This weekend an habitual 21-year-old runner in The Running of the Bulls was given as a birthday present the book,“The bull: a life in images” (Toro: una vida en imágenes) by Gorka Azpilicueta and Arsenio Ramírez authors of the web page ‘Along the paths of the bull’ (Por las rutas del toro). The father of the aforesaid runner was the first person, at the launching of the book in Pamplona three days ago, to buy a copy of the book.
“The bull: a life in images” contains some 320 images about the life of the fighting bull, taken in 58 different bull-ranches from the 100-odd in total which were visited by the two authors, Gorka and Arsenio since they started making visits to bull-ranches back in the year 2000. The two men first met at a meal and soon afterwards they began making their visits and using photography equipment which was lent to them by relatives of theirs. Their hobby of watching the bulls in their natural surroundings in the countryside soon evolved into a habit of taking photos of the animals and now all of us can enjoy looking at the wide selection of snapshots of those privileged moments enjoyed by the authors.
Both at the launching in Pamplona as well as the one made in Logroño, there were more than 200 people in attendance at each event. Gorka Azpilicueta as well as Arsenio Ramírez both wished to make it clear that this book arose from their friendship “This is a book made between friends. That is what has brought it to light. Arsenio and myself produced the images, our friends at Welldone provided the art and the models; Esprinta did the printing and Gorka Cía did the editing and the video is from Jokin Pascual…”
Jokin Pascual, a professional photographer carried out the task of creating the video presentation of this book. He reveals the story behind the creation of the book and the moves taken by the authors from an urban setting towards a rural setting, alongside the bull. Pascual used a RED Scarlet camera and his taste for quality images can be deduced from this book launching as he reveals the quality and interest that went into the making of this book. Pascual made the observation that “all the video reveals my own style in every image, but if I want to underline one moment from the video it is when we making a sweeping turn and move from the machine to the countryside. That is what this book is – a piece of the countryside in your hands.”
As well as the images, the texts are also the work of Gorka and Arsenio, but there is also a prologue written by Antonio Purroy and an epilogue from Salvador Magallanes.
And before finishing, we could not resist asking the question if the authors had put themselves in danger in getting some of the photos that were taken: “No, we were not in any danger. We always worked under controlled conditions. There is always someone there to help you. You are with friends from the bull-ranches who open the doors to their homes to you and you keep to the rules of the each house. There is a profound respect for the fighting bull and the lines are never overstepped at any time.”
Today we have learned the details about a new book on the Peña Clubs of Pamplona which is the most comprehensive one ever printed. And one of the aims of the book is to print all the banner drawings ever made and all their authors since 1930, using some 425 photographs from a database of some 10.000 photos and in some 574 pages the book relates all the known and unknown stories of each of the Peña Clubs down the years which have been selflessly collected by all those collaborating on this project since 2010. As one of the text coordinators and a life-long member of Anaitasuna Club, Carlos Erice explains, “The book is divided in four parts. In the first part the historical background of each of the Peña clubs is narrated and this section has received the collaboration of Roldán Jimeno. In the second part, each Peña club provides details about its workings over these past years. In the third part, there will be a collection of all the banners from the past hundred years or so and the authors behind the drawings. The fourth and final section of the book takes a look at the relationship between the different clubs and their setting in the bullring and how they have been featured in the cinema down the years…”
Erice wished to highlight the perspective of genre with which the book has been coordinated as the equality of the sexes which is so readily found today in the Peñas did not exist in the past. In fact, this is the first complete compendium of patronesses of the Peña clubs. Endika Lakuei, a representative from the Peña Club Association points out that this press conference for the media will be repeated “for all the citizens this coming Friday at 19.30 in The Bullring, where on Saturday members day will be celebrated with exhibitions audiovisual material, and a meal will be given for all in a party atmosphere.” In addition, she stressed that this book reveals the strong vitality of the Peña Clubs down the years, a vitality which is as strong as ever today and which guarantees a long future with so many young members currently present in the different clubs. This tome will go on sale this weekend at a price of 40 euros and apart from next Monday it will go on sale in bookstores at a slighter higher price.
