The Huffington Post, Bullfighting and Pamplona

John Hemingway, author and grandson of Ernest, in conversation with Alexander Fiske-Harrison, British author and bullfighter, at Bar Windsor, Pamplona, July 7th 2015, photographed by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, another of the Nobel Prize-winners grandchildren

John Hemingway, author and grandson of Ernest, in conversation with Alexander Fiske-Harrison, British author and bullfighter, at Bar Windsor, Pamplona, July 7th 2015, photographed by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, another of the Nobel Prize-winners grandchildren

 

It is nice of The Huffington Post’s editor, Hilary Hanson to give a nod to my book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight – and to this blog – at the end of her article ‘People Aren’t The Only Ones Getting Hurt At The Running Of The Bulls’. Her final paragraph says,

Proponents of bull runs and bullfighting cite them as joyous cultural events, and dispute that they are frivolously cruel. Alexander Fiske-Harrison, author of Into the Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight, argued in a February speech that bulls raised for bullfighting have, on the whole, far better lives than most cattle raised for meat.

However, I would like to quickly point one inaccuracies in the piece whose source should have led to its reporting in a much more questioning light:

The League Against Cruel Sports, a U.K.-based charity, notes that bulls sometimes do not die in the ring immediately, but are merely stabbed repeatedly until they become paralyzed, then are still conscious as their ears and tail are cut off for “trophies.”

This “stabbed repeatedly until they become paralyzed” is in fact an almost surgical severing of the spinal column at the base of the skull which severs both motor neurones – i.e. those which facilitate movement – and sensory neurones – i.e. those which allow any sensation. It is a coup de grace by a skilled executioner with a broad-bladed dagger – the puntillador – of far greater effect (and affect) than the bolt gun which only extremely rarely will destroy enough brain tissue to prevent a feeling portion still connected to a fully functional spine remaining operational for a short while.

I am in Pamplona at the moment running with the bulls and you can read more about it at ‘The Pamplona Post’. If you are on your way, I strongly recommend you read my guide to surviving the experience in Spain’s English-language newspaper, The Local, online here.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

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Mad Bulls and Englishmen by Giles Coren in The Times

This article of Giles Coren’s was originally published in The Times magazine on Boxing Day ’09 where it is still available along with Dominic Elliot’s film of our day bullfighting here. All photos are by Nicolás Haro.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, the English bullfighter, takes on a ‘vaquilla’ of the Saltillo breed. Inset: with Giles Coren, attending a bullfight in Seville.

Writers and travellers have long been drawn to the drama and romance of the bullfight. Giles Coren is no exception, so when he was contacted out of the blue by the younger brother of his dead best friend, now training to be a bullfighter in Spain, Giles was intrigued. Here he describes his journey into a unique culture of noblemen, peasants and swindlers, all driven by deadly serious dreams of death and glory

I am in a bullring. Not in the seats, in the ring. On the sand. From the relative safety of a wooden barrier with a small room behind it, built into the stone wall, I have seen four vaquillas, young cows, “caped” by one of Spain’s most famous matadors, the son of the first post-Franco prime minister of Spain, Adolfo Suárez Illana, and by Alexander Fiske-Harrison, the younger brother of my best friend at school, who died in an accident the year we left, three months before his 19th birthday. Continue reading

Juan José Padilla, matador, friend, my “Spanish brother”

I hear, courtesy of our mutual brother-in-arms Adolfo Suárez Illana (son of the founder of democratic Spain and its first president, Adolfo Suárez), that the matador Juan José Padilla is recovering following a long operation to try to repair the terrible damage wreaked on his face by a bull in Zaragoza on Friday evening. As the photo shows, the bull Marqués no. 8, from the breeder Ana Romero, pounced on Padilla as he tripped and fell during the act of the banderillas – Padilla being one of the few matadors in the modern era who places his own banderillas, rather than delegating it to his banderilleros. The bull, which weighed 508kg and was 5 years and 8 months old (only four months short of the upper age limit) entered its horn under the left hand side of his jaw and drove it up and out through his left eye socket. As the bull was drawn off him by the other toreros’ capes Padilla got to his feet saying “I can’t see, I can’t see” before collapsing into the arms of his assistants and being carried from the ring to the infirmary and from there to hospital. The bull’s horn severed the main facial nerve of the left side of Padilla’s face, which is now paralysed, and the optic nerve of the eye which seems unlikely to recover its sight. The bull was then killed by Miguel Abellán, who wept as he did so, having only recently recovered from a similarly bad goring himself.

Whilst researching my book, I came to know Padilla very well and he features in a half dozen chapters in my book, Into The Arena. He is a force of nature who dwarfs everything around him, as I am sure he will this terrible injury. The best description of him I have heard is that of my mother who met him with me at a bullfight in Cazalla de la Sierra in ’09. She said he was like Scaramouche, who in the novel’s opening line is described as “born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad, and that was his entire patrimony.” The photo below is from the tail end of one of our wild nights out, taken by my friend Nicolás Haro (as is the one above), with Padilla’s childhood friend, the great flamenco dancer Antonio ‘El Pipa’ in the foreground at his house. You can read the extract of that chapter of the book at The Pamplona Post here.

Suerte Maestro.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

P.S. All of this has quite rightly taken precedence in my mind over my dispute with the philosopher Mark Rowlands in The Times Literary Supplement, which can be found here, and which I will follow up further soon. Needless to say, any man who can write, “Padilla is more likely to die trying to get to the arena than in it,” clearly hasn’t got the faintest idea what he is talking about, nor has the dignity to keep his ignorance to himself.