A Spanish Confinement I: My first coronavirus diary in the Daily Telegraph

 

For the original article, available to subscribers only, please click here.

DAILY TELEGRAPH

Here in Spain there is martial law in all but name – surely the British wouldn’t put up with it

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
20th March 2020

It was when they taped off the children’s playground on the Plaza de la Constitución, as though it were a crime scene, that we knew the rumours were true.

All that Saturday the streets had been empty of people save the town’s ex-pat population as the Spanish government debated at every level – local, provincial and national – about what would put on ‘lockdown’ and how. I came down from my balcony to investigate as the local police pinned a notice to the swings, reading “Proclamation: Preventative Measures for the Protection of Citizens against the Coronavirus”, written in the name of the Mayor, and followed by a list of closures ranging from the municipal library to the 12th-century Moorish castle which stands guard over our Andalusian hilltop town.

Knowing that more was sure to come we stayed at Bar Pastor until closing time. The next morning we woke up to find the police sealing that bar, and all the others. It had begun. [Read more…]

Our new project:

This is the new project we have been working on for some time to bring polo to Mauritius has been agreed: with the government’s tourism agency, the owner of the grandest hotel on the island, Sanjiv Ramdanee, and the man who has been the single greatest innovating force in exotic location non-club based polo, Reto Gaudenzi of Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz and the World Snow Polo Championships. More details follow at www.InternationalPoloEvents.com.

Mauritius is set to host a prestigious polo match later in the year following the signing of a new partnership.
The news was announced at the annual Snow Polo World Cup, hosted each year in St. Moritz.
Arvind Bundhun, chief executive of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority, made the announcement during a gala dinner hosted at Badrutt’s Palace Hotel.
He was welcomed to the stage by Reto Gaudenzi, chief executive of St. Moritz Snow Polo, and joined by Sanjiv Ramdanee, chief executive of Maradiva Villas Resort & Spa.

International Polo Events join Mr Bundhun, Mr Ramdanee and Mr Gaudenzi to make this happen. We thank our new partners for inviting us to help bring polo back to the Indian Ocean: more details soon at www.MauritiusPolo.com.

 

contact@internationalpoloevents.com

 

International Polo Events Ltd.

Incorporated at Companies House, 80 Petty France, Westminster, London SW1H 9EX, United Kingdom

Company Number 12348482

Bulls and Horses, Horses and Bulls…

Famed ‘Torrestrella’ bull-breeder – and founder of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art – Álvaro Domecq Romero, Spain’s number one matador Juan José Padilla, author Alexander Fiske-Harrison, photographer Nicolás Haro, and Don Álvaro’s favourite pura raza, ‘Pure Spanish’, stallion at Los Alburejos in 2009 (Photo: AFH personal collection)

It was sad to see confirmed in the press the rumour I heard from the Núñez del Cuvillo family that Álvarito Domecq has sold his legendary ranch, where he not only bred the famed Torrestrella – ‘Star Tower ‘ – bulls, so named for the ruined castle overlooking his estate, but also bred his pura raza Española horses – what we call ‘Andalusians’ in English – and founded one of the most important Schools of Riding in the World. Mind you, €20 million is not a bad price for a house in rural Spain.

Meanwhile, I have been working on some other bull and horse projects, which will come out through Polo Andalusia and Bullfighting Andalusia in the next few weeks. Along with a book and documentary film project on which more at The Last Arena blog in the same time frame.

Oh, and a visit to the House of Deputies – the House of Commons or Congress of Spain – although not as the Spanish newspaper ABC is suggest to promulgate a “Law Fiske-Harrison”!

¿Se imaginan una Ley Fiske-Harrison de Teo García Egea para derogar la Ley Rhodes de Pablemos?

The full article is, in Spanish, available here:

https://www.abc.es/opinion/abci-ignacio-ruiz-quintano-ley-rhodes-202002120018_noticia.html#

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

THE LAST ARENA: An Essay On Bullfighting – 2019 update


the-last-arena-logo

TPP Editor’s Note: As this blog falls in disuse, I leave you with the result of my twenty years research into the world of the bulls on my other site – AFH

TLA Editor’s Note: This 10,000 word essay has been updated for republication since its original appearance in 2016. I have, however, kept the original data from Spain’s Ministry of Culture etc., as relevant changes have not really occurred: there were 1,521 bullfights in 2018, and 17,698 bull ‘festivities’ as defined below. And, as reported on the site here, the great matador Iván Fandiño was killed by a bull in a ring in France – AFH

José Tomás by Carlos Cazalis from his forthcoming book Sangre de Reyes, 'Blood Of

José Tomás by Carlos Cazalis from his book Sangre de Reyes, ‘Blood Of Kings’

When I first went to my first bullfight 20 years ago, I was 23 and was sure I would hate it. I was a passionate animal lover and had been a keen amateur naturalist since childhood, WWF & Greenpeace member and zoology undergraduate. It is obvious that ot an auspicious CV for a future aficionado a los toros.