At the launching of the book, Javier García (from Muthiko Alaiak Peña Club) outlined the co-ordination work of the photography section. “We finally chose 425 images after receiving some 10.000 photos sent in by animated people who opened up their private collections for us. It was very important to get access to the collection of José Luis Nobel thanks to the generosity of his family. We got some great snapshots there such as a group drinking beer alongside a donkey, some skiers fully dressed up on the sunny side of the bullring, etc…”
Among some of the anecdotes which were told at the launching, there was one about how, Chicho Ibáñez Serrador encouraged the people from the Muthiko Alaiak Peña Club to take part in the national TV show 1,2,3 which was the most popular National TV show back in 1977. However, when the members heard that they had to do a parody of the running of the bulls they declined the offer. Carlos Erice pointed out with regard to this anecdote that this shows the perpetual interest of the Peña Clubs for a particular form of the running of the Bulls which was aired at the recent do’s and don’ts proposed at The Round Table of The Running of the Bulls.
Rob White in his latest book offers a story from the Sanfermin Running of the Bulls as an example of self-help. American Rob White is a writer of this genre of book and he is also a collaborator for The Huffington Post. He has just launched his latest book in The USA under the title: “And Then I Met Margaret”. The author proposes a series of histories which can be seen as pertinent to self-help for readers of the 21 chapters and epilogue contained in the book. Chapter 15 is entitled “Running with the Bulls” and it narrates White’s own experience in the Pamplona Encierro and it contains the lesson or moral that he wants to transmit to the reader.
Rob White is also a weekly collaborator at The Huffington Post and for his articles there he sometimes uses adaptions from his book chapters. This week White has published an article precisely on the chapter about the Pamplona Running of the Bulls during Sanfermin fiestas. You can read the original article here. White relates how, while he was eating a taco in a Mexican restaurant he saw the Running of the Bulls on TV and he realized that he just had to experience this adventure. The author goes on to relate how he came to Pamplona and how he wished to participate in the bullrunning dressed all in white as tradition demands. The literary image used is that of a white shirt made of silk and sold in a limited edition. The author hopes that later on he can wear the same shirt at parties and social gatherings where he can have an excuse to boast about his experience of the Pamplona Running of the Bulls. However, when he runs into the arena of the bullring and he attempts to jump over the fencing, another runner behind him pulls at him and rips his shirt apart. His precious shirt. White becomes very angry. However, when he realizes that the other runner who had frantically grabbed at his shirt as he attempted to evade the bull is a man of about sixty years of age, and who is now someone who smiles happily at him in relief at their close escape, White comes to the conclusion: “I had just experienced a moment of beautiful triumph and, instead of enjoying that special moment, I had lost my temper over a trivial thing. On looking back on my experience in the Running of the Bulls I can now see that my priorities were the wrong ones when I could get angry over something silly like that. If I have good health, good friends, happiness and success… haven’t I already made that jump over the fencing? All the rest is just pure bull.”
The complete chapter of “And Then I Met Margaret” is, of course, more extensive in its explanations and more concrete in its details, but it gives off the same essence as the newspaper article does in The Huffington Post. “And Then I Met Margaret” has been written in English and it can be bought at Amazon for $11, 42 in its paperback version and for $6, 10 in Kindle. The book is published by Mind Adventure Press in Boston. You can find out more about the author and his work at his personal web page.
Update 29th Nov. “Unfortunately, Alexander Fiske – Harrison did not win the coveted William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2011. But to be selected for the shortlist of the worlds most prestigeous sports book prize is the equivalent of being nominated for an Oskar, and is one hell of an achievment.”
Prescript: Just to let anyone know out there who cares, I had never met the writer of this book when first I read it. I had read a brief part of it in Graeme Galloways “No Bullshit” Pamplona fanzine of this year, and it was enough to persuade me to buy the book. (No mean feat…anyone who has read some of the stuff in “No Bullshit” will know that the quality is up there with the behaviour of some of the French in fiesta -merde- and I should know…I’ve written some bullshit for No Bullshit!). Sorry Graeme, I’ll try and do better next time…
But the small section that I read intrigued me, and because every year, post fiesta, I always buy a book about Spain as part of my rest and relaxation “come down” from the post Pamplona alcohol induced San Fermin fiesta fuelled hallucinations that I experience every year, I resolved that when, and if, I made it home, then this book would be the one I’d buy. And it was, and I did. So here’s the review.
