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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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...]

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 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...]

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