For an aficionado, living in Washington, DC, could be a sorry predicament, and it was for me, until I discovered that retired Matador Mario Carrión lived down the road in Ellicott City, MD. I made sure I got to know him.
Now I sense I do Mario insufficient honor by merely saying that sitting across a dining room table from him or watching satellite corridas with him or talking on the phone has increased my understanding of the fiesta enormously.
What puzzles me is what he's gotten out of the deal except my gratitude? I can only bring forty years of afición to the table and a fondness for the special world around Sevilla and points south.
Mario, on the other hand, is a living extension of a famous Sevilla dynasty of toreros that began with his uncle, the noted Curro Vazquez (1882-1946). This stern man who took the alternativa in 1907 was known as a tough and honorable professional who proved himself repeatedly despite serious goings.
Curro Vazquez had three sons who also became toreros, the most famous of whom was Mario's cousin and mentor, Pepin Martin Vazquez. Pepin was a prodigy who went from his debut as a becerrista in 1943 to matador de toros in less than one year.
In Sevilla in the early 1960s, some aficionados still would tell me that Pepin was the torero from Sevilla that I would have loved to see. I've never forgot that. What I've seen of Pepin are the tantalizing glimpses in the 1947 movie, Currito de la Cruz, in which he starred, and in other brief documentaries. And in what I've seen, the word "natural" keeps coming to mind as the prevailing aesthetic idea or precept.
I've heard it said that Pepin Martin Vazquez was the essence of a torero, even walking down the street. In the ring, he avoided exaggeration or forced postures. His was bullfighting based in the most difficult illusion of ease.
But naturalness and the illusion of ease were common aesthetic goals among the figuras of the '40s, with Manolete's personal version having its own profound impact. Yet what I see in Pepin and those of the 1940s also adds to my understanding of Antonio Ordoñez, suggesting that Ordoñez's own naturalness and lack of exaggeration came, in part, from those who preceded him.
Ordoñez remains the best I ever saw. Mario, who fought one corrida with him, agrees with that assessment. Perhaps, more recently, there were echoes of the fine '40s aesthetic in Jose Tomas, who was special to many of us.
But suffice it to say here that the toreo of Pepin Martin Vazquez, Mario's elder by seven years and his taurine mentor, became the foundation on which the toreo of Mario Carrión was built, and it carried Mario to triumphs of his own in Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla and elsewhere. How many friends do I have who were carried out the puerta grande in Madrid twice?
Mario took the alternativa in 1955 in Caceres in an era when so relatively few corridas were given that taking the alternativa could easily be a dead end.
But Mario's name still shows up in places like José Luís Ramón's Todas Las Suertes Por Sus Maestros, which should remind us all just how far my friend truly went in los toros. Or I could mention details that I've noted in the past year or two - that Mario fought in San Isidro or confirmed the alternativas in Madrid of Fermin Murillo and Joaquin Bernado or that he also fought Escudero Calvo bulls in Madrid, they being the herd that later became the Victorinos.
Yet Mario is not one to blow his own horn. Rather he is a man who satisfies his needs by telling the truth, a quality revealed especially in his writings. I keep telling him he must write more - of this family, their history, their insights into their times.
I also note in our conversations that Mario doesn't get caught up in technical dogmas or ironclad rules that attract aficionados like the need to "advance the opposite leg" for a pass to be "true" or "honest" toreo. Nor is he drawn to theoretical discussions of the type that often engage aficionados, either, questions like, "What does the bull see?" or, "How does the bull use its horns?"
Mario's view of such matters is closer to the professional's - an understanding of what works and what doesn't, not a bunch of theoretical explanations about why things happen.
Also, his view often clarifies things that the rest of us would make much too complicated. Mario repeatedly refers, for example, to the embroque, the moment of reunion in pass of man and bull. That would be the critical instant where, in a good taurine photograph, everything comes together.
Or it doesn't come together.
Does the embroque look right? In the embroque, toro and torero cannot be miles apart; there must be a sense of closeness, a union of movement or of danger that's close but under control, as well.
So Mario does not cite some abstraction like cargando la suerte but rather invites you to look at the embroque, and next he looks at where the bull goes or is sent by a pass. Merely to deflect the charge outward and away or in a straight line is less preferable than to draw the bull around and behind where the bullfighter was when the pass started. This result also likely leaves the muleta and bull in the best positions to begin the next pass.
And there it is - a basic view of good toreo that transcends vogues and dogmas or the rules of aficionados who are sure they've found the holy truth in it all.
Of course, Mario could explain this much better than I just did. If anything, he would demystify toreo, which is what often makes conversations with Mario so revealing.
But Mario Carrión also has his preferences, too, even if he keeps them quietly, something to be shared with friends, not argued about noisily on Internet sites. I suspect (at least, I had this impression before he left for the recent Feria of Sevilla) that if Mario could see one ideal bull with one bullfighter, it would in recent years have been Morante de la Puebla.
It's not that Mario thinks Morante is the best, bravest or most complete bullfighter but because Morante at his best comes closest to the aesthetic Mario loves.
Yet when I think of my discussions with Mario, I also find myself indebted to Mario's father, a career Spanish Army officer, who meticulously kept scrapbooks of his son's clippings and reviews from the periodicals of the time - magazines like Digame and El Ruedo and newspapers from across the Hispanic world.
These scrapbooks are so full of lore to learn and talk about, and of the flavor of the 1950s, that I consider them a great treasure. I wouldn't trade a dozen corridas for an opportunity to pore those scrapbooks with Mario.
So to Mario, congratulations on those 50 years since that afternoon in Caceres - four ears and a tail, I think it was -- and thanks for the richness you've brought to so many peoples' days, as well. And to his wife, Sally, many thanks for indulging our hours of talk about los toros. I fear - no, I hope - that we've only just begun.Return to BIOGRAPHY