Yesterday, the Spanish regional newspaper El Norte de Castilla – ‘The North of Castile’ – published my third annual ‘thankyou-note’ article about the town of Cuéllar (original Spanish here), in Castile and Leon for its generosity during its feria – my favourite – and its incredible bull-runs. I cannot recommend the town enough to visitors and tourists – especially during the feria, where the bull-runs are as spectacular to watch as they are to participate in (as I have written before for the Financial Times.) The best place to stay is the Hotel Mesón San Francisco (click here to book), and other details of the town are in the article below. It is an hour and a half’s drive from Madrid, or a twenty minute fast train to Segovia and forty minute taxi ride… AFH
See you soon, Cuéllar
“I have run in many bull-runs, but my favourite is, without doubt, the one in Cuéllar»
Alexander Fiske-Harrison | Segovia
For three years now I have come to the heart of Old Castile for the Fair of Our Lady of the Rosary of Cuéllar, and each year before, like a polite but unfamiliar guest, I would write a thank you letter as is the custom of we English. (2012, 2013) Now that I feel know Cuéllar a little better, even if not each of its inhabitants personally, and I can address you less formally, as real friends are allowed to do. And yet there are still so many thanks to be given, and not just from myself in England but also from my other friends whom came from around the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ world this year: from Australia and from Scotland, from Canada and from Wales, even from Australia (you have had celts from Ireland in your Irish pub since before I first came.) And of course, your great sculptor of, historian of and runner of encierros, Dyango Velasco.
(From outside the Saxon world we also brought a crazy Viking from Sweden – who ran with your bulls despite an aneurysm in his leg – and an even crazier Mexican, who never normally runs, except he found himself lost in the forest among the bulls – the blind leading the lame among the lethal.)
We all of us wish to thank Mariano de Frutos, his daughter Elisa and her husband Ruben Salamanca at the Hotel Mesón San Francisco, which was our headquarters in much the same way Hotel Quintana in Pamplona was once that of Ernest Hemingway and his friends – it is also the hotel of the bullfighters, some of whom I still know – and gardens on calle San Francisco are like the outside tables of the Café Iruña, attended with divinely inspired patience by Enrique and Cristina. However, we also ventured beyond our querencia – ‘lair’ – there, to your peñas, beginning on the afternoon of the Pregón with Bill’s presenting his new novel – with me as translator – at El Pañuelo at the invitation of its president Valentin Quevedo on its fiftieth anniversary for CyLTV and various assembled journalists. There is also always Dyango’s peña el Orinal, and the even nameless poker club of Luis Quevedo and his wife Soco since their son Alberto’s Bodega La Carchena has closed. In the words of our poet Tennyson, “though much is taken, much abides.” So instead we went to the flamenco of the Café Theatre Oremus of Marcos Gómez and the taurine bar Paralex of Miguel Ángel Cobos who has more carteles than your town hall, but no bull’s head (yet.)
This year, my own temporada taurina began as always in Seville in April – and it will end there when I address a conference of La Real Maestranza, the University of Seville, and the Foundation of Taurine Studies, on November 5th (the 4th anniversary of the last time I passed and killed a novillo-toro) – but this year I will have run in many more encierros than passed cattle in plazas de tientas (Saltillo and Miura… nothing more, but nothing less.)
Since July I have been lost among the crowds in Pamplona where I barely saw a bull, although I did in Tafalla, and then learned in the words of Dante to “abandon all hope” running down the mountainous Pilón of Falces with the vacas of Miguel Reta, the Pamplona pastor, who were eleven years old and like Dante also speak good Latin. I learned loneliness running from the police line at the start of the encierro in San Sebastián de los Reyes, where I had only bulls for company, but of them all, my favourite remains Cuéllar.
Each year there is a run to be had here with the herd. There is also the astonishing and life-saving spectacle of Enrique Bayón Brandi and all the pastores (whose names I must learn next year), and there is always a convenient fence to be jumped over when all this friendliness in the street lets you forget that everyone in town knows one hundred times more that any foreigner! (As I hope my fellow runners like José Antonio Rico now realise, my red and white jacket is not a sign of pride, but a superstition!)
Most mornings I begin on calle de las Parras, although I have been known to go to the campo, or the embudo [Where several hundred galloping horses hand the stampeding bull over to the runners on foot – AFH], or, indeed, to remain in bed: fiesta has many sides. There I always find my dear old friend, the former Texan Rodeo champion, Larry Belcher waiting to take his running cue from me as I do from the great Josechu Lopez. (We are all in the photo enclosed.) There I say my suertes to Enrique and José Antonio, to the seriously funny David García, and the funnily serious Luis Angel Vicente and then the bulls come and we all begin to run, together but lost in our own worlds, with respect for each other’s space and safety
I do not do this for pride nor virtue, not for vanity nor thrills, but for the joy of matching myself to the beautiful mountains of black: graceful as dolphins at play, dangerous as sharks with blood in the water. En route I, and the bulls, nod our respects to Larry’s wife, Ana Cerón, the very useful doctor who stands on the corner barrier before returning to her real patients at the hospital at Valladolid. (This year I am particularly proud to have run into the ring with the last suelto – ‘loose bull’ – of the feria a little ahead of my friend from Pamplona, the phenomenal bull-runner Jokin Zuasti.)
And later that day I watch the bulls worshipped and sacrificed in the plaza de toros, as it has always been in this, the town with the oldest encierros in Spain. And if this year my neighbour in Seville El Cid did not deliver the same as he did last year, your local hero Javier Herrero did, and deserved his ear, as did the Mexican bullfighter Joselito Adame. (It was nice to see even your mayor Jesus Garca works in the box-office during the feria!)
I will end not with a goodbye, but as Englishmen say to their friends, a “see you soon”. For have no fear, I will be back. However, next year, can someone please lend me a horse? It’s getting tiring all this running.
Alexander Fiske-Harrison is the author of Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight and editor of and contributor to Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona, which has a chapter dedicated to Cuéllar, and with a foreword by the Mayor of Pamplona, and chapters by John Hemingway – grandson of Ernest, the great American bull-runner Joe Distler and photographs by the half-century Pamplona veteran and senior EPA photographer, Jim Hollander. (Also with contributions by Beatrice Welles, daughter of Orson, and the greatest Basque and Spanish bull-runners, Julen Madina, Jokin Zuasti, Miguel Ángel Eguiluz and Josechu López and photos from Nicolás Haro.)