I have written about the terrible reality of the corrida before. However, when my girlfriend and I went to La Maestranza yesterday for what we hoped would be the most interesting corrida of the entire feria de abril, the last thing I expected was to see Julián López Escobar, ‘El Juli’, carried out of the ring in front of me and rushed to intensive care.
Juli is, with the possible exception of Enrique Ponce, the most complete torero ‘on the sand’ in Spain today. At thirty years of age, he has been toreando fighting cattle for twenty-one years, sixteen of them professionally. A child prodigy, he stunned Mexico and later his native Spain with his surety in front of the bulls, and his phenomenal skill at reading the animal and developing even the most recalcitrant of beasts into a charging spectacle. Although when I researched for my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, in 2009 I was not quite so admiring of him, I still gave him his due. In 2010 I remember my teacher, the former matador Eduardo Dávila Miura, and I agreeing that Juli did not transmit emotion, the very purpose of any artistic endeavour. However, since then I remember the Welsh aficionado Noel Chandler explaining to me how Juli was something almost unnatural in his breadth of knowledge, ‘an encyclopaedia of toreo’. And I remember seeing him in Pamplona in 2012, when all the crowd were busy celebrating the triumphant reappearance of the newly one-eyed Juan José Padilla, while he performed some of the most beautiful passes I have ever seen, seemingly for his own pleasure alone. Among the breeders of bulls he is known most of all for his aficion for the toros bravos themselves, which he spends months every year studying in the countryside. (I met him once in the Aero Club in Seville when he was being awarded a prize. He was charming and polite, although unnervingly young and humble for such a colossus in the plaza.)
So, given our current favourite torero’s (José Tomás doesn’t count), José Mari Manzanares, inability to repeat his stunning triumphs of the last two years when we saw him with six bulls last weekend, we had hoped that the presence of this Maestro would lead to some amazing faenas. However, the very first bull, with the brand of Toros de Cortés (which means Victorinao del Río, which means Juan Pedro Domecq), which had been unwilling to charge, and when charging had frequently stopped, or hooked his horns from side to side, somehow caught this technical virtuoso, and opened up his femoral artery with a 15cm deep horn wound and also knocked out three of his teeth. Had he been gored like this fifty years ago, he would have died.
As you can see from the photo, he was swept out of the ring by the other bullfighters, Manzanares (on his right) then killed the bull. The other matador, Antonio Nazaré, a young Sevillano went on to have a great triumph with his second bull, receiving two ears, while Manazanares also did with his last, although he was denied the second ear by the presidenta for losing his muleta when he tried naturales on the left.
It is so strange that the finest toreo, and best toros, I have seen so far in the feria (which isn’t saying much) have been on the day that such a fine torero should come so close to losing his life. (And certainly losing his ability to torear the bulls of Miura on Sunday, something which was to be unique in having such a gran figura with such famously difficult bulls.) However, the one thing about the corrida de toros that we say time and time again, is how incredibly real it is. Men risk their lives for this, whether you like it or not….