The Cult Of The Bull

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As the 2013 season draws to a close, I have just received my copy of Olé! Capturing the Passion of Bullfighters and Aficionados in the 21st Century, which is filled with chapters and photos by some the foremost among the English-speaking faithful in the Spanish ‘Cult Of The Bull’, brought together and edited by Hal Marcovitz. (Available at Amazon in the US here, and the UK here.)

Among famous names such as Edward Lewine of the The New York Times, and John Hemingway, grandson of Ernest, there is an amazing chapter by the primus inter pares among runners of the bulls of Pamplona, the great Joe Distler, a veteran of over three hundred and sixty encierros, ‘bull-runs’, who “took me under his wing” (as I say in the book), and augmented and altered my afición, which was born in the flamenco and duende laden south of Spain.

It was he who suggested I write my own chapter in the book, and alongside us our friends and running mates Larry Belcher, a Texan rodeo rider turned professor at the University of Valladolid, Jim Hollander and the greatest photographer of Pamplona and the war-zones and torn places of the Earth for EPA.

There are also wonderful photographs, alongside those by Jim (who is responsible for the stunning cover), from my dear friend from Seville, Nicolás Haro, shortlisted contestant for the internationally presitigious Photo España prize.

(Nicolás also took the black and white photos in my own William Hill Sports Book of the Year shortlisted Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight.)

His work on horses is being exhibited in an exhibition in Seville on December 3rd (for which I have literally just filed the ‘foreword’ to the catalogue.)

Photo Espana Nicolas Haro

I should add a mention of my review of the complete letters of Hemingway, from the period 1923-1925, when his interest in bullfighting and Spain first developed, for The Spectator, online here.

However, it is not my own writing I should like to promote in this blog post, but that of the other writers in Olé!, some of whom I have not exactly seen eye-to-eye with over the years.

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Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on Bullfighting

Hughes & Plath

On Tuesday, the poet Ted Hughes was commemorated with a monument in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, among the remains of Chaucer and Wordsworth, Dickens and Hardy (I have not visited myself since my brother’s memorial service there in ’88).

In the summer of 1956 Hughes married the poet Sylvia Plath and for their honeymoon they went to Spain and watched a bullfight. As she wrote in a letter to her mother:

I’d imagined that the matador danced around with the dangerous bull, then killed him instantly. Not so… The killing isn’t even neat, and with all the chances against it, we felt disgusted and sickened by such brutality.

I feel I would have had exactly the same response were it not for the fact that the first corrida I saw was headed by El Fandi, four days before his alternativa, in the Maestranza of Seville. Sheer chance.

Plath wrote a poem about her bullfight experience, in which a picador was injured by the bull. Continue reading