madroño Arranz)

I was running with the bulls of Cuéllar, which is a much like running with the bulls of Pamplona, only the town is smaller, the encierro – ‘bull-run’ – more ancient (the most ancient, in fact, as I wrote in the Financial Times) less crowded, and those that do turn up are mainly local, all Spanish, with not a drunk or first-timer among them.

Cuellar photo 3 blogDespite this I still managed to bump into someone as I passed a lone, stationary bull in a narrow stretch of street. Being lighter than me, he was knocked to safety, but I dropped where I was and the commotion drew the bull’s eyes – black, bovine, lifeless and colour-blind, following only movement – and it charged across the street, skittering to a halt on its hooves as I similarly fought for grip in my new, untested running shoes.

With my back against the wall, its horns either side of my chest – literally – and, unlike in Pamplona or an official plaza de toros, no surgeon within a forty-five minute drive, I saw my own death ahead of me. However, for some reason the bull decided today was not my day and moved on, most likely because I had the presence of mind to freeze, making myself invisible to the clockwork brain behind the horns. [Read more...]

The Prize of Cuéllar

Burladero

Me & Bill Hillmann with our awards in Cuéllar, September 2013 (Photo: Jim Hollander)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison & Bill Hillmann with their awards in Cuéllar. Added Sep. 1st, 2013 (Photo © Jim Hollander 2013)

(from Burladero.com)

The Taurine Cultural Association of Cuéllar, Segovia, will present the award for la divulgación, ‘the revealing’ of the encierros, ‘bull-runs’ of Cuéllar, in its fourth edition, during the next fiestas of the encierros of Cuéllar, declared of national touristic interest for being the most ancient in all Spain.

The jury, composed of aficionados and bull-runners of the encierro came to the verdict of granting this prize in order to raise awareness of the encierros of Cuéllar to international standing to journalists and aficionados of the bull. (Click on titles to view articles.)

- Alexander Fiske-Harrison for his recent article in the Financial Times (31 May 2012).

The real, old stuff

- Bill Hillmann for the article published in the Chicago Tribune (26 September 2012)

The real running of the bulls

- Nicolás Haro for the photographic illustration of both reports.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison and Bill Hillmann plan their run with the bulls. Cuéllar 2012, photographed by Nicolás Haro

Alexander Fiske-Harrison and Bill Hillmann plan their run with the bulls. Cuéllar 2012, photographed by Nicolás Haro

They will deliver the award created by the taurine sculptor of Cuéllar, Dyango Velasco, charged with the design for the bust of this prize.

In previous years this prize was awarded to the television channel Castilla y León (cyltv7) in 2010 by the live transmission of the encierros, to the correspondents of the regional newspapers, El Norte de Castilla, Adelanto de Segovia and Cadena Ser (Mónica Rico, Nuria Pascual and Ignacio Montalvillo) in 2011 for their work year after year reporting and informing about the encierro, and the national edition of the specialist magazine Bous al Carrer (José María Vivas y Alberto de Jesús) in 2012 for revealing the fiestas nationwide.

The prize will be given during the event held in the main room of Oremus during the taurine conferences of the fiestas of the encierros of Cuéllar that will be celebrated from the 24th to the 29th of August 2013, and they will participate in a tertulia-debate of bull-runners and aficionados of the encierro.

For more details on Cuéllar, bull-running, and Pamplona (which begins on July 6th, with the first of eight, daily, morning encierros at 8am the next day), where to stay, eat, how to run etc. visit The Pamplona Post

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Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Author of Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2011.

An English farewell – ‘Una despedida Inglés’

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A portrait of me by Nicolás Haro

I wrote on this blog just before the April Fair that I first came to Seville on the back of a broken relationship ten years before. My dates were wrong: it was in June. This June, I found myself back again.

Seeing things through different eyes, a realisation came over me, which I have expressed in my column in today’s issue of Taki’s Magazine, centring as it does on the saddest story in cinema, Orson Welles. Even the title is a quotation from the great man: ‘The Second-Hand Men’. As I write there,

Welles either couldn’t admit to himself or couldn’t say out loud that the more pressing issue is not just becoming audience rather than artist, but in being fêted for just sitting in the stands and reveling in that. At this point one has slid from the morally and aesthetically questionable world of the voyeur to the far more reprehensible one of poseur.
(To read the column in full click here.)

