THE LAST ARENA: Iván Fandiño: We Who Are About To Die Salute You…

Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

(from Tennyson’s Ulysses)

The 36-year-old Basque matador Iván Fandiño was killed by a bull in the ring yesterday in Aire-Sur-L’Adour, near Mont de Marsan, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwestern France.

The hierro, ‘iron’ or brand, of the ranch of Baltasar Ibán along with its colours.

The bull, Provechito No. 53, was born in March 2013 in El Escorial in the province of Madrid, on the well-known as respect ranch of Baltasar Ibán – founded 1920 – whose herd is of the Contreras bloodline – whose origin is the historic Murubé line – with a touch of Domecq – whose origin is the historic Parladé line.

It was the third of six bulls fought that evening, and was actually being fought by the matador Juan del Álamo when Fandiño stepped in to perform a quite upon it – a sequence of artistic manoeuvres with cape done after the bull has faced the mounted picador with his lance.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in the centuries-old scripted sequence of a corrida. The corrida is not a sport, nor a fight (even though I use that English verb as “torear” has no proper translation) – nor thought of, discussed or reviewed in the papers as such. It is a tragic spectacle culminating in a ritual sacrifice.

Fandiño had already been awarded an ear from his own bull, the first of the evening as most senior matador – he became a full matador in 2005 in Bilbao (he was the only Basque matador at the time of his death) – and clearly thought this bull special enough that he could do something to entertain, impress or move the audience with it.

July 11, 2013-Pamplona, Spain- Matador Iván Fandiño does a pase de pecho with a bull from the ranch of Torrestrella of Álvaro Domecq (Photo © Jim Hollander / EPA)

To read on click here

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An Establishment Man: R.I.P. Victor Sandelson, 1928-2017


I was saddened to see in The Times that my family friend Victor Sandleson has died.

My memories of Victor are mainly from my childhood at Fiske & Co’s old summer parties on the Pavilion Terrace at the Palace of Westminster. He was one of my father’s Cambridge friends and you always could find him chatting, cigarette balanced delicately between upturned fingers (with a portable solid gold ashtray in the other hand), staring down at waters of The Thames, his words drifting between subjects with his friends, medicine or the sea with our GP Sir Nigel Southward (then Apothecary to the Royal Household and later Vice Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron), business or horses with Sir Martyn Arbib (then owner of both Invesco Perpetual and racehorses like Snurge who won the St Leger) or history and politics with the Marquess of Ailesbury (then a member of both the House of Lords and the board of Fiske.)

Victor’s brother Neville had been a Member of Parliament, one of the infamous Labour MPs who helped set up the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and then defected to it in 1981. Victor would always speak of his brother as “the clever one”, even though it was he had been invited back to Cambridge University to teach. Older than my father, he had poached him Sandelson & Co from Panmure’s (with David Cameron’s father Ian), until my father left for Fiske, a briefly acrimonious split which got them both in the pages of Private Eye more than once.

My fondest memory of Victor, though, is one of intellect and generosity at a dinner party of my parent’s in Eaton Square when I was twenty. I just had just begun my Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) degree course at Oxford and while researching some essay or other I had come across Hugh Thomas’s 1959 book of essays The Establishment. Lord Thomas is now better known as a historian of Spain, but in those days he was a noted journalist and had coined the phrase “The Establishment” in 1954. He’d asked Victor to contribute a chapter on The City, and with characteristic wit Victor had titled it ‘The Confidence Trick.’

More than the content of the piece I remember his delight that it was still being read almost four decades later, and after I brought it up we spent a memorable evening in a discussion which began with finance, moved on to the nature of power and elites, and then and ranged everywhere from the philosophy of fin de siècle Vienna to the fate of the Jews in Europe in the 20th century – Victor was proudly a Jewish English gentleman.

