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.

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Alexander Fiske-Harrison in ‘ABC’: “Many foreigners would not spend a cent in Spain without the bulls.”

The Spanish national newspaper ABC ran the following interview with me last week (with photos by Nicolás Haro).

The online version is available here. The beginning translates in a way you would only find in Spain:

Alexander Fiske-Harrison at his book launch in Seville (ABC)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison: “Many foreigners would not spend a cent in Spain without the bulls.”

Interview by Anna Grau

A British Gentleman passionate about the Fiesta, he is an amateur matador (the “bullfighter-philosopher” they call him) and has published a book on the art of bullfighting.

To Alexander Fiske-Harrison in his own country, which is the UK, some call him the “bullfighter-philosopher.” While others send him death threats, since he has gone from being active supporter of animal rights and a student of philosophy and piology in London and Oxford to being a matador in Spain. He is the author of Into the Arena (Profile Books), treatise on Spanish bullfighting for non-believers and foreigners. Many of which, he notes, come to our country intensely attracted to the fiesta nacional… and would swiftly back from where they came if this disappeared.

How to ask this man what he thinks of bullfighting ban in Barcelona? “Since then, the only money I’ve spent there has been to take a taxi from the airport to the train station to go to run with the bulls in Pamplona, a city that invests 4 million Euros each year in the Feria de San Fermín, and gets in return 60 million Euros from tourism.” Clear cut. [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...]

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.”

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The Great Pamplona Bullrunner, Joe Distler, reviews my book ‘Into The Arena’

Joe Distler, known as the “Iron Man” of Pamplona, has run every Pamplona bull-run for 44 years and been the subject of countless articles and documentaries. He is without doubt, question or challenge the greatest American runner of the bulls.

The latest issue of La Busca, the journal of the association “Taurine Bibliophiles of America” contains this review he wrote of my book Into The Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight.

Joe Distler (Photo: Gerry Dawes)

In 1967, in the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, I walked down the wrong isle heading for the fiction section and that brief misstep would change my life forever. There, lying in wait, was a copy of Robert Daley’s book, The Swords of Spain. Since Spain was always a place I had desired to visit, I picked up the book and the very first page I turned to had photographs of men running in front of Bulls. I was enraptured. Reading Hemingway had never really interested me in Pamplona’s “encierro” but Daley’s book completely freaked me out. It was, being a used copy, the best five dollar investment I have ever made! Not only did it convince me I must go to Pamplona immediately, it led to my friendships with Matt Carney, John Fulton, Muriel Feiner, Barnaby Conrad, Bill Lyon and a host of other fabulous characters who would go on to fill my life with wonder and joy.

Matt Carney & Joe Distler by John Fulton

Every year, before going to Spain, I still go back to Daley. The book is as fresh today as it was when I first read it standing in the stacks so many years ago. His vignette ‘Spanish Springtime’ still brings tears to my eyes and I wonder what magic made me find such a book?

Over the years, like so many aficionados, I have amassed a large library of taurine books but none ever affected me the way The Swords of Spain did. Not, at least, until recently.

Joe Distler, top right, running in Pamplona

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, top right, running in Pamplona

[Read more...]

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