Unpopular Truths: Bullfighting & Sufism, Beauty & Wisdom


Ignoring prejudice and observing the real. AFH at the final corrida of Juan José Padilla in Seville (Photo: Klarina Pichler)

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. 

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

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. It is also no coincidence that I was reading his writings just before I discovered Spain – 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, and 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. (Perhaps it is, I have no record of the date.)

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, with added material including my own return to the ring, more on running with bulls (which I also covered in The Bulls Of Pamplona, with its extraordinary photos by Jim Hollander and foreword from the Mayor of that city), and the return to the ring – minus one eye – of my original teacher in bullfighting, Juan José Padilla in 2012 and his retirement corridas this year for which I was present.

(I am publicising the reissue in physical form of Into The Arena everywhere from the most recent edition of the most popular magazine in bullfighting, 6Toros6 (right), to the forthcoming long feature in the most recent issue of the Boisdale Life – an unique glossy magazine at the Vanity Fair end of the spectrum, whose pages I share with articles from the likes of my friends Bruce Anderson and Tom Parker Bowles to Sir Jackie Stewart and the late great David Bowie, and whose 100,000 copies are available free from London’s airports – just before you board the plane – to inside the Houses of Parliament themselves. The book launch will be held in London at Boisdale of Belgravia in lieu of my fee.)

Anyway, once again, the interview is here.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

 

 

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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…

 

Method Authors: A New Literary Movement – from The Independent

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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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