This is an extraordinary book. It is about so much more than either I thought it was going to be about, or the blurb on the back cover says it’s about. There is a quote on the front of the book, “A hero from another age, a fearless Englishman touched by madness. His endeavour owes as much to Captain Oates as to Hemingway, as much to Flashman as to Don Quixote”. Or, put it this way, from the title of a song from the band, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, “They don’t make Jews like Jesus anymore”. Well, they don’t make too many Englishmen like Alexander Fiske-Harrison any more, either.
To put it very, very simply, it’s a book about bullfighting, written by an Englishman. Although that’s rather like saying “Lord of the Rings” is about a bunch of dwarves looking for a ring. Because, of course, the story about the Hobbits invents a whole new world, and AFHs’ book goes into what for most of us is a whole new world… that of the bullfighters, their teams, the ranch owners, their friends, their families, the hangers on… I thought I knew a little about the world of bullfighting, and I do, but this book took me to a different planet.
And for those of you who love Spain, whatever your opinion about bullfighting, this book is a superb travelogue that transports you to the very core of that amazing, passionate country. And for centuries, one of the main things Spain has been defined by, of course, is bullfighting, and Fiske-Harrison manages to get to the very blood pumping and bull running, (because the Spanish word for bullfight, corrida, comes from “correr”, to run), heart of that beautiful country. The bullfight.
From the very first page, when you read the surgeons chilling description of a bullfighter (Manolo Montoliu), who was killed in the ring in Seville in 1992, “his heart was opened up like a book”, I was hooked, and throughout its 300 pages the prose never failed to thrill me, or chill me, or make me smile, laugh, cry or choke up. Fiske-Harrison manages to open up the closed world of bullfighting, yes, like a book, and it’s a fascinating ride.
By the end of it, and I must admit I never quite saw how it would end, I still didn’t know if he was for or against bullfighting, or was he a neutral? Having read it again, I’ve come to the conclusion he is neither for or against it, or maybe he is for and against it. I think! I’m confused… William Skakespeare, through the lips of Hamlet, would understand… Oh, and by the way, AFH used to be a member of both the World Wildlife Fund, and Greenpeace, so he is no bloodlusting, cruel animal sports fanatic or anything like that.
The book came about after an article he had written for a magazine called “Prospect”, which, as he says, went worldwide, “from Al Jazeera to the Dayton Daily News”. That led him to phoning a friend in Spain, who invited him to see a bullfight in Madrid. The very next day he was on a flight to Spain, and the seeds of this book were planted. It was October 2008.
He has a fascinating use of language, and a way of writing that describes exactly what you think you have just read and understood, (and you have), but then uses something else to reiterate the point. For example, he equates a bull “fighting” and what’s going on in it’s head at the time, to seeing one time at his home in England a hawk plummeting to the ground with a pheasant in it’s claws. It’s owner, the falconer, came over and gently removed the pheasant from the hawk, and slipped into its place a half eaten pigeon. The hawk, as you might say, didn’t miss a beat, or indeed a bite, and carried on eating. The point is, to quote from the book, “for the raptor, there is merely the idea of [prey], indivisible and pure. For the bull, likewise, there is the perceived threat at that moment and nothing else”.
For the bullfight aficionados the descriptions of the bullfights are what might be described as “painting a canvas”, i.e: you can see it, as if watching it on television, he writes about it that well. Now, talking about bullfight fans, especially the “foreign” ones, (by that I mean, generally speaking, the non Spanish or South American ones), there is no doubt some jealousy regarding the book and AFH himself. How dare a complete unknown waltz into the world of toreros and corridas and write a book about it less than 3 years later… well, let me just say to those aficionados… Fiske-Harrison has gone into the arena, put his feet on the sand and faced some of these animals. And as someone who has never done that (but has run with, and mostly away from, the bulls in Pamplona), that takes guts.
As he writes in the book, “the number of times I have been interrogated, patronised and downright insulted by Englishmen who have [devoted their lives to bulls], I reckon goes into double figures. The number of times this has been done to me by a Spanish bullfighter, breeder or aficionado is much easier to estimate. Zero”.
