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…]

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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…]

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

Seville in September

Alexander Fiske-Harrison in front of the Cathedral of Seville (Photo: Samantha Mullins)

Having spent the early part of the summer writing the second edition of the Wallpaper* City Guide: Madrid for Phaidon Press, I thought it worth reminding people that I did the same for their guidebook to Seville in 2014.

These guidebooks tend towards the modern – unsurprising given that Wallpapermagazine is design led – but I have always found a way to include establishments which aren’t defined by their youth, but by their quality.

Seville – where I have been coming for 20 years – has its finest month in September, especially this year with the 20th Biennial of Flamenco opening on September 7th in la Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, the great bullring – the oldest of its kind in Spain – and running shows throughout the month – some for free – everywhere from the grand Teatro Lope de Vega and the Royal Gardens of the Alcázar Palace to the Church of San Luis de la Franceses to Café Alameda.

AFH and Padilla (Photo: Paloma Gaytán de Ayala y de Queralt)

Then, on the 29th, in that same ring, the most famous bullfighter in Spain, the one-eyed Juan José Padilla, is fighting his last ever bull as a professional. And this is no washed up matador making a last stand, he was ranked number one in Spain when he made the decision to retire last year, and has triumphed across the country on his final tour. (In Pamplona when I saw him he was extraordinary.)

I’ll write more about this further down this post – he is a personal friend and mentor after all – but to make it easier, I’ll say here that, tickets for that Saturday’s corrida are available to purchase and print online from the English-language version of the official site of the bullring by clicking here. (Tip: you want to sit as close to the centre of the ring, i.e. the sand, as possible, and preferably in the sombra, ‘shade’, or sol y sombra, ‘sun’ that becomes shade as the evening progresses.) The other matadors that day and the next are all extraordinarily talented – and ranked in the top ten for what that’s worth.
[Read more…]

On BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme today: me.

Back in London from updating the Wallpaper* City Guide Madrid, when the BBC sends me a message saying only “we’d like to talk to you about poshness”.

It turns out that one of the former members of the flagship ‘Today’ programme team on Radio 4, Steph McGovern, had said in an interview – in response to a question on the gender pay gap no less – that social class was an often ignored contributing factor to inequality in the work place.

So, their research team trawled the internet and came across a piece I’d written for The Spectator a couple of years ago headlined (by the editor) – “[James] Blunt Is Right. Being Posh In The Arts Is Career Suicide.” It is online here.

So it turns out that my debut on the Today programme is not for my travel writing, not for my forthcoming book The Bulls Of Pamplona (with chapters by John Hemingway, Ernest’s grandson, and Beatrice Welles, Orson’s daughter, and a forward by the Mayor), nor the book I am just prepping to research on wolf conservation, reintroduction and how they made us human just as we made them into dogs – provisionally titled The Land Of Wolves – but instead because I was sent to an expensive boarding school.

Oh well. The one thing I can say without reservation is that what Ms McGovern’s complaints are, with a six figure salary at 35, she is certainly being paid more than this Old Etonian freelancer at 41. For this interview, I don’t get a dime. (At least they’re sending a car.)

Anyway, in case anyone is interested, below is my most recent interview – and product placement – on the wolf project. Already been out to the last great virgin forest in Romania, and to revisit Paul Lister’s reintroduction site in the Scottish Highlands with the great biologist Prof. Doug Smith, next stop the site of Doug’s own reintroduction, Yellowstone Park…

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

@fiskeharrison

SPOKEsman // Alexander Fiske-Harrison: Always carry a blade…

 

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

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

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