Most of all from that night, I came away with a realisation that discussions of great depth could also be carried out with humour and charm if you possessed his particular lightness of touch, something I have still yet to master. This was further reinforced by my return Oxford a few days later, where I found a handwritten letter waiting at the Porter’s Lodge of my college thanking me profusely for my company at dinner and containing a book token for £100 so that I could buy at least a few of the many he had mentioned in passing. It was a gesture which I have never forgotten.

The world is less without him.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

 

 

 

Victor was a mainstay of my youth, always at family parties arguing medicine with our doctor Sir Nigel Southward who had been at Cambridge with both he and my father (Victor was teaching there by that point), or finance with my father’s school friend Sir Martyn Arbib, or politics with the Marquess of Ailesbury, who then still had his seat in the House of Lords – in fact, many of those conversations were on the Pavilion Terrace overlooking the River Thames at the annual Fiske & Co summer party.)

Bull-Running In The Land Of Buffalos

I will be talking about the encierros – the ‘bull-runs’ – of Pamplona on Classic FM South Africa at 10a.m. local time, which is 8.a.m. GMT, which gives me about ten minutes to make a coffee. For more details on the subject, read the eBook guide I edited and co-authored with contributions from everyone from the Mayor of Pamplona to John Hemingway, grandson of the great author and bulls aficionado Ernest Hemingway, The Bulls of Pamplona – click here for more details.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Merry Christmas

Caspar David Friedrich - Winter Landscape (1811)

Caspar David Friedrich – Winter Landscape (1811)

Some say that ever ‘gaint that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abraod.
The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is that time.

Hamlet, Act One, Scene One

Xander

My shortlisted story for Le Prix Hemingway 2016

le-prix-hemingway

I have had put up the original English version of my short story, ‘The Unbroken’, which was a finalist for the twelfth Le Prix Hemingway in France this year. The anthology of the best dozen of the shortlisted stories was published yesterday in which it features under its French title, ‘Les Invincibles.’ It is set in the Paris of 1958 and Pamplona of 1959, and features many real characters from that time, including the author Ernest Hemingway, the New York Herald Tribune columnist Art Buchwald and the WWII veteran of Iwo Jima and bull-runner Matt Carney. It is at ‘The Pamplona Post’ online here. le-prix-hemingway-2016

P.S. I have also put up a ten thousand word essay on the history, ethics, technique and art of bullfighting at ‘The Last Arena’, online here.

Farewell To Fiesta

'Ghost Bull' by Chloe Drakari-Phillips. A herd of Spanish fighting bulls is herded through the dawn forests to Cuéllar by hundeds of horsemen at the beginning of the most ancient 'encierro' - bull-run - in Spain

‘Ghost Bull’. A herd of Spanish fighting bulls is herded through the dawn forests to Cuéllar by hundeds of horsemen at the beginning of the most ancient ‘encierro’ – bull-run – in Spain. (Photo: Chloe Drakari-Phillips)

 

This year was my fifth at the Feria de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Cuéllar in Castile y León, Spain, running with bulls in the oldest encierros in all Spain. When I first arrived in 2012 the town opened its arms to me and so when I left I wrote an article in the regional newspaper, El Norte de Castilla titled ‘Thank you, Cuéllar, from London‘. The following year the headline was ‘And again thank you, Cuéllar, from London‘. Then in 2014 it was ‘See you soon Cuéllar‘.

Cuellar El Norte coverHowever, the following year I broke my ribs running with the cattle there and forgot to write, so this year I made sure my article came out early, on the opening Sunday of the fair, the day I arrived. It is reprinted in English below (the original Spanish is online here.)

There is Fiesta and Feria in Cuéllar

In 1923 Ernest Hemingway arrived in Pamplona and witnessed the great explosion of life that is the Fiesta of San Fermin, through the heart of which a path was carved from the corrals to the plaza by the Feria del Toro.

By the time he returned in 1959 the city was so changed he almost didn’t recognise it. He wrote that “40,000 tourists have been added. There were not 20 tourists when I first went there nearly four decades ago.”