As expected, what I saw contained many moments of brutality and blood but I was surprised also to find I could see beyond them to feel moments of breathless thrill as well. What genuinely shocked me, though, was that I could also perceive intermittently, and only with one of the bullfighters present, a kind of beauty that was entirely new to me.

In my moral confusion, I decided to research this alien thing, reading what I could in English – mainly Ernest Hemingway and Barnaby Conrad – and going when possible to see a corrida, a ‘bullfight’, on my irregular visits to Spain. Each time I went with a little more understanding and a little less aversion. Some would argue I became more sensitive to the aesthetics, others that I had become more inured to the ethics (or lack thereof.) I wouldn’t like to say either way.

into-the-arena-coverIn 2008 I was commissioned to write a book on the subject and I moved to Seville for two years and among other researches I trained as a bullfighter to the level of matador de novillos-toros – a novice level matador de toros bravos – ending by killing a single animal in the ring, a novillo, a three-year-old bull weighing around a third of a ton. (Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight was published by Profile Books in 2011 and shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year Award the same year.)

As part of the research, I also attended the encierros, ‘bull-runs’, of Pamplona and ran with fear and ignorance among the masses of drunken foreigners and adrenaline seekers. Unlike those visitors, I returned, and ended up running in towns across Spain, away from the tourist trail and among those born to this bloodless and less ritualised, more pagan practice.

I ran with the bulls from San Sebastián de los Reyes in the suburbs of Madrid, to Falces, where you hurtle pell-mell down a goat-path, bordered by a sheer drop, in the foothills of Navarran Pyrenees. From Tafalla, also in Navarre, which resembles Pamplona in the 1920s to Cuéllar in Old Castille, which hosts the most ancient encierros in Spain.

(The book I edited and co-authored with the Mayor of Pamplona, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, Orson Welles’s daughter and the finest bull-runners including the late Julen Madina, Jokin Zuasti, Joe Distler and Reuters & EPA photographer Jim Hollander, The Bulls Of Pamplona, was published by Mephisto Press in 2018, purchasing details are online here.)

I may be something of an oddity in my afición in English-speaking countries – although there is a Club Taurino of London as there is of New York – but in Spain (or Portugal, France, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela) the picture is very different.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison running with the Torrestrella bulls of Álvaro Domecq - striped jacket - in Pamplona (Photo: Joseba Etxaburu - Reuters)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison running with the Torrestrella bulls of Álvaro Domecq – striped jacket – in Pamplona (Photo: Joseba Etxaburu – Reuters)

According to the annual figures on asuntos taurinos, ‘taurine matters’, published by Spain’s Ministry of Culture, the bulls are on the way back for the first time since the world economy collapsed in 2008.

The number of full-fledged corridas in 2015 stabilised at 394, down only 1% since 2014 compared with that year’s drop of 7% on the year before and 10% before that.

There were even large increases in some regions – Andalusia, Aragon, Murcia, the two Castiles and the Basque Country – and it seems that Madrid was the real fall, perhaps a reflection of the strange political stirrings going on in the capital.

The number of bullfights in the broader sense of the word – including novilladas for novices and rejoneo for horseback toreros etc., – 80% of which occur in Andalusia, Madrid and the two Castiles, had fallen by 7% to 1,736, but this after a slight increase the year before.

Far more importantly in a country where subsidies distort the market, the number of people actually attending bullfights in 2015 was up to 3.7 million, an increase of more than a third of a million since 2011 when my book came out. Back, in fact, to pre-financial crisis levels.

This is alongside some 6.4 million having watched bullfighting on the television to which it had only returned in 2015 (and half a million more on the internet.)

To keep reading please click here…

THE LAST ARENA: The Thrill Has Gone…


El Norte de Castilla

‘The North Of Castile’

ENGLISH VERSION – IN SPANISH ORIGINAL HERE

The Joy Of The Thrill

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Monday, September 9th, 2019

ENGLISH VERSION – IN SPANISH ORIGINAL HERE

Lungs burning, vision fuzzing, heart thumping and hands shaking, I stood watching and chatting with my companions in the street, Josechu Lopez and David Garcia, as the last bull moved up the street last Tuesday, in the antepenultimate encierro of the oldest feria of bull-running in the world, and the last time I expect to find myself sharing the asphalt with my favourite animal ever again.

