My Travel Column In The Daily Telegraph: Pamplona’s spectacular bull-runs are too often misunderstood

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Pamplona’s spectacular bull-runs are too often misunderstood

ALEXANDER FISKE-HARRISON

“I’d much rather be a Spanish fighting bull than a farm cow”

I left the site of my last Andalusian postcard with a heavy heart and burning ears: apparently some locals had taken offence to the “elitist” connotations of my comparison of their town to Notting Hill. People take things the wrong way with a vengeance nowadays: as with Montparnasse in Paris, the artists that first made Notting Hill famous were followed by richer creative-types and the resulting economic gear-change had both upsides and downsides.

Notably, though, these complaints were British ex-pats. The Spanish were delighted, with the Mayor of the town, a socialist, writing to say how much he looked forward to hosting Telegraph readers.

After Gaucín, for the first time in a decade I did not know where to go in Spain mid-July. Normally, I would head north to Pamplona for the Feria of San Fermín, known here simply as Fiesta.

Some people think running with bulls, a pastime for which that city is most famous, is dangerous and anachronistic, and the end place of that run, the bull-ring, is a place of torture and death. And indeed, all Spain’s bull rings are registered abattoirs – they have to be, because the carcass of every bull ends up in the food chain. The only difference, in terms of the bull’s welfare, is the manner and duration of their life and the manner and duration of their death, but perhaps not in the way readers think.

A Torrestrella bull is caped by the late matador Ivan Fandiño in Pamplona on July 11th, 2013. This photo also appears, among many others by the same award-winning photographer, in The Bulls Of Pamplona. Jim Hollander has run bulls and photographed them for over fifty years, between other assignments for Reuters and EPA around the world. (Photo © Jim Hollander / EPA)

[Read more…]

A Spanish Confinement V: My Fifth Coronavirus Diary in the Daily Telegraph

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DAILY TELEGRAPH

After two months of draconian Spanish lockdown, with fines for ‘bad attitudes’, I’m dreaming of the feria

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
1st May 2020

After six weeks of house arrest without even the opportunity to go to the village shop like their parents, or to go to the park like their pets, Spain has finally released its children – those aged 14 and under, with supervision, within a kilometre of home, and for no more than one hour a day.

Given that the average size of an apartment in Seville, our regional capital, is less than 600 square feet, one can only marvel that domestic violence has not been a bigger problem.

Of course, with three quarters of a million fines being issued by police and the Guardia Civil during that period, perhaps people did what they naturally do and simply found a way around an impossible set of laws. One could hardly blame them. The social contract is wearing thin.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

One of the categories of fine listed in a recent document from the national government includes €2,000 for “inappropriate attitude”. What exactly would be appropriate right now? Perhaps one should not be surprised that a revenue stream is being taken advantage of as the Spanish economy goes into the steepest decline since the Thirty Years War. [Read more…]

A Spanish Confinement IV: My fourth coronavirus diary in the Daily Telegraph

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DAILY TELEGRAPH

It doesn’t feel like lockdown has been eased here in Spain when armed police still stop you at every turn

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
16th April 2020

We wake today in our village of Jimena de la Frontera – a full month into lockdown – to the news that the social democrat Prime Minister is planning to extend confinement by another month, while his hard socialist deputy has called for nationalisation of everything up to the coronavirus itself. We live, as the Chinese like to curse, in interesting times.

That same deputy’s criticisms of the Spanish Head of State, King Philip VI, for wearing military uniform in his rather dignified public appearances as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces were ill-advised, though, with even left-wing allies pointing out that their own communist heroes – Che Guavara, Castro, Chavez and Maduro – were wont to adopt the same fashion, although normally to a far darker purpose than Spain’s constitutional monarch.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

Along with the announcement of prolongation, they spoke of a loosening of the lock-down. For example, one can now exit one’s habitation to purchase a “necessary” pizza from the takeaway, rather than just its equally “necessary” frozen cousin from the supermarket. Personally, this writer finds this hardly a loosening of the manacles. And if anyone doubts the reality of those restraints, the view from the balcony of the Spanish Marines questioning anyone leaving buildings on my street is quite clear.  [Read more…]

A Spanish Confinement III: My third coronavirus diary in the Daily Telegraph

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DAILY TELEGRAPH

Will the Spanish summer be too hot for coronavirus?