Zero…remember, AFH came from almost nowhere, and entered, as a foreigner, into what is still a pretty much closed world for them, and gained not just the friendship of some of the most famous bullfighters and bull breeders on the planet…but also earned their respect. Think about that for a minute…he earned their respect. That is a hell of an accomplishment.
At one point he is talking to the bullfighter Cayetano, just 2 years qualified, who looks over the ring and says to him:
“That! That’s what I hate”.
AFH thinks he is looking at the Spanish flag, fluttering in the wind, and thinks he hates the flag of his country.
“No, the wind that makes it fly. The wind, that is what kills you”. (When the wind lifts the toreros cape, it can change the direction of the bull, and can be incredibly dangerous for a bullfighter). As he writes, “And this from a man whose father died in the ring”.
As mentioned earlier, this book is not just about bullfighting. It’s a wonderful travelogue through parts of Spain, that reminded me a little of what is probably one of my favourite books, “The Dangerous Summer” by Ernest Hemingway. And I mean “one of my favourite books”, period, as I am not a big fan of Hemingway, but I love Dangerous Summer because of the descriptions of travelling around Spain in the 1950’s. Well, this book also travels around Spain, a country that I love, but it also has history in it, as it is a superbly researched, historically fascinating read, but is also full of humour, and tears and laughter, and partying and Pamplona…and, literally, life and death.
There are heartbreaking moments in it too, not just of the bulls and their deaths (they are more or less brothers, after all), or of bullfighters, but of brotherly love also, not just amongst family, but amongst those in the taurine world who rsk their lives in the ring. Sometimes, completely unexpectedly, I read something that brought tears to my eyes. He has a way of giving you an “emotional punch”, if I can put it that way, but you never see it coming. Thanks to him, I finally understand what the word “never” can really mean. (You need to read the book).
For those of you who are just bull running fans, or are just hooked on the whole Fiesta of San Fermin thing, then that extraordinary town appears in the book too. I shant say too much about the Pamplona part, so as not to spoil your enjoyment and it’s only a small part of the book anyway, but there is a lovely, “put down” said to an English officer of the British Army, when AFH tells him briefly what he is up to. I have also used something similar a couple of times in the past, or just shown someone a couple of photos from my bull running days.
Also, any book which has this in it must be worth a look. It is from the wife of someone called Adolfo, a very good amateur bullfighter who occasionally appears on the main card with the professionals. The lady in question, Belen, asks Fiske-Harrison, “But why does an Englishman want to write about bullfighting? This is not what the English are interested in. They are polite and weak and rich and mainly homosexuals. Obviously not you, Alejandro…”
If I ever meet her, I hope I have one of my (very few, admittedly), bull running photos with me…
And thanks for the description of us English, Belen, as most people think we are just a bunch of fat, balding, foul mouthed, kebab eating, binge drinking, fightng, vomiting yobs. And that’s just the women…
I could go on and on, and I’m sure some of you think I have gone on enough already, but may I just say this: this is a beautiful, wonderfully written and hugely entertaining book, that is about so much more than just bullfighting. It’s about life, and death, by someone who knows, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
When I first read “Into the Arena”, I had never met Alexander Fiske-Harrison, but I knew of him, as the band of “international drunks” as Hemingway called them, the Pamplona crowd, is, although not small, connected by that one thing: San Fermin.
But since them I have met him, at a pub in London. I didn’t exactly expect him to arrive in an ambulance and be escorted out in a strait jacket, but I thought I might detect something, a streak of madness, a twitch…but no, he was just (or at least, appears to be!), an ordinary man, although an obviously talented one, who has written an extraordinary book. We had a couple of pints and talked a lot of bull, you might say, and he was, if I can steal something he inscribed to me in my copy of his book, “a man well met”.
Hasta la proxima pinta, Alejandro.
You can read too: The Last Arena, Alexander Fiske-Harrison´s Blog Alexander Fiske-Harrison Section in Prospect Magazine The Pamplona Post, by AFH… News, Gossip, Rumour & Lies from the running of the bulls 2011 Into The Arena, AFH, The World Of The Spanish Bullfight