It is not that I have lost my love for the bull or my affection for encierros, ‘bull-runs’: my admiration for this meeting place for man and beast is entirely undiminished. Nor is it the decrepitude of old age or excesses of an indulgent lifestyle that are pulling me out as I enter my mid-40s: I could still clock a three-and-three-quarter hour marathon in Mont Saint-Michel in France last year, and did my finest taurine runs ever the year before that in such rarified places as Funes and Falces.

Midnight Run – Alexander Fiske-Harrison, far right, running on the horns of a bull in a nocturnal encierro in Funes in Navarre in 2017

No, ten years after my first ever encierro – with Miuras, in San Fermin – I have had to admit that my personal experience of running alongside, and occasionally in front of, such animals has ceased to deliver a pleasure that outweighs the ultimate risk. It is not that, to quote the great B. B. King, “the thrill is gone”, but that the joy in that thrill has.

Click here to read on…

The Right Pin-Up


I found it odd when it was pointed out to me here in wilds of Andalusia, working on building up Polo Andalusia, that the papers had decided to name me pin-up boy for the parties of the Right in Spain, especially under the surname of one of my maternal ancestors, Cecil Rhodes. (The headline El otro Rhodes translates as ‘The Other Rhodes.’)

However, it was another Rhodes they referenced: a ‘celebrity’ musician who plays classical music – by which I mean a person whose public profile as a musician has piggy-backed on his public profile for revelations (his own) about his private life rather than his talent – who has also moved to Spain. Apparently he has decided to wax lyrical in the media about his views on the political failings of the country he has just moved to. A cultural, or rather touristic, imperialism I personally find abhorrent….

That said, although the intention of this article was flattering, I could not find myself flattered by it… you see, my politics, which are usually a private matter, do not match those of the role they are proposing me to fill

The article, online here, says:

We need another Englishman similarly Hispanophile to admire.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison (pictured) is my proposal. He is English… of good type … graduated in biology and philosophy at Oxford and London… If Rhodes is immersed in our customs, what Fiske-Harrison likes is The Custom: bullfighting. He is a great aficiondao and a few years ago he published a book about the Fiesta, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight. Apparently, his mentor in bullfighting was Adolfo Suárez Illana [son of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Spain after the death of Franco, and himself number two in the conservative Partido Popular, ‘Popular Party’, for Madrid.]

Fiske-Harrison is presented as “writer and bullfighter”, maintains a blog on bullfighting in English, www.TheLastArena.com, and is also a great aficionado of bull-running, and usually runs dressed in white and with an elegant red jacket looking like a character out of P. G. Wodehouse skidding into calle Estafeta in Pamplona.

Fiske is a patrician, a dandy, an enviable Englishman and also a lover of Spain. Fiske-Harrison is a taurine pro, perhaps the great English taurino of the moment.

[Read more…]

THE LAST ARENA: The Great Bulls Of Pamplona




I am completing the conversion of my taurine blog ‘The Last Arena: In Search Of The Spanish Bullfight‘ into the reference site in the English language that it by now should already be.

My latest addition is this new post on the great breeds and bloodlines of fighting bull, in part at the behest of Pamplona’s largest tour operator, Running Of The Bulls, Inc., but also with a nod to the Fundación del Toro de Lidia, ‘Foundation of the Fighting Bull’, the Spanish industry body with whom I am working.

It is also nice to see the ancient University of Valladolid are referencing the book that that blog grew into, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, as one of three works on the subject written in English in the past three centuries that have become works of reference.

University of Valladolid (founded 1241 A.D.)

Faculty of Translation and Interpretation

Masters in Professional and Institutional Translation

Masters Final Thesis

The culture of Bullfighting in the European and American English-speaking world through the authors Richard Ford (1796–1858), Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) and Alexander Fiske-Harrison (1976-)

Presented by José Manuel Toquero Martín

 (Click here to download the full thesis.)

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

My article in the Daily Mail on Seville

 

My article in today’s Daily Mail (original as image below).

THE THRILLS OF SEVILLE

By Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Flamenco is just one way to enjoy the wild spirit of this elegant Spanish city

SEVILLE’S motto is “she has not deserted me”. In the 13th century the city rose in favour of King Alfonso the Wise against a rebellious son.