The article as it appeared. The photo is of me in my days as a bullfighter in 2010 by Nicolás Haro.

The article as it appeared. The photo is of AFH in my days as a bullfighter in 2010 by Nicolás Haro.

When I arrived sixty years later – to the day – there were over a million tourists. And although sanfermines has been like a father to my afición – with the southern elegance of April in Seville as its mother – Cuéllar is a far older and more personal thing than those spectacular parents. Which is why I have come here every year since I met the sculptor Dyango Velasco on the opening Saturday of the feria in 2012.

Since then I have never come alone. Over the years I have come with a strange and wondrous mix of people to your town. In 2013 I brought to your town of the horse the Earl of Westmorland, whose father was Master of Horse to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and along with him the greatest jockey my country ever produced, Richard Dunwoody, who won the most dangerous horserace in England, the Grand National, not once but twice.

Nicolás Osorio & I in 2013

Nicolás Osorio & AFH (jacket) in 2013 (Photo: Graeme Galloway)

The following year I brought Nicolás Osorio, eldest son of the Duke of Alburquerque, whose ancestral castle embraces your town in its arms. His grandfather did not win the British Grand National, despite riding in it twenty or so times as an amateur. He did, however, become famous for breaking more bones in it than any other jockey and was nicknamed the “Iron Duke”, not, like Wellington, for his political resolve, but for all the metal pins and plates that kept his skeleton together.

This year I come with more foreigners than ever, some of whom Cuéllar knows, and some of whom are new. There is that great photographer of wars and bulls, Jim Hollander of European Pressphoto Agency, who returns having been awarded the EHToro prize for writing about the encierros – ‘bull-runs’ – of Cuéllar last year and having just been named “guirri del año” by Mikel Urmeneta in Pamplona this year.

Jim Hollander in the forests of Cuéllar (Photo: Chloe Drakari-Phillips)

Jim Hollander in the forests of Cuéllar (Photo: Chloe Drakari-Phillips)

To celebrate the publication of his book Pizarra To Pamplona: Across Spain On Horseback (available to purchase here), about his childhood travels with his father, Gino Hollander – a great taurine painter whose work covers the walls of the Casa Misericordia in Pamplona – Jim will be photographing the encierro of Cuéllar for the world’s press from the back of one of its horses with me providing the words from the horse next door.

In the streets we will have the great Texan rodeo champion who moved and married to become your neighbour and a university professor in Valladolid. Larry Belcher, who is already familiar to readers of these pages following his 40th anniversary in the encierros of Spain (as is his wife Dr Ana Cerón of the hospital there.)

Noel Chandler and Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Pamplona, July 2013 (Photo: David Penton)

Noel Chandler and Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Pamplona, July 2013 (Photo: David Penton)

AFH with Juan José Padilla at his home (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

AFH with Juan José Padilla at his home (Photo: Nicolás Haro)

Alongside these veteran taurinos, there will be younger faces too (having turned 40 this year I do not include mine.) There is Jordan Tipples from Wales, who has the heart of a lion, and follows in the tradition of that great Welsh runner of bulls and aficionado, Noel Chandler, whose death last year we mourn still.

It is Noel who taught me the philosophy of the first foreign runner to be accepted by locals, a veteran of the Marine Corps in the Second World War, Matt Carney, whose children Allen and Deirdre I run with in Pamplona. This is that one must not run for glory, but for the joy of it. (This lesson is too often forgotten today, as is the lesson I was given by my first teacher in the plaza, Juan José Padilla, who said to me after he had lost his eye in Zaragoza in 2011: “scars are not medals of honour, but the marks of our mistakes.” This sort of pride has no place in the plaza or the street.)