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
8th April 2020

Predictably, the left-wing coalition that governs Spain has extended our confinement to quarters. This is done in a singularly Spanish manner: no outdoor exercise, with police or armed forces personnel checking your grocery receipt to ensure you did not dawdle on your way home. With 50,000 fines for breaching the rules in Madrid alone, the government seems to have found a way to raise some of the money they lost putting our economy into what they call “hibernation.”
This is, of course, the same government that defied all medical advice and allowed a third of a million people to march arm-in-arm through the streets of Madrid on International Women’s Day last month. Inevitably, hospitalisations in the capital quadrupled within five days, and the course was set for the present contagion.

Alexander's Andalusian town
Alexander’s Andalusian town Credit: getty

However, after 24 days of climbing the walls and running around the apartment – some 40 miles covered in 1,600 laps of a small two-bedroom flat – the data finally seems to show the curve is not only flattening, but beginning to descend. Here in our little town of Jimena de la Frontera, the voice of hope can be heard, in part because of what many regard as the bane of the town: its summer. [Read more…]

A Spanish Confinement II: My second coronavirus diary in the Daily Telegraph

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DAILY TELEGRAPH

A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown

Alexander Fiske-Harrison
20th March 2020

The Marines rolled into town on Friday to ‘support’ the police and the Guardia Civil. Admittedly they arrived in olive green pick-up trucks, not Humvees or 4-tonners, and were only kitted out with 9mm pistols strapped to their thighs, not full assault rifles, but those who questioned my last postcard from Andalusia, where I spoke of “martial law in all but name”, should be under no illusion about the Spanish style of lockdown.

As I predicted, last week the government extended our fortnight of house-arrest to a full month, and this week they instituted even harsher measures, putting the economy into “hibernation” in the government’s terrifying phrasing. [Read more…]

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…]

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 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

Unpopular Truths: Bullfighting & Sufism, Beauty & Wisdom


 

AFH with Juan José Padilla at his home in 2012 the day before his return to the ring. (Photo: Zed Nelson for GQ magazine)

I recently did an interview with fellow author – a specialist on Spanish and Moorish History and Art – Jason Webster for the Idries Shah Foundation (online here) on my interest in Sufism and my history in el mundo de los toros, ‘the world of the bulls’ in Spain.

Sufism is perhaps best described as a mystical form of Islam more closely related in its theology and philosophy to Buddhism than the other interpretations of Mohammed’s teachings, and as a result is the most internally persecuted variant of that religion both historically and during its current civil war.

Idries Shah was a noted author for many reasons but most of all introducing the ideas of Sufism to the West, as he did to me via his book The Caravan of Dreams.

Sufism’s link to the corrida de toros, a dance with the evident threat of – and executing with a sword the magnificent reality of – a Spanish fighting bull may seem distant, but they are there.

One link is purely circumstantial: I first read his writings immediately before I discovered Spain because, as I say in the interview, his was one of the few books I took with me when I went to live in the Sahara desert. When I returned to Europe, it was by ferry from Tangiers, so I landed in – and fell in love with – Spain. (Almost exactly twenty years ago to the day.)

I hope I brought out more than such minor personal and geographical links, though, in my rather digressive responses to Jason’s questions, ranging as they do from German philosophy to the Qur’an, Oscar Wilde to William Shakespeare.

Now I must return to work on the second edition of Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, to take advantage of a resurgent publicity in its favour, such as in the most popular magazine in bullfighting, 6Toros6 (right), or in my long feature in the most recent issue of the Boisdale Life (see post above.)

Anyway, once again, the interview is here.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison