Dancing with Death

“Living without bullfighting is not living.”

This may be a simple quote, but it expresses the weight and significance of bullfighting to one of Spain’s top matadors, Jose Tomas. In a tradition where one wrong step can lead to a deadly consequence, Tomas lives for the moments when he is dancing with death. He is known for his daring bullfighting style, in which he draws the bull dangerously close to his body with his cape.

Although the bullfighting tradition is surrounded by controversy and has recently been banned in the region of Catalonia, one thing can be agreed upon: The passion and the dedication the matadors have for this ancient art.

This past July marked Tomas’s return to the bullring after being nearly fatally gored in Mexico one year ago. Despite his near-death experience and months long recovery, Tomas knew he would return. The line he walks during a bullfight, between life and death, causes him to feel more “alive” than at any other moment.

For many, bullfighting consists of the matador waving his red cape in front an angry bull…and that’s about it. But the history and tradition behind bullfighting make it much more than its stereotypical image.

The spectacle of bullfighting has been in existence since ancient Rome, but the bullfight we know and see today started in the mid-1700s. Before this time, men on horseback were the main focus as well as the ones killing the bulls. But as bullfighting developed, the men on foot, who aided the horsemen by positioning the bulls with their colorful capes, began to attract more attention from the crowds. This began the modern form of bullfighting we see today.

A usual corrida consists of three matadors, each of them killing two bulls. The first phase of the bullfight is what many people think of when they think of bullfighting: the bull comes rushing out into the arena and the matador swiftly goes through a series of movements and passes with a large cape. A matador is met with applause depending on how close he is to the bull, his calm manner and the graceful maneuvers he accomplishes with his cape.

During the second phase, men on horseback come into the bullring and throw lances, or banderillas, into the back and shoulders of the bull. This is done to lower the bull’s head for the eventual kill.

The third phase of the bullfight is usually the most dangerous. The bull has become weaker during the fight, but it also begins to sense that its enemy may be behind the matador’s cape. This causes the bull to become more aggressive as it charges the matador’s cape. Through a series of ballet-like passes during this final stage, the matador increases tension and anticipation in the audience as he continues to decrease the space between himself and the bull. When the moment is right, the matador strikes the bull between the shoulder blades with his sword and the bullfight is over.

Bullfights are characterized by an entrancing, mysterious silence. The matador becomes lost in his art as he dances closer and closer with death.

Another one of Spain’s famous bullfighters, Francisco Rivera Ordonez, said in a 60 Minutes interview, “We create this real personal connection and feeling between us [the bull and matador]. You kind of have a connection, a conversation with gestures, with time, with movement…you kind of lose reality.”

References: Spanish-fiesta.comCBSNews.com

This was originally published on Andalucia Inside.
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The Mystery of the Real Don Juan

Don Juan. After 21 years of hearing this name being referenced and joked about, I’m embarrassed to say I really didn’t know too much about this devilishly charming character. Was he fiction? Was he a real person? What was his story? I felt that if I wanted to consider myself a cultured citizen, I should probably find out…

The legend of Don Juan was first brought to life by Spanish writer Tirso de Molina in the 1630s. In this version, the libertine and rogue Don Juan has killed Gonzalo, the father of one of the women he has seduced. Later in the story, Don Juan passes Gonzalo’s tomb and mockingly invites his statue to dinner. The statue accepts and arrives at Don Juan’s home for dinner in the form of Gonzalo’s ghost. He then invites Don Juan to dine with him in the graveyard. Once there, the statue of Gonzalo grabs Don Juan by the arm and drags him all the way to Hell.

This character was known for his seductive nature and countless affairs with young Spanish women, which is why today we refer to a womanizer as a “Don Juan.” Other artists have found this fictional libertine man to be of inspiration as well; Mozart’s famous opera Don Giovanni and Lord Byron’s narrative poem Don Juan are based on the Don Juan legend.

I next looked to see if there was a “real” Don Juan, someone who inspired this bigger-than-life character.

Enter real-life Spaniard Don Miguel Mañara, who was born in 1627 to a wealthy family in Seville. After inheriting large sums of family money at a young age, Mañara is said to have led an extravagant, public and very indulgent lifestyle. He was also something of a womanizer during this time. But when his wife died years later, Mañara was struck with such grief that he turned to God and began leading the Brotherhood of the Holy Charity and founded the Hospital of Charity, which still looks after the poor and disabled today.

After a little more detective work, I came to find out that this real-life character, who is so often connected with the legend, was actually only 3-years-old at the time the original story of Don Juan was written by Tirso de Molina in 1630. So how did he become the “inspiration” for a story that was written before he could even ride a horse? Some theories say that during the 19th century there was an interest to make Don Miguel Mañara a saint. But those who were against this movement attempted to taint his image by exaggerating the stories of his rogue behavior and connecting him with the character of Don Juan.

As I was wandering though the beautiful and charming Barrio de Santa Cruz in Seville the other day, I came across the statue of the infamous Don Juan in Plaza de los Refinadores. I stood there for a moment, trying to imagine him gallivanting about the winding, mysterious cobblestone streets during the 17th century. I stood close to the statue, wanting to get a better view of the confident, all-knowing smirk he was wearing…I just made sure I didn’t let his statue shake my hand.

This was originally posted on Andalucia Inside.

References: Origins of Don Juan/Time FliesTrip Advisor

Spain Inspires

With a flamenco beat just around the corner, wine abundant during late night dinners and laughter being heard in the streets, it’s hard not to feel inspired by Spain. Whether you’re in a small town or busy city, there is a line of rich culture and tradition that winds its way throughout the county. Spain has long been a place of inspiration for artists, writers, musicians and actors alike, both foreign and native, who each share their experience in the way they know best.dj

Gwyneth Paltrow

When she was 15-years-old, actress Gwyneth Paltrow stayed a small town near Talavera de la Reina in the region of Castilla La Mancha. She’s been back to Spain every year since.

“They seem to enjoy life a little bit more. They aren’t running around as much as in New York. They enjoy time with the family. They don’t always have their Blackberries on.”

A more recent inspiration for the actress has been Spanish cuisine. Paltrow along with Chef Mario Batali, writer Mark Bittman and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols completed a TV series on Spanish cuisine called “Spain…On The Road Again.” The foursome take off on a road trip throughout the different regions of Spain to experience the country’s culinary traditions and history. Paltrow also helped write “Spain…A Culinary Road Trip,” the companion cookbook to the TV series.

Paltrow’s love for Spain and it’s varied gastronomy wasn’t very well known until “Spain…On The Road Again” was broadcast. (She is also fluent in Spanish!) The show’s mouthwatering foods and beautiful scenes are enough to inspire anyone to try the delicious dishes of both new and traditional Spanish cuisine.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway once wrote in a letter that Spain was “the last good country left.” The American writer spent manyyears of his life here and the Spanish influence is evident in his novels. Hemingway first traveled to Spain as a young reporter during the Civil War and the experience inspired his famous novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
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He also had a passion for bullfighting and wrote two nonfiction books on the topic, “The Dangerous Summer” and “Death in the Afternoon.” The fictional matador in “The Sun Also Rises,” was actually named after a real 18th-century torero from Ronda, Spain named Pedro Romero. But the character on one of Hemingway’s contemporaries, another bullfighter from Ronda known as Niño de Palma.


John Lennon

The Beatles hit, “Strawberry Fields Forever” was inspired by John Lennon’s time in Almería, Spain while he was filming the movie “How I Won The War.” During his stay he lived in a small apartment in the beach city of El Zapillo in Almería where he was photographed sitting on a the bed with a guitar and a cassette recorder writing the song. The first demo recording was actually done in Almería, although it was just one verse at the time.

No matter what your profession, you always leave Spain with more than what you originally came with. And I’m not talking about souvenirs and pictures. An unidentifiable inspiration, like a spark being lit inside you, stays with you for years after.

This was originally posted on Andalucia Inside.

References: Spain…On The Road AgainThe Washington PostPRLOGLet Me Take You Down To Almería