My talk on Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight at Blackwell’s of Oxford on Thursday at 7pm

On Thursday, February 9th, at 7pm I will be giving a talk on my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight at Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street, Oxford. Tickets are free and are available by calling 01865 333623.

Putting to one side the articles in the Oxford Times and Oxford Mail, which discuss an apparently needless postponement of the talk – Blackwell’s effectively caved into complaints and then misrepresented them to me as messages of a threatening nature so I would agree – it is still worth clarifying one point of fundamental importance. Into The Arena is not a piece of pro-bullfighting propaganda. And it’s not just me saying that. Here’s what the press said:

Shortlisted for

*****

Fiske-Harrison’s argument that the interplay between man and bull, when done with the highest skill, merits the tragedy will not convince many readers. But his descriptions of the fights are compelling and lyrical, and his explanation of different uses of the matador’s capes is illuminating. One begins to understand what has captivated Spaniards for centuries. This complex and ambitious book examines not only life in the bullring but also Spain’s cultural identity and modern ideas of masculinity. Fiske-Harrison admits that with each of his fights he knows more, not less fear. When he kills his first and only bull he feels not triumph but overwhelming sadness for a life take.

Provides an engrossing introduction to Spain’s “great feast of art and danger”…brilliantly capturing a fascinating, intoxicating culture.

Uneasy ethical dilemmas abound, not least the recurring question of how much suffering the animals are put through. But this remains a compelling read, unusual for its genre, exalting the bullfight as pure theatre.

Fiske-Harrison did not expect to fall in love with bullfighting when he saw it for the first time in 2000. A philosophy student and member of the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, he would argue with his brother about animal cruelty. But then he travelled to Seville and had his eyes opened by the beauty, dignity and art of the sport. Fiske-Harrison recounts his year spent studying the matadors, breeders, fans and the bulls themselves, set against the backdrop of the campaign to ban bullfighting in Catalonia.

Others have been there before, not least Ernest Hemingway, the 50th anniversary of whose death neatly coincides with this travelogue. Hemingway concluded that bullfighting was ‘moral’ as it gave him a ‘feeling of life, death and mortality’. Fiske-Harrison comes to much the same conclusion, albeit after considerable soul-searching… He develops a taste for the whole gruesome spectacle, but what makes the book work is that he never loses his disgust for it…

This is an informed piece of work on a subject about which we are all expected to have a view. But what I really enjoyed about Into The Arena is that after nearly 300 pages I still couldn’t quite decide whether bullfighting should be banned or allowed to flourish.”

It’s to Fiske-Harrison’s credit that he never quite gets over his moral qualms about bullfighting; the book is at its strongest when he uses his degree in biology to investigate the cruelty question… Into the Arena is full of intriguing detail… an engrossing introduction to bullfighting. Continue reading

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The Great Pamplona Bullrunner, Joe Distler, reviews my book ‘Into The Arena’

Joe Distler, known as the “Iron Man” of Pamplona, has run every Pamplona bull-run for 44 years and been the subject of countless articles and documentaries. He is without doubt, question or challenge the greatest American runner of the bulls.

The latest issue of La Busca, the journal of the association “Taurine Bibliophiles of America” contains this review he wrote of my book Into The Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight.

Joe Distler (Photo: Gerry Dawes)

In 1967, in the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan, I walked down the wrong isle heading for the fiction section and that brief misstep would change my life forever. There, lying in wait, was a copy of Robert Daley’s book, The Swords of Spain. Since Spain was always a place I had desired to visit, I picked up the book and the very first page I turned to had photographs of men running in front of Bulls. I was enraptured. Reading Hemingway had never really interested me in Pamplona’s “encierro” but Daley’s book completely freaked me out. It was, being a used copy, the best five dollar investment I have ever made! Not only did it convince me I must go to Pamplona immediately, it led to my friendships with Matt Carney, John Fulton, Muriel Feiner, Barnaby Conrad, Bill Lyon and a host of other fabulous characters who would go on to fill my life with wonder and joy.

