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 N.)

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)

From Spain, the Centre of the World, to Africa, the Heart of Darkness

Estoy en mi chaqueta de rayas en la plaza de toros de Pamplona, 13 de julio de 2015. A mi derecha es Lore Monig, Presidenta del New York City Club Taurino, a mi derecha, el chef celebridad y torero práctico de México, Carlos Manríquez (Foto : Jim Hollander)

In my striped jacket in the plaza de toros of Pamplona, 13 of July 2015. To my right, Lore Monig, President of the New York City Club Taurino, to my left, the celebrity chef and amateur bullfighter from Mexico, Carlos Manríquez, beyond him Peter Remington, publisher of Modern Luxury Houston magazine and his brother (Photo: Jim Hollander)

 

Having come out of the delights and dangers of Pamplona’s feria de San Fermín running with bulls – already described in the abstract on ‘The Pamplona Post‘, also detailed with a more purist slant on the blog, ‘The Last Arena‘ – I was particularly pleased to see my more cerebral, less visceral side represented in my review of Dr Robert Goodwin’s magnum opus, Spain: The Centre Of The World, 1519-1682 (Bloomsbury Press) in The Spectator. In summary, my view of the book is:

What distinguishes Goodwin from other historians of the period is the sheer multiplicity of his perspectives. He is erudite and concise in covering familiar ground, while full of original insight when it comes to the motives and actions of the key players…

…it is [his] passion that removes Goodwin’s learned book from the shelves of academia, giving it breadth and breath. The most notable effect on this reader was an urge to return to Spain, especially to Goodwin’s beloved Seville, that ‘deeply religious and very beautiful provincial backwater’, with ‘its quiet lanes and courtyards’, its ‘grand monuments’ and its ‘ghosts’. After all, it is not enough to bring truth to history. One must also bring life — and this book has it in golden abundance.

(The review is available in full online here.)

Now I must turn myself to the contentious issue of Big Game hunting for the same magazine in the light of the death of the aged male lion some Oxford biologists rather tastelessly and unprofessionally anthropomorphised with the name Cecil. (Cecil Rhodes was the colonial overlord of Zimbabwe, hence its colonial name of Rhodesia.)

This is an event my own former zoology tutor at Oxford – who has worked hand-in-glove with both the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments on conservation over the decades – referred to in his email as “murder”. He also ended the email, “suffice it to say that I am on the side of the large mammals of Africa excluding the destructive Homo sapiens.”

I do find his response a little ironic, as I remember in my interview with him in ’93 he asked me which of the Pleistocene megafauna had most caught my interest. (It was my time in the Kruger Park in South Africa that inspired me to go and study under him.) I answered unequivocally “lion”, to which his response was how boring they were to study as they spend most of their time asleep. Later I would end up in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, from where Cecil came, following what would have been his grandparents and great uncles and aunts.

 

Following the pride in Hwange National Park (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Following the pride in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

 

Sub-adult lion, Hwange National Park

Sub-adult lion, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe in 1996 (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

 

Anyway, given that I can count among my friends both professional hunters and conservation biologists, and have myself no immensely strong views about the death of animals lower on the cognitive ‘chain of being’ than elephants – a notion of moral status outlined for Prospect magazine, and derivative from my time with Great Apes described in the Financial Times – I hope I’m in a good position to write the piece in a way that lives up to my description in today’s Daily Telegraph magazine: “he is a stone-cold pragmatist with a poet’s soul.”

However, as a child, my best friend was this cat, so in the end, I’ll be on the side of the predators. The question is: which ones?

 

The author and his first cat

Alexander Fiske-Harrison and Shantallah Millionaire, a name rather more fitting to the beast than Cecil (Photo: Barbara Gail Horne)

 

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

 

Marlon Brando: “When he’s gone, the rest move up a notch.”

Brando

I’m moving the bullfighting portion of this blog onto a new site, ‘The Last Arena’, because my work is returning to its pre-Into The Arena diversity, however, until then, it will be a rum mix. Now, Marlon Brando had nothing to do with bullfighting and his only remark on it was to Playboy magazine in an interview with Lawrence Groebel (reprinted in Conversations With Brando):

PLAYBOY: What else offends you?
BRANDO: Bullfighting. I’d like to be the bull but have my brain. First, I’d get the picador. Then I’d chase the matador. No, I’d walk at him until he was shitting in his pants. Then I’d get a horn right up his ass and parade him around the ring. The Spaniards don’t think anything more of picking an animal to pieces than the Tahitians do of cutting up a fish.

That said, he does look remarkably like the matador José Maria Manzanares…

Manzanares

Xander acting

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, left, acting in ‘The Pendulum’ in London’s West End in 2008

Anyway, when I trained as an actor, it was at the Method acting school The Stella Adler Conservatory in New York, which not only boasted had Marlon Brando as a alumnus, but, while I was there, he was its chairman.

The only word to apply to Brando in terms of his art, which was performance on film, was genius. At the time I was obsessed with acting and so I was fascinated by him. I am not alone in this, amongst actors, no one is rated more highly, as Jack Nicholson  -who provides the title quote to this post – put it in an article on his friend and neighbour in Rolling Stone magazine,

So I mean it when I say that if you can’t appreciate Brando, I wouldn’t know how to talk to you. If there’s anything obvious in life, this is it. Other actors don’t go around discussing who is the best actor in the world, because it’s obvious – Marlon Brando is.

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