Cf., the photo above…

At the same time, fate conspired me to spend a little time with all the people who helped me make, and themselves made up, my book on this beautiful and strange land, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight.

As I describe in the column, I stood in front of the last lot of Saltillos ever to exit the gates of Félix and Enrique Moreno de la Cova’s ranch ‘Miravalles’, alongside my former Maestro, the ex-matador Eduardo Dávila Miura. And given what I used to be able to do…

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Me with a Saltillo bull in 2010 (Photo Nicolás Haro)

… what remained of my bullfighting technique was a rather poor thing…

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Me with a Saltillo becerra in 2013 (Photo: Miguel Santos)

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Me with a Saltillo becerra in 2013 (Photo: Miguel Santos)

However, it was still an emotional day with a large audience, many toritos and vaquillas, young bulls and cows, for the toreros practicós, ‘amateur bullfighters’, and a beautiful long lunch at the former Saltillo finca ‘La Vega’ afterwards, even if I was not in any condition to enjoy it as much as I should.

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The last capea of Saltillo at Miravalles (Photo: Miguel Santos)

Having realised that I was now just a torero on paper – a second-hand guy on the sand – I decided to quit while I was still ahead. (The bulls gave me a great deal, and I gave a great deal back, but they took something as well.)

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A portrait of me by Nicolás Haro

First, I paid a visit to my old friend and frequent collaborator, the photographer Nicolás Haro, who took these portrait shots while I could still fit into my traje corto. Hopefully, Nicolás and I will soon be collaborating once more on a book about the psychological link between horses and men, a centaur project to balance our minotaur one (Nicolás took the black and white photos for Into The Arena.) The initial collection of Nicolás’s photos for this project have already been nominated for one of the most prestigious international photographic contests held in Spain: PhotoEspaña.)

I will, once my excellent new agent Patrick Walsh of Conville & Walsh and I have published my new novel, complete the task of washing the blood from my hands with a book on what Teddy Roosevelt called “the beast of waste and desolation” and Man’s Best Friend: wolves and dogs.

That said, as you can see from the cover of this new book, Olé! Capturing the Passion of Bullfighters and Aficionados in the 21st Century, due to be published in the United States in the next few weeks, I have been writing on the bulls up to the very last minute (my chapter also contains great photos by Nicolás.)

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Before I left, I even got to say farewell to that one-eyed gladiator, my first teacher, Juan José Padilla, when he fought in the feria de manzanilla in his home town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. (These photos are by me.)

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JJ 4

20130612-011107.jpgAnd then a last adíos to that matador de arte from the greatest of the taurine dynasties, my dear friend Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, who was my chauffeur from Seville to Ronda so I could talk about Orson Welles, whose ashes are interred at his family home.

So, all that remains for me to do is say farewell to the streets of Pamplona in July with a couple of runs among their bulls, and those of that other, and more ancient, bull-running town Cuéllar in August (I wrote comparing and contrasting them in the Financial Times last weekend, linked to here.) I even have an invitation from Cayetano to join him in the ring (on a ranch in Ronda) one last time for “amusement” on the morning of the Feria Goyesca. We will see…

However, such amusements and formalities to one side, I’m done here. “There’s a world elsewhere.”

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

To read my Takimag column in full click here.

P.S. In a neat and final symmetry, having reached my highest point on talking about the bulls – the speech I gave to the Reform Club at the request of, and beside, the Spanish Ambassador – I have now gone full circle and been invited to talk about the bulls at my old school, Eton. I wonder if they know I’ll be running my last runs in my Eton College Athletic Club Colours blazer (400m). It’s the striped one on the right – I have my hand on the bull for balance – in this Reuters photo in 2011.

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Vocento: “A Gentleman In The Ring”

(Versión original en español aquí.)

A couple of weeks ago the eleven newspapers of the Vocento Group in Spain – El Correo, El Diario Vasco, El Diario Montañés, La Verdad, Ideal, Hoy, Sur, La Rioja, El Norte de Castilla, El Comercio, La Voz de Cádiz, Las Provincias - ran the following interview with me. The only exception was ABC which ran this one a few weeks before.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

A Gentleman In The Ring

by Francisco Apaolaza

Having crossed through a dimensional portal, suddenly he appears in the bull-run of Cuéllar (Segovia), in an out-and-out race with Spanish fighting bulls, a copy of the Financial Times rolled up in his hand. With each stride, Alexander Fiske-Harrison, English gentleman, writer, actor and reporter for the British press spans the huge distance between his world of the cultural and economic elite of London and the bull-run of Cuéllar with its dust, hooves, horns and shoe leather. This is the story of how one man crossed through the door of these parallel universes and then relayed it in the first person to the most anciest newspaper in the City.