AFH running with the bulls in the last encierro of Cuéllar 2016 (Photo courtesy of Castilla y León Televisión)

AFH running with the bulls in the last encierro of Cuéllar 2016 (Photo courtesy of Castilla y León Televisión)

Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and AFH (Photo: Ana Cerón)

Joe Distler, Larry Belcher and me (Photo: Ana Cerón)

And then there is Chloe Drakari-Phillips. Chloe first went to Pamplona twenty-five years ago, although she is only twenty-four years old. (Her first San Fermín was when her mother was pregnant.) This adopted child of the Fiesta of San Fermín is the soul of that side of Pamplona, in all its passion and its vibrancy, who has shown me a less serious side to the taurine life of Spain, adopted child of the Feria del Toro that I am.

As part of this spirit of cooperation between local and foreigner, I have asked the principal pastor, Enrique Bayón Brandi, to join with me in arranging a “breakfast of runners” following a tradition begun in Pamplona by the great runners, and our good friends, Julen Madina and Joe Distler thirty years ago. We hope to bring a new international tradition to the oldest encierro in Spain. As a mark of respect to the bulls and those who work with them, this first will be held in honour of the memory of Victor Barrio and attended by David Mora the morning before he faces the same risks himself with the bulls with which we have just run.

The Pamplona Runner's Breakfast 2015. Joe Distler is in sunglasses next to me at the back behind the matador David Mora (white polo shirt) with Julen Madina kneeling front (white t-shirt) (Photo by John Kimmich on Jim Hollander's camera - Jim is front row holding John's camera)

The Pamplona Runner’s Breakfast 2015. Joe Distler is in sunglasses next to AFH at the back behind the matador David Mora – white polo shirt – with Julen Madina kneeling front – white t-shirt – (Photo by John Kimmich on Jim Hollander’s camera – Jim is front row holding John’s camera)

It is nice to be able to bring a tradition from Pamplona back to Cuéllar since Cuéllar is most likely the parent of Pamplona’ most famous. The 3rd and 4th Dukes of Alburquerque – Nicolás Osorio’s father is the 19th Duke – were viceroys of Navarre from 1452 to 1464 about the time when encierros began to be written about in that region of Spain.

So, as I pack my old school athletics blazer with its distinctive red and white stripes in honour of the marriage of Spain’s traditions and my own, I can barely contain my excitement to once again check into the Hotel San Francisco and attend the ferias of Nuestra Señora del Rosario and the grandfather of all encierros that runs through it.

The begining of the bull-run of Cuéllar, Spain's oldest (Photo by Jim Hollander - EPA)

The beginning of the bull-run of Cuéllar, Spain’s oldest (Photo: Jim Hollander/EPA)

Postscript

Me, the late 'Bomber', the late Julen Madina and Stephen Ibarra who was with us in Spain this year, in better days. (Photo by Deanna Ally)

Me, the late ‘Bomber’, the late Julen Madina and Stephen Ibarra who was with me in Spain last week, in 2012. (Photo by Deanna Ally)

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 30th, Julen Madina died in hospital following an accident while swimming, itself following an incident in which he was badly injured in an encierro in Tudela. And so ended the life one of the most prolific and skilled runners of bulls in the history of the encierro. Although I did not get to know him as well as I might have liked, I counted him as a friend, we spent a little time together and he kindly contributed to the book I compiled, edited and co-authored along with mutual friends of ours such as Joe Distler, Miguel Ángel Eguiluz, Jokin Zuasti and photographs by Jim Hollander.

On my flight back from Madrid last week, I scribbled a few lines on a napkin to describe the simple but profound thing that is fiesta. It is not much, but I thought I would put it up here.

Farewell To Fiesta

(For Chloe)

Farewell to fiesta, farewell to the sun,
The candles are burned down and the bulls are all done.

But though the shrine’s empty and altars are bare,
We know the way back now and will return there.

As we grow older and some of us fall,
We’ll still lift our glasses and toast to us all.

For fiesta is in us, and those who we love,
Those still among us, and those up above.