Matt Carney & Joe Distler by John Fulton

Every year, before going to Spain, I still go back to Daley. The book is as fresh today as it was when I first read it standing in the stacks so many years ago. His vignette ‘Spanish Springtime’ still brings tears to my eyes and I wonder what magic made me find such a book?

Over the years, like so many aficionados, I have amassed a large library of taurine books but none ever affected me the way The Swords of Spain did. Not, at least, until recently.

Joe Distler, top right, running in Pamplona

Alexander Fiske-Harrison, top right, running in Pamplona

Continue reading

My book ‘Into The Arena’ shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book Prize

It has just been announced that my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight has been promoted from the longlist for the world’s richest sports writing prize, the William Hill Sports Book Of The Year Award 2011, onto the six-strong short list.

I should like to say that without the friendship and courage of the matadors of Spain, most particularly my Maestro Eduardo Dávila Miura and my friend Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, this book would never have existed. However, the greatest thanks of all are owed to the first matador I met, the Cyclone from Jerez, Juan José Padilla, who is even now recuperating from a hideous near-fatal goring and preparing himself for further surgical intervention in Seville next week in the hope they can restore the sight to his left eye after the bull’s horn took it away (see earlier blogposts.) Continue reading

The run up to Pamplona…

Me, right, running with the bulls in Pamplona. (Look for the horn behind the head of the man falling to my right.)

As I dig out my running clothes for the 320th annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, I am pleased to see the chapter where I described running there in 2009 in my book, Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight, serialised in The Independent On Sunday today. This year, on the 50th anniverary of Ernest Hemingway’s death, I go to meet with John Hemingway, grandson of the man who made the town the by-word for “grace under pressure” and drunken revelry with bulls attached.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison: ‘How I risked my life in the Pamplona bull run’

Ernest Hemingway made the Pamplona bull run famous. To mark the 50th anniversary of his death, the acclaimed British writer Alexander Fiske-Harrison relives the day he ran with Pamplona’s bulls…

Read on here..

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/alexander-fiskeharrison-how-i-risked-my-life-in-the-pamplona-bull-run-2301797.html

Or just buy the book here…

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Into-Arena-World-Spanish-Bullfight/dp/1846683351/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1302790004&sr=8-1

An Englishman in Miura country

 

Author with a Miura (Photo: Pepe Sánchez)

As I train with my Maestro, to kill a single bull so I can write the most complete book on bullfighting possible (although abandoning my reputation for neutrality as a writer by getting into the arena) remarkable things happen. It is well known in the bullfighting world that no photography is allowed in the unique rectangular ‘plaza’ of Zahariche, the ranch where the world famous Miura bulls are bred, but that rule was broken for a demonstration for a select group of guests – including my friend Enrique Moreno de la Cova who breeds the equally historic Saltillo bulls. This piece of picture reportage by the photographer Pepe Sánchez can be found in the article ‘An Englishman in Zahariche’ on the website of Spain’s most popular bullfighting programme, Toros para Todos, ‘Bulls for All’, to see it click here. The first images are of Pepe Luis Vázquez, a notable former matador and son of an even greater one. Then comes my Maestro, Eduardo Dávila Miura, a recently retired matador and nephew of the house of Miura. Then the aficionado práctico Pepe González Barba. Followed by myself.

Here is what Hemingway had to say about Miura back in the 1930s.

“These bulls must be fought and killed as rapidly as possible with the minimum of exposure by the man, for they learn more rapidly than the fight ordinarily progresses and become exaggeratedly difficult to work with and kill.

Bulls of this sort are the old caste of fighting bulls raised by the sons of Don Eduardo Miura of Sevilla”

Two of the sons of those sons are below, and their daughter’s son as well…

Eduardo Miura, Author, Antonio Miura and Eduardo Dávila Miura