Bulls, training, and interviews

It’s been a while since my last post and I’ve done a considerable amount of writing and documenting in a separate Word based “Spain Journal”, so much like last year, forgive me, Charles Center blog. I’ve got my “Writing a Paper” mix playing, so let’s see how this goes:

To pick up where I left off, I ended up going to the Feria de la Manzanilla in Sanlúcar de Barrameda by bus (cost: 1, 50 euro, which is awesome) from Jerez. I saw the very exciting corrida with Enrique Ponce, El Juli, and Morante. I sat in the very last row next to a very nice older Spanish fellow who had some awesome frames. We both were wearing khakis and similar shoes and every once in a while we’d sit the same way and it was kind of funny, especially when he was smoking the American Spirit that I bummed him.

But that’s besides the point. El Juli, who is consistently impressive with the capote, muleta, and the sword, cut four ears – meaning he did excellent on both of the bulls he fought that afternoon. It took me a while to get out of the plaza among the mob of people trying to get to the corridor from their awkward seats and down the precarious set of stairs. I was supposed to be meeting Sr. Ordoñez, the President of the bullfighting schools in Andalusia, for a ride back to Jerez. Instead, I ran into some kids from the school who told me he’d already left. They invited me along to the feria and said they could drive me back, so I went with them to feria and had a really nice time. Have you ever been to the Waterfront Festival in Alexandria? Or… well I can’t think of anything comparable, but it was really nice! There were thousands of people and plenty of rides, food, beer, and arts and crafts tents. It was a good opportunity to break the ice with some of the toreros from the school, though I naturally felt a little awkward not understanding everything. I’ve found that with my level of Spanish, I require a little bit of breaking in, of getting comfortable with the folks I’m around, and having them learn a bit about me and how well I speak Spanish. I’m looking forward to being able to jump into any conversation, and think that I may be there by the end of my research experience.

Throughout the feria I met the torero, Eloy, along with his cousins, and Alejandra and Fran, who are brother and sister and normally train together. They all got a kick out of trying to say things in english and the night ended well, besides me not really knowing where my apartment was at 3:00 in the morning. The next day, I wrote a very short story about the night based on a conversation I had with Eloy.

On June 7th, a Tuesday, I nervously boarded a bus to a finca (bull ranch in this case) with a bunch of toreros from the school. I had already trained the day before and really enjoyed myself. The fitness instructor was there to kick start the training on Monday, so we did a bunch of calisthenics and running for the first hour. After that, we broke for water and I began training with Ignacio, a 19 year old torero who is relatively new to the school and like me, had only trained alone before enrolling. He helped me fix my media veronica, taught me delantes, and helped me slow down my toreo de salón overall. Carlos, another one of the older toreros, told me my technique is very good, but that I need to loosen up in general. I learned a lot and felt pleasantly tired once Rafa, my host-father, picked me up at the gate surrounding the mobile plaza after the two hour meeting with the school.

But back to Tuesday. Why was I nervous boarding the bus? Well, I was wearing my boots for the campo and was carrying my capes, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be toreando or not – and if I would be, I wasn’t sure how big the animals would be…

I sat with Cristóbal, who I’ve since gotten to know pretty well, and he told me about how his manager knows when there will be matadors training out in the countryside during what are called tientas, when cows are tested for bravery to help the rancher make important breeding decisions. He’ll essentially crash the tienta and ask to do the final set of passes with the animal once the matador is through. He invited me along for sometime during the week, though we never got a chance to go.

We arrived at the ranch of Salvador Gavira and passed by a bunch of beautiful, full-grown bulls grazing alongside the road. We unloaded our trastos (capes and whatnot), and headed toward the little red plaza built partially into the earth so that only the tops of the wall closest to us peaked out over the ground. As we made our way around the other side, we all arranged our things around the side of the plaza and behind the burladeros, which are the planks toreros stand behind around the perimeter of the ring.