 

Last night of the feria (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Last night of the feria (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

hloe

THE LAST ARENA: A Runner’s Breakfast

the-last-arena-logoAs I pack my bags for the encierros – ‘bull-runs’ – of San Sebastián de los Reyes and Cuéllar, I was about to happily announce a new tradition, that of an international Runners’ Breakfast in the latter, the oldest encierros in Spain. Here is how I put it in an article to be published in El Norte de Castilla on Sunday.

As part of this spirit of cooperation between local and foreigner, I have asked the principal pastor, Enrique Bayon Brandi, to join with me in arranging a “breakfast of runners” following a tradition begun in Pamplona by the great runners, and our good friends, Julen Madina and Joe Distler thirty years ago. We hope to bring a new international tradition to the oldest encierro in Spain. As a mark of respect to the bulls and those who work with them, this first will be held in honour of the memory of Victor Barrio and attended by the matador David Mora the morning before he faces the same risks himself with the bulls with which we have just run.

Julen Madina in the traditional red and white (with blue elbow support) leads the bulls into the ring in Pamplona

Julen Madina in the traditional red and white (with blue elbow support) leads the bulls into the ring in Pamplona

To read on click here.

The Sun Also Rises


Today my first ever article came out in The Sunonline here. Before I have always written for ‘broadsheet’ British newspapers like its News International sister paper The Times. However, after reading endless false stories about the tragic death of the Spanish matador Victor Barrio, I could not turn down the offer of a voice in Britain’s biggest selling national newspaper. 

Inevitably there are ‘casualties of truth’ in a situation like this. I was commissioned to write at 3pm to complete the piece by 6pm. In Pamplona. Having run with the bulls that morning. And drunk all day. After four identical days. 

I am not a matador, which is a professional title, which was explained in my writing, if not in the printed ‘copy’, I was a torero, a ‘bullfighter’. However, it is a churlish complaint when describing the arcane and esoteric to expect the sub-editor doing the headline on the edited copy – which has lost these nuances – to know the differences.

What is more, at least I did not lie. 

The article attached to my article from the League Against Cruel Sports – for balance, which I respect – has no such compunctions nor attachments to research and truth. 

I’ve been on every major ranch and in every major bullring and fought myself. When was a bull’s eyes ever smeared with Vaseline? Where is their evidence for this claim? A half blind bull would charge a blur of man and cape, rather than the specific part of the cape the matador dictates, and many, many more would be dead. The same goes for starving – nonsense, I have photos of them eating in the corrals of the bullring itself… guys, the blood is in the ring, you don’t need to make it up. 

If anyone really wants to read about the morality of bullfighting, read my speech at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a blog post here

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

My new project…

Blog

… has a new blog. http://www.thelandofwolves.com I intend to find out, and write about, everything you ever wanted to know about wolves and dogs and humans. Let’s see how far I get.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Method Authors: A New Literary Movement – from The Independent

image

Note: For details on the classes, go to our website http://www.theactofwriting.co.uk

I’ve been meaning to write a post on author Thomas W. Hodgkinson’s mooting of the “new literary movement” (ahem) of ‘method writing’ since he first spoke about it on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a week or so ago. (You can listen to it excerpted on the BBC here.)

However, ironically, I was too busy practising what he was preaching, as I was living in the Montparnasse apartment of one of the real-life protagonists of a short historical fiction I was writing to enter in the Prix d’Hemingway in France.

So it wasn’t until I returned to London late last night that I discovered he had launched the intended project in this morning’s The Independent (online here.)

author-photo-alexaner-fiske-harrison (2)

My Research

Thomas tells an abridged version of the story of why I am one of his three “method authors” in the piece.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison… trained as a matador in Spain as research for his book about bullfighting, Into the Arena. He is also an actor who, like Dustin Hoffman, has honed his technique at the Actors Studio. So for him, nothing was more natural, when he sat down to write, than to don the same black “country suit” and short jacket he’d worn in the arena. Between bursts of typing, he would move about the room, performing what is known as toreo de salon.

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