Now, perhaps, the Financial Times will give a respite to the workhorse of Spanish debt and point instead to Spain’s oldest bull-run. Perhaps the best part of the story is the signature on the article. Fiske-Harrison is not the type of tourist who cannot distinguish a cart-ox from a fighting bull, but is an amateur bullfighter whose curious journey began many years ago while search of new cultures and strong sensations. What he found was very far from his life in a grand English family – a line of bankers – with its studies at Oxford, its games of rugby, horses, shooting and the exclusive red and white athletics blazer of Eton College, where Prince William and David Cameron also studied. [Read more...]

The Spectator: A Good Run by Alexander Fiske-Harrison

My article from The Spectator, written largely on the breakfast tables of Pamplona, half cut on vanilla and cognac, having just run with the bulls. (With thanks to Joe Distler.)

AFH

A good run

14 July 2012

Why I risk my life among the bulls of Pamplona

I have just finished running — with a thousand like-minded souls from around the world — down a half-mile of medieval city streets while being pursued by a half-dozen half-ton wild Spanish fighting bulls. They were accompanied by an equal number of three-quarter-ton galloping oxen, but we didn’t worry about them: they know the course as well as anyone and keep the bulls in a herd. This is good, because when fighting bulls are on their own they become the beast of solitary splendour and ferocity you may see in bullrings across Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico and much of Latin America. However, every second week in July, during the festival of Saint Fermín, they are run together as a herd from the corrals to the bullring. [Read more...]

Rest In Peace Bomber: Friend, Adventurer, Traveller, Warrior

On February 24th, 2013, my friend Bomber died. I thought it fitting to write a little tribute of my own to him here and translate the one from the website of the regional newspaper of one of his favourite cities on Earth, Pamplona.

20130226-112713.jpg Breakfast on Sunday of the Miuras, Pamplona, July 8th, 2012, among good friends. We had both just run with the bulls, I in my striped jacket, Bomber in his black one. The great bull-runner Joe Distler on Bomber’s left had removed his white tuxedo in case of spillages. (Photo: Jack Denault)

I first met Bomber properly in Pamplona in 2011, when I returned at the insistence of Angus MacSwan who told me I had got the city wrong in my book when he interviewed me for Reuters. That year, when I was flushed with the novelty of the feria de San Fermín, the wonders of running bulls properly, and the sheer excess of Fiesta properly lived, I can not remember how much we spoke, or what about. However, in the months that followed, he was a frequent commenter on this blog, and would often drop me notes congratulating me on the success of my book or my defence of los toros in various pieces of journalism.

His favourite of these was when I went to visit a matador he had met, Juan José Padilla, and who had taught me back in ’09, after he lost his eye in the ring, but was making a come back despite the injury and lack of depth perception.

Bomber had a great fondness for Padilla as a man, a matador, and in one of Bomber’s favourite complimentary phrases, “as a warrior”. He sent me this photo of the two of them together with great pride.

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(When I visited Padilla at his house before his comeback, he looked like this. [Photo: Zed Nelson])
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On my first day in Pamplona last year, July 6th, I joined the High Table of American bull-runners for dinner – Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and Bomber – and there Bomber told me how much it meant to him that another generation were coming to Pamplona, were becoming involved with the fiesta de los toros, and – most importantly to a man who at heart was a traveller – were helping to defend the diversity of things and cultures in the world, most especially Spain.

As Bomber and I walked back from that down into the Plaza de Castillo – well, he walked, I staggered from wine, funny how he made the encierro, the ‘bull-run’ the next day and I didn’t – I was reminded of the tragic story I was told about how the love of his life, Goldie, had died prematurely on the operating table, and how the news was conveyed to him in the that very square as he stood among friends outside Bar Txoco, where we always stand after the 8am encierro to ‘talk’ off the adrenaline, and how Bomber had collapsed from grief.