There were a total of four cows, and probably about 20 students waiting for a chance to go out. The 16 or so younger students watched the tienta from above. The first cow was the largest with the biggest set of horns. It charged well and had a lot of passes in it. Seven or so students got a chance to go out. The second cow was the most difficult, and Daniel did a good jump of putting it into the capote, bringing it across the ring to the horse to be picked, and then getting some passes out of it with the muleta. The third cow had a back injury and couldn’t stand up, so several students went out to help it up. Miguel tried a few series with it, but after a while the situation was clearly hopeless, so it was let out of the ring. I got an opportunity to do a series with the fourth cow, which I was very happy about! I had told the professor before we began that I had been at three tientas in the past, and that if there was an opportunity, I’d appreciate a chance to go out. After all of the students had their chance, as well as the German program host that was there filming, I went out with the muleta, and did a high pass to try and start a series on the right. She ran all the way to the wall towards her preferred spot, or querencia, which made me nervous. I cited from afar and she eventually charged. I had a bit of difficulty putting her into position and almost got knocked into. However, I then put together three or four good derechazos (right handed passes) and finished with a chest pass and walked away. Some of the guys then practiced placing banderillas, though the cow was obviously tired and we soon brought the tienta to a close. Here’s one of my favorite pictures from the afternoon of Eloy toreando with the first vaca. His technique is excellent in this photo.

And here’s the link to the segment that the German crew did on the school! I don’t understand any of it, but the images are cool and the graphics are very trendy: Escuela de Tauromaquia de Jerez de la Frontera. (The last black cow that knocks over the reporter was the one that I did the series with.)

On the way back to the bus, 11 year old Ivan helped me carry my cape and gave me a very nice congratulations for the passes I gave. Everyone was sitting or standing against old wooden forklift trays stacked near where we parked and eating a sandwich that they brought from home. Thank goodness for having a Spanish host-mother, because I also had a bocadillo for the occasion and fit right in!

Here’s a photo of the entire group, including the ganadero (bull rancher) in the middle with the boots, light blue jeans, and cap. I’m all the way on the left and Professor Lozano is all the way on the right.

Since the tienta, a lot has happened. I’ve gotten to know some of the toreros better than others, watched one of them on TV on Saturday while he faught in a novillada in Ubrique, and I’ve done one interview with a 16 year old torero who fought and killed his very first becerro on Saturday. He’s tall enough to look older than 16, very quiet, and unassuming. I was very happy to hear that he cut two ears, though I forgot to ask him how the estocada (final sword thrust) went and about his thoughts after his first time killing. He had lnever killed an animal privately on a ranch. His debut as a becerrista was his debut as a matador.

I’m arranging for another 4 or 5 interviews this week, including one with the professor. He wasn’t at yesterday’s class so I didn’t get the chance to do it then, despite having everything ready.

On the 26th, I will be either on my way to Salamanca or to Madrid to train with aficionados prácticos (amateurs such as myself who’d like to learn to torear). If I go to Salamanca, I’ll be trying to get in touch with Juan del Álamo to interview him in between his last bullfight as a novillero and his alternativa, a rite of passage to officially own the title of Matador de toros, which he’ll take in July in Santander with figuras (top-ranked matadors) El Juli (see first picture) and Miguel Ángel Perera. I went to see Juan’s despedida de novillero, during which he killed 6 novillos on his own. I’m met his manager, who invited me out to the campo, where Juan will be training and said I could interview him then. I had plans to do the interview that night after the novillada, but Juan apparently spiked a fever, began sweating, and turned white. Over the course of the 6 novillos, he cut 7 ears (1 from first 5, two on the last), and was impressively variable with both the capote and muleta and always kept the public engaged. Going out through the Puerta Grande in Salamanca one last time before becoming a matador de toros was just what he needed to remind aficionados that he’s a serious torero and someone to watch. Below is a picture of Juan del Álamo doing a media verónica with the capote.

I’m also planning an interview with an Irish novillero and friend David White, who has taking his afición to new levels and made a name for himself in the bullfighting world. I saw him fight in Coslada, Madrid in a portable plaza for the festival on June 13th. His becerro was extremely difficult, though he gave a strong effort and put in a good sword on his second attempt. I’m looking forward to training with him and watching him torear again in the future.

My sister is coming to visit me in July, so she may get an opportunity to meet Juan del Álamo and some of my friends. We’re also planning to pass through Pamplona for two days or so to get a glimpse into one of Hemingway’s favorite Spanish festivals! I’ll keep you posted!