Nowadays, it’s the tourists who do not desert her. From the Gothic splendours of the cathedral to the alleys of the old Jewish Quarter, it is a place to wander and wonder.

HISTORIC LESSON

AS THE birthplace of Roman Emperors, Trajan and his wall-building successor Hadrian, Seville’s classical origins are apparent. There are magnificent ruins, including at 25,000-seat amphitheatre, at nearby Italica.

By the 16th century Seville was at the heart of Spain’s Golden Age, due to its exclusive Royal license for all trade with the newly discovered Americas.

Notorious fictional knight, Don Quixote de la Mancha, was born here in 1597 while his creator was in prison in the Royal Jail of Seville. The country’s greatest painter Diego Velázquez was born here two years later. [Read more…]

THE LAND OF WOLVES: The Return Of The Wolf

My latest post on my project researching wolf conservation and reintroduction for a proposed book on my blog, ‘The Land Of Wolves’, online here.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Klarina Pichler – Polo In Seville: The End Of The Game? (ABC)

The original article as it appeared in the Spanish national newspaper ABC.

Polo in Seville: The End Of The Game?

The polo season of Seville came to a close last Sunday with the final tournament at La Mata del Herrador Polo Club. The 5° Campeonato de Andalucía Femenino Internacional was played with four teams – of four players each – competing from 9 countries, from the United States of America to South Africa.

Polo is the only sport, in the serious sense of the word – a sport that was Olympic until the 1930s – in which men and women compete on an even playing field (excuse the pun), although that tournament is for women only. In the end the team sponsored and named for the ‘Hotel Corral del Rey’ beat the home team of La Mata.

The history of polo in Seville is longer than people think. The Polo Encyclopaedia speaks of a match in March 1899 in which King Alfonso XIII, an avid fan of the sport and the first ever reigning monarch to play in public, issued a challenge from his own polo club Casa de Campo to the Seville team, Moratalla.

Despite playing alongside his English coach, George Miller – one of the family that introduced polo to Argentina and later an Olympic Gold medallist in the sport – and the madrileño Santos-Suárez brothers, José and Joaquín, His Majesty lost 3-4 to the sevilllano team of the Conde de la Maza, the Marqués de Viana, the Marqués de Villavieja and the Duque de Arión.

King Alfonso XIII playing polo in 1922 – on the ball

However, there was then no polo club in Seville and the games were played at the old racecourse at Tablada. The match became an annual fixture taking the official name in 1909 – in English – “The Seville Challenge Cup”, with the King leading his team once again, this time to victory, and the cup being presented by the Sociedad de Carreras of Seville.

Over the years polo in the city ebbed and flowed, with names more associated with bulls than horses – Murube, Parladé, Miura – appearing frequently on the cartels. In 1939 the Real Club Pineda de Sevilla was founded with horses at its heart and polo on its fields. Indeed, it is still listed as a federated ground by the Real Federación Española de Polo, and yet it has had had no polo field for decades. Instead, it signed a reciprocal deal with the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona in 2014.

Indeed, there are three federated polo clubs in Seville. Another, the Royal Club of Andalusia, ‘El Aero’, also has no field, although it had until recently 2016, its own annual cup in the Andalusian Cathedral of Polo, Santa María Polo Club in Sotogrande, Cadiz – its president Enrique Moreno de la Cova having been until recently the vice-president of the Real Federación Española de Polo.

The only federated club with an actual field was La Mata del Herrador.

Formed in 2004 by José ‘Pepe’ Carrasco Vergara, a committee member of the Federación Andaluza de Polo, who purchased this grand 19th century hacienda with its 20 hectare olive farm and constructed within it full polo facilities (which, when one considers it can cost €400,000 just to laser-level the polo field flat, is no mean feat.)

Polo Club La Mata del Herrador (Photo courtesy of Polo+10, read their article online here)

Determined to expand it, ten years later he brought in one of the most fascinating women in polo today, Klarina Pichler, from the Alpe Carinthia Polo Club in Austria. Klarina is a player of whom it was said she was in the top five women in the world, until she chose to move away from playing professioanally full-time. She still plays off a +4 handicap and her capacities as a manager, instructor and creator of both horses and players is unrivalled.

Growing up with horses in her native Salzburg, she was a champion at dressage, showjumping and ‘volteo’ – a form of horseback gymnastics popular in Austria – but by the age of twenty-five she had moved on to jockeying racehorses in Munich in Germany.

