Big Changes: The Escuela Taurina de Jerez de la Frontera

Until approximately one week ago, I thought I would be training with the bullfighting school in Salamanca. The title of my first post, as well as my project proposal, are evidence of this fact. Yet it turns out that there was a bit of a misunderstanding between me and my contact in Spain, who was my liaison with the President of the Andalusian Association of Taurine Schools. Even though I thought I’d be in Salamanca, the President thought I wanted to be in Jerez (which is what I told him originally when I thought I’d do William and Mary’s program in Cádiz). Given that location was of lesser importance than actually being able to train with a school and that the school was still awaiting me in Jerez, I booked a homestay online, and purchased my train ticket in Madrid. As of now, I’m in a three story apartment complex on the outskirts of Jerez de la Frontera and have already trained for one afternoon with the city’s taurine school.

On May 30, I arrived in Madrid and stayed for two nights with Sole, the woman who hosted me last year through the private language school that I was enrolled in. It was nice to ease my way back in to Spain by seeing familiar spaces and familiar faces. The flight got in very early, and I did little to no sleeping on the plane (especially since they’ve got those personal screens with tens of movies and TV shows to choose from), so I crashed a little bit too long, until about 5:30, quickly got some fresh clothes on and made my way to the Las Ventas bullring to catch the novillada.

Though no one cut any ears, the novillada was interesting. Diego Silveti had a very difficult first bull and was nearly gored right in front of my tendido. The horn caught him under his leg, threw him onto his back and he rolled away safely. Quickly thereafter, he ligned up for the final sword thrust (estocada). Victor Barrio, who I saw in the same plaza almost one year ago, didn’t bore as usual, and gave several crowd pleasing passes by starting his work with the capote with a portagoyola on his knees and by beginning his faena (his work with the muleta, the red cloth) with a péndelo behind the back from the center of the ring. There was a strong petition for one ear after his faena, though the President withheld the trophy. The third torero, Rafael Cerro, fought a very good bull and it seemed he’d surely cut an ear, but when he dropped his muleta and lost his momentum, he couldn’t get it back, especially with whistles from tendido 7 as he continued.

After the corrida I met up with friends from last year for drinks in the Plaza Santa Ana in one of the most taurine bars in Madrid. After several rounds of cerveza, vino, y tapas, we made our way out as the door locked behind us. I caught a taxi for a brief ride back to the apartment on Paseo Virgen del Puerto, just out of comfortable walking distance from the la Puerta del Sol.

After a second day in Madrid and a missed corrida due to the errands I was running, I made my way to Jerez de la Frontera on the Renfe train and arrived exactly on time – literally – at 1:42 when the ticket said I would. If you’re late, you get your money back. It’s awesome.

Rafael, my host-father, met me at the train station and took me to the apartment where I’d be staying. I share the apartment with a young couple, as well as a man from Uraguay who is never around because he drives a truck during the day. My host-parents very friendly and warm and have a 12 year old son who I’ve already played a bit of soccer and basketball with. Even though I sleep outside of their house, I simply walk around the block to their place for breakfast and dinner.

At 6:30 on Wednesday, Rafael drove me with his son to the mobile plaza de toros where the school meets. We’re quite a ways from the center of town, but arriving at the plaza de toros requires only a short, perhaps 3 minute, car ride. I was very nervous on my way over, but thankfully Rafael went with me to help me introduce myself to some of the students and one of the professors. The kids were surprisingly kind and welcoming – though I was a bit embarrassed that I clearly didn’t completely understand all of what they were saying. The Andalucian accent can be difficult to follow and young people speak with a quickness that is difficult to keep up with, especially when they “eat their words” by neglecting the pronunciation of certain letters. Hours of practice among these young toreros will certainly and significantly improve my spanish over the next seven weeks.

They began training by alternating placing a pair of banderillas in two different groups. I have never learned how to place banderillas, let alone held them, so I stood by watching with the professor. One of the students was already very encouraging and signaled for me to come try, but the professor suggested I stay until the other professors arrived.

After a solid 10 minutes of banderillas, we all gathered our capotes and muletas and began training in pairs, going through several series with each cape. I teamed up with a young torero named Cristóbal, who ran the horns for me first and gave me a few tips as we went along. He called out “bien” several times as he ran by me, crouched down with his arms out, reaching with the horns toward the cloth. After working through both the muleta and the capote, he and I took a brief water break and I began running the horns for him. The artistic director, who had recently arrived, commented that he needed to keep his feet still between passes and after he pivots.

The two hours went by very quickly, and once I was through running the horns for him, most of the students began packing up their trastos, though some were practicing the estocada on the carretilla, which is a fake bull head on wheels, with handles in the back for someone to steer or direct. I tried my hand at the sword thrust for the first time ever, and did it more or less correctly. The torero holding the carretilla, who will be debuting with picadors in the next few weeks, gave me some pointers as I went along.

Once I packed up my things, I began talking to Professor Lozano, who was very welcoming and understanding of what I was intending to do. He suggested people that I should talk to, and said that he could make sure that I get in touch with Juan del Álamo, a torero from Salamanca who will be killing 6 novillos on the 12th of June. I’m planning to get more specifics from him after Monday’s practical class at the usual time. He also invited me to the small tienta on Friday, which will be held in the place of a normal class session. This particular tienta is with small vacas, in order to give some of the very young toreros (say, 10 or 11 years old) at the school the opportunity to torear for the first time in front of a real animal to see if it is something that they enjoy and would like to continue pursuing. I’ll bring my capes to the tienta, though I’m not sure if I’ll be getting in front of these animals. I don’t want to assume that I’ll have the chance to given that I’m merely a guest among toreros who want to dedicate their lives to the profession.

Rafael was waiting for me with his son in the stands, so I grabbed my things after speaking with the Profe and we headed for home.

After a well-deserved shower and a typically late Spanish dinner, I met up with Sergio, with whom I share the apartment, at the bar where he works two storefronts down. The place was closing as I walked in, but we stayed and chatted for about an hour with the owner until some of his friends came in for a drink. One man insisted on seeing my toreo de salón, so I showed him in the little space that there was, though he was drunk and didn’t say much afterward, except that if it were the winter months, he could put me in touch with ganaderos to tentar around Jerez. He says that no one does tientas during this time of the year; however, I do have plans to tentar in Salamanca with friends from California and the school of tauromaquia based in San Diego.

I’m still in touch with Alex Esplá but I don’t know when I’ll be going to Alicante.

Tonight, I’ll be taking it easy, preparing interview questions, and organizing some essay drafts for medical school applications (though this is separate). I’ll be sure to post after the tienta on Friday.