20130226-111655.jpg From left to right, Bomber, Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and Me one morning outside Bar Txoco, 2012 (Photo: Jim Hollander)

I cannot claim that I got to know Bomber half as well as I would like, but anyone who knows Pamplona knows that the fortnight that makes up two Fiestas is like three months of normal time. The only consolation for his passing aged 65 is that when he spoke of Goldie, you knew that life was simply so much less bright for him without her. And I noticed in our communications that he spoke of her more and more often after the 2012 Fiesta ended, and then he moved out of their shared home in Garmisch in Germany, posting strangely prophetic photos on Facebook as he did so, saying goodbye and thank you not just to the place, but seemingly to all his friends as well.

Myself and the young American bull-runner Bill Hillmann had spoken about going to meet him in Germany in the Autumn, but we never did, and that will always be a sadness in my life. Even my father, who only met Bomber a few times, asks after him, just as Bomber made a point of sending me this photo of the three of us.

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No one could be better prepared for the final encierro which we all one day will run. In the words of Joe Distler upon reading this post, “Bless and keep you brother.”

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

And here is what the newspapers said… [Read more...]

The Chicago Tribune: Running with the Bulls

The great young American bull-runner Bill Hillman’s article in the Chicago Tribune on James A. Michener and Ernest Hemingway ‘running the bulls’ in Pamplona, featuring quotes from Ernest’s grandson John Hemingway, myself and Joe Distler. By no coincidence, we were all three of us out in Pamplona less than a week ago drinking and running the bulls together.

Now, if we could only find something else to work together on…

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

As I geared up to run with the bulls this week at the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain, my mind turned to literature: Both Ernest Hemingway and James Michener famously wrote about the violence and drama of bullfighting— and both took risks to do it. But which of them really lived the Fiesta to the fullest?

The contenders

Hemingway, a Nobel Prize winner and Oak Park native, did more than any other author to build and preserve the mystique of the Fiesta de San Fermin with his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Yet many experts, including his grandson John Hemingway, believe Ernest never ran with the bulls—we’ll get back to that.

Michener, a Pulitzer Prize winner, also did his share to present Spanish culture to the world in his 1971 novel “The Drifters” and his 1968 nonfiction work “Iberia.” Michener ran with the bulls many times, although he never claimed to be good at it.

The case for Hemingway, the aficionado

Did Hemingway actually run with the bulls? John Hemingway, Ernest’s grandson and author of “Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir,” is torn on the issue.

“I don’t think he ran,” John Hemingway said. “At least from what I’ve heard, he didn’t. But then who knows? After a night of drinking, he might have on the spur of the moment decided ‘what the hell,’ and he and a group of his friends took off with the locals running with the bulls. We’ll never know.”

Hemingway studied bullfighting and was known to use a cape to lure and turn vaca (2-year-old wild, fighting cows) in Pamplona’s bull ring after the run. But Alexander Fiske-Harrison, a British bullfighter and author of “Into the Arena,” sees Hemingway’s work with vaca as daring, but not quite a life-and-death feat.

“A vaca has far greater maneuverability and speed than a fighting bull,” Fiske-Harrison said in an interview. “It can turn on a dime, and its horns are often sharper than a bull’s. However, they do not have the weight behind them. Hemingway’s danger was really related to how well he could take a tumble; although a vaca did kill the great late 20th century matador Antonio Bienvenida.”

The case for Michener, the mozo

Did Michener really run? Or did he stand? Michener got into running with the bulls late in life. He already had heart trouble and wasn’t especially mobile. In the existing photos of Michener on the street, he was usually standing in a doorway as the herd ambled past. Does that count as running with the bulls?

“Technically, Michener never ran, but to be in the street with bulls takes as much nerve as running,” said Joe Distler, a New York-raised Parisian considered in Spain as the second great American mozo (or bull-runner). “Nowhere on the street is safe. Sadly, that’s been proven time and time again.”

[Read more...]

Padilla in The Pamplona Post

It may seem churlish as The Last Arena receives its 50.000th visitor to send them to The Pamplona Post, but since the extract from my book Into The Arena - with a host of photographs I couldn’t fit in the book by Nicolás Haro – is all about Pamplona’s favourite matador, Juan José Padilla, I am afraid there was no way around. Please click on the masthead below:

Moving blog for Pamplona

Running in Pamplona '09 - me circled right

For the festivities of Pamplona 2011, I will be moving blog to The Pamplona Post, an informal, constantly updated multimedia avalanche on the madness of bullrunning, bullfighting, drinking and everything else one gets up to in the streets of the capital of Navarre…
Join me there by clicking on the masthead below:

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