A nomadic soul like her beloved herds, it was a year later that she decided to move to Barcelona where their Royal Polo Club contacted her asking if she would like to accompany the Spanish polo team to Switzerland for the Geneva Masters to assist. Having never played before, she fell in love with the sport and decided it was to learn to play it properly, so she moved again, this time to the modern home of polo: Argentina. There she worked with the great +8 goal Argentinian player, Ignacio Tillous, at his club La Carlota in the province of Cordoba and then returned to Austria to found her own club. Being a person who likes to approach a thing from every facet, she created not only herself as a player, but her horses as well.

Klarina Pichler playing on El Star at her polo club in Seville

In Zurich she found a English thoroughbred male foal who had originally been purchased sight unseen for €100,000, so good was his lineage: his grandfather was Northern Dancer, the 20th century’s “sire of sires” and his other antecedents no less prestigious. A few years later Klarina bought him for an undisclosed lesser sum as her stallion, El Star, as he had not quite lived up to his DNA on the racetrack. Unlike, for example, his unbeaten first cousin Frankel, who the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Committee rated as the best racehorse in their history.

She then selected four mares exclusively from Argentina, from the herds of established high goal players, starting with Ignacio Tillous, and imported them.

“I wanted the very best and wanted to start small, because I wanted to make them one by one myself, to train them myself, in my own way.”

Inspired by the “natural horsemanship” techniques of Monty Roberts – the source for the novel and film ‘The Horse Whisperer’ – Klarina disliked others methods of making a horse rideable.

“They break its spirit through fear. I come from the idea of inspiring confidence, making the horse confident about being ridden, and then training it for polo from there.”

She founded the Alpe Carinthia Polo Club in 2008 and there hosted 80 horses of other players along with her own growing, renting them out to players for tournaments from the snow polo of St Moritz and Kitzbuhel, to the beach polo of Ibiza, as well as the major European grounds like Barcelona, the Legacy Club in Zurich, the Aviator Club in Prague.

La feria de abril de Sevilla, ‘The April Fair of Seville’, 2018 (Photo ABC)

However, when her co-founder, an Argentinian polo professional, exited it became too difficult to run the club on her own. So Sr Carrasco’s invitation to host her herd and use her as polo manager for La Mata was a timely intervention. Also, as Klarina says, “Sevilla is not only historically beautiful and beautifully historic, it also seemed to have an untapped potential with its indigenous horse culture, after all, what is a caballero if it is not a man with a horse?”

She brought with her an interesting list of clients. The British Army’s Cavalry Regiments, the very origin of polo in Europe who brought it from India, come out to train with her, in particular the Royal Dragoon Guards who were so intrinsic in the liberation of Spain from the Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte.

She also assists the great national teams, from Azerbaijan – the part of the world from where polo came – to Switzerland.

In fact, she found herself recently put in the difficult position of assisting the Swiss National polo team at the European Championships in Villa A Sesta when her birth country of Austria decided to enlist her as first substitute in case of injury for their own team.

That said, Sr Carrasco has sold La Mata to Andalusian clothing magnate, Carlos Cordoba, and so the question arises as to whether or not what Klarina calls “one of the greatest polo fields in Europe”, will remain open. Because if it does not Seville’s only federated club ground will be in another province, Catalonia – and according to some, another country. Sources say this will not be so.

Klarina for one is determined that Sevilla Polo will continue.

6th Ladies International Championship of Andalusia at Polo Club La Mata del Herrador – Klarina Pichler right – 2018

“Next Spring will be the 120th anniversary of that historic game, and 110th of the Seville Challenge Cup. She is already planning its reestablishment. The polo season of Seville will begin with something historic and monumental. And will, of course, end, with the 6th Ladies International Championship of Andalusia.”

And this author, and amateur polo player, will be there, and inviting my friends from the world of the bulls who descend from the players of that original match – Sainz de la Maza and Ybarra, Santos-Suarez (courtesy of Adolfo Suárez Illana), even the photographer for this article, Nicolás Haro Fernandez de Córdoba, descendent of the Duke of Arion. With the support of the Royal Club of Andalusia under its president Enrique Moreno de la Cova, we hope to get the rest, and, as in the original match, we will have a young English player from one of my own countries great polo dynasties who is said to be one of the young great hopes of British polo who is coming to study in Seville, this next season looks to be shaping into something the city can be proud of.

Perhaps the dream of El Club de Polo de Sevilla is not dying after all.