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Joined: Jan. 20 2004
From: Austin, Texas USA
Feria de Pedro Romero
Probably the greatest period of the corrida in Spain in our lifetime was the rivalry between Luis Miguel Dominguin and Antonio Ordonez. During 1959, Luis Miguel Dominguin and Antonio Ordonez were involved in a bitter rivalry in the corrida. Ernest Hemingway chronicled that rivalry in his book entitled "The Dangerous Summer," which still makes good reading today.
Antonio Ordoñez was from Ronda, one of my favorite cities in Spain. The first time I visited Ronda, in the 1970s, I stayed at the Hotel Reina Victoria. I was given the room used by Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet. The balcony had a commanding view of the valley. On the desk there was a bronze plaque quoting Rilke. ¨Toda la vida he buscado la ciudad soñada. En Ronda la encontré. [All my life I have searched for the city of dreams. In Ronda I found it.]"
In those days Ronda was quiet, locked away in the mountain fastness of the serranía de Ronda. Driving up the steep winding road from Algeciras you could look back in several places to see the Pillars of Hercules: Gibraltar [Jeb el Tariq, named for its Moorish conqueror] and across the strait the Jeb el Musa [the rock of Moses] on the Moroccan shore.
Neanderthals lived in the caves of Gibraltar. It may have been one of their last homes before they disappeared.
In the 19th century the serranía was frequented by smugglers, who went down to the seashore at night to meet boats bringing contraband and retired to their caves in the daytime. The cante serranas is said to have originated here.
The city of Ronda is in two parts, sited on high cliffs above the broad circular valley below. El mercadillo is on a narrow stone peninsula, its base in the foothills of the serranía. Across the 18th century Puente Nuevo is the steep sided stone pillar of la ciudad, originally settled and fortified by the Phoenicians, then by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors, and at last the Andaluz. The Roman bridge is still in use. The road crossing it descends to the level of the Tajo, then climbs back up on the other side of the river.
When I first visited Ronda, the 25,000-year old pottery found in a cave nearby was the oldest known in Europe. I suppose the industrious archaeologists may have found some by now somewhere else that is even older.
The fairly small church in la ciudad was converted from a mosque. There is is a statue of the Virgin and Child, with fair complexions, she with a rather supercilious look, and a mural of El Cid, the great hero of the Reconquista. The altar is thickly plated with silver from the mines of America.
In those days la ciudad was quiet, very little traffic, either in cars or on foot in the cobbled streets. Over most house doorways there were family crests, signifying the wealth backing the signs along the Costa del Sol next to the rising condominium towers: "Construction financing by the Savings Bank of Ronda."
Walking in la ciudad one cool and cloudy April day I came upon a nicely dressed boy about ten years old, ruddy cheeked, kicking a small ball against the wall of the narrow street. The boxer dog with him growled and bristled at my approach. From the wooden latticed second story window came a female voice, with trilled erres, careful terminal consonants, and no lisping "theta" : upper class andaluz,
"¡Hásdrubal, que dejes pasar el caballero!"
The boxer sidled obediently against the wall, but growled softly as I passed.
The dog was named after the brother of the Carthaginian general Hannibal. Hasdrubal was left behind in command in Spain when his famous brother mounted his invasion of Italy over the Alps in 218 B.C..
Nowadays mass tourism has discovered Ronda. The last time we were there eleven years ago we asked the doorman at the Restaurant Pedro Romero if there was a place for us, but he said a busload of English people had taken all the seats for comida. Some of the old aristocratic houses were up for sale in la ciudad.
Antonio Ordoñez decided in the late 1950s to institute the Feria Pedro Romero, in honor of the 18th century rondeño who originated the modern style of bullfighting. The bullring of the Maestranza de la Real Caballeria de Ronda is one of the oldest in Spain, some say the oldest. In the passageways beneath the seats is perhaps the most important museum of memorabilia of the fiesta brava. The Feria is now overseen by Antonio Ordoñez's grandson, also a matador. There is a novillada, a corrida and a rejoneada with the toreros and much of the audience dressed in the style of the 19th century, the Corridas Goyescas. There are parades in the streets of horse drawn carriages with men and women in their Goya costumes, etc. etc.
For the Feria I have our reservation at the Reina Victoria already. Rooms were getting scarce a couple of weeks ago. Corrida tickets won't be available until the beginning of July. The Feria is over on September 3, in time to make it to Sevilla for the Bienal de Flamenco. I'm looking forward to it.
In South Texas many of the ranchers and prosperous farmers went across the border on Sunday to Reynosa for the bullfights. It was a chance to get away from daily concerns. A few had Mexican girlfriends. At age 16 I was taken along, sort of a rite of passage. I gained a little knowledge, got to know some of the Mexican ranchers, learned more about the fiesta brava. Traveling in Mexico on my own, if it was during the season from November to March, I saw world famous toreros at the old Plaza México off Insurgentes in the capital, in Guadalajara, or in the spectacular ring of Zacatecas. Corridas are rare in Mexico now.
I'm sure I will see the corrida in a different light than I did the last time I went 50 years ago at La Venta in Madrid during the Fiesta de San Isidro. I've thought about it some, but I feel I can't predict my reaction in any detail.
The aficionado's reaction, which I felt I shared to some extent in my younger days, relies upon compartmentalized empathy. The spectator partakes vicariously of the torero's bravery, the adrenaline flows when he takes his risks. The spectator admires the bull's bravery and refusal to surrender, but he ignores the cruelty inflicted upon the animal, just as the bull himself seems to ignore it. The bull keeps charging the picadores, despite the serious injuries they inflict. The bull never stops charging the cape, unless the matador miscalculates and goes on for too long. Then the bull may figure out which is the cape and which is the man, which could cost the matador his life.
Some non-aficionados, sensitive to the cruelty inflicted on the bull, mistakenly believe the spectators' pleasure derives from sadism. Not so. The corrida would furnish no pleasure for the sadist, since the bull completely ignores the pain that he must feel from the lances of the picadores. In Mexico the people in the cheap seats jeered the picadores, but the bull just does what he was bred to do: he ignores their lances and tries to kill them.
As in ancient times, the corrida is a quasi-religious ritual, dramatizing how the man, and (our anthropomorphized picture of) the bull face death. For the non-aficionado this does not refute the position that the purpose of the corrida does not justify the cruelty to the bull.
When bullfighting in its present form appeared in the 18th century, death was a far greater presence in the daily life of Andalucia than it is today.The majority of people then faced much greater material hardship, and more severe political oppression than they do now. As times change, the harsh realities that tended to support the corrida (and the cante) fade more and more into the past. The corrida and the cante are fading away with them.
At the Feria de Pedro Romero I may stand up and walk out of the corrida. Or I may stay and take an anthropological interest in the crowd. Or I may partially experience and reflect upon my youthful reactions---but I'm sure I won't entirely re-live them.
I'm confident I will whole heartedly enjoy the Bienal in Sevilla.
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The Plaza de Ronda is one of the prettiest in Andalucía. I am sure you will have a great time. I was fortunate to be invited there to the debut of Francisco Rivera Ordoñez, who is now the regente of the plaza, along with Javier Conde, the husband of Estrella Morente.
The following morning we were invited to tapear by a friend from Ronda. In one bar they offered tostada con huevos de cordoniz (quail eggs). He announced "This tapa is called Huevos de Curro Romero," which set the tone for a morning of cachondeo!
Then we went to Antequera to see Julio Aparicio, who made an amazing quite de caballos. Then my friends went home and I went to the Feria de Málaga.