In March I received an e-mail from my friend Jim Verner informing me that he was organizing some capeas and two festivals in Spain in April, in which he and other American practicos would be performing. He added that since the festivals would take place near Seville and, since he knew that I would be there at that time, he invited me to see him and his friends perform in the festivals.
Since I learned a few years ago about the existence of the American practicos, I became very interested in this unique type of aficionados as is obvious in my writings that have been posted on this Webpage from time to time. Practicos are aficionados that, with a certain regularity, practice bullfighting with live brave animals in tientas, capeas or in private or public festivals, as a hobby, and without having any professional ambition. At the present time, Jim Verner is the most senior practico and the most active one (Click: INTERVIEW WITH JIM VERNER).
On several occasions I have seen practicos fighting with calves, but not until April 14, 2002 I did have the opportunity to see Jim Verner, Bruce Hutton and Bill Torres and other practicos fight and kill young bulls---erales--- in a formal festival at Castillo de las Guardas, a town near Seville.
My experience at the Castillo de las Guardas's festival was rewarding, since the practicos gave brave and interesting performances and, by their demeanor in the arena I was aware that they took bullfighting seriously. I also enjoyed meeting the practicos socially and chatting with them about their experiences and about our common love for bullfighting.
Therefore, hoping to repeat my prior experience, I wrote to Jim accepting his invitation to attend the first festival at Castiblanco de los Arroyos. I also told Jim that unfortunately I would not be able to be present at the second festival at the Concha y Sierra ranch, since I had previous commitments in Seville. Little did I know when I wrote that e-mail that, due to unforeseen circumstances, I would be more than a spectator in the first festival.
The festival at Castiblanco was held on Saturday, April 18, 2004, at the private bullring of bull breeder Cabrera Puche's ranch, located on the outskirts of the town of Castiblanco de los Arroyos, about a half-hour ride from Seville. The festival had an informal and private character. It consisted of two parts. In the first part the American practicos Jim Verner, Bruce Hutton, Bill Torres, Mario Orlando, Ed Jeep and Juan Carlos Herrera fought and killed six Cabrera Puche erales, and in the second part Jim Verner and Néstor Gallegos fought, without killing, two smaller erales. A group of students from the Taurine School of Seville, directed by retired matador Curro Camacho, acted as banderilleros and there was a picador at hand. All the erales received a pic since they were strong and as well as fast.
Saturday morning, I rode from Seville to Castiblanco with John Gold, a twenty- something year old young British man who came to Spain as a tourist, got infatuated with bullfighting and had stayed there trying to fight as a practico.
When we arrived at the Castillo Blanco Hotel in Castiblanco I greeted Jim, Bruce and Bill, who I had already met at Castillo de las Guardas, and we were introduced to the other practicos and to a few friends who were accompanying them in this taurine adventure in Spain. While we had coffee in the hotel cafeteria, they commented about how much they had enjoyed practicing with calves at ranches near Madrid. Then, the festival protagonists went to their rooms to get properly dressed for the festival. After a while, they came down and we left for the ranch about noon. I noticed that some of the practicos had donned the typical flamenco outfit--traje corto--- while others wore the outfit of the Mexican charro.
At the ranch we went to the corrals to see the erales. They were well fed and looked strong for their size and age, and I was surprised to notice that, except for one of the animals, the biggest one, the tips of their horns were intact. Since the tips were not cut to diminish the danger to the performers, as is the norm in the festivals, I was a little bit concerned. I thought that the practicos, logically, do not have the same resources to defend themselves from difficult bulls as the matadors, nor are they in the top physical condition that most of the professionals are in, which allows them to move fast to avoid danger when necessary.
I should not have worried since the festival concluded without any practico being injured by the bull's horns, although there were several tossings that resulted in no serious harm to the performers. On the other hand, all the erales provided some chances for the practicos to show courage, some good bullfighting skills, and stylish manners that made the entertaining festival fun to watch.
Senior practico Jim Verner opened the first part of the event. He had to use his know how to execute a faena with an animal that presented some difficulties. If not brilliant his work was very effective and he killed well. The high point of his performance would happen later on. Bill Torres, another senior practico, showed his classic style of bullfighting with capote and muleta. He did very well in spite of performing with his physical capacity diminished by an injury to his ankle.
The young "practico' Mario Orlando provided the moment of highest emotion of the afternoon when fighting the biggest and most aggressive of all the animals. The eral repeatedly attacked with bravery and temperament, and Mario, showing great courage, dominated the animal by standing still while giving elegant passes with the cape and muleta. He ended the faena with some daring adorns before killing well. Ed Jeep who, like Mario, belongs to the new generation of American practicos, also had a brilliant performance.
On the other hand, Juan Carlos Herrera had some trouble adjusting to the conditions of his eral, which is understandable, since he was the practico with least experience of the six protagonists of the first part of the festival. Nevertheless, he managed to execute some stylish passes.
The performers were rewarded with ears, but that was not important, since the festival was structured rather informally. But it was significant that their labor in the ring brought strong applause from the nearly one hundred members of the Virgen del Rocio Religious Association from Seville that, by coincidence, had come to the ranch to have a picnic and they found themselves as luckily spectators of an entertaining festival with 'gringo' performers.
Although, veteran practico Bruce Hutton performed in second place I did not comment on his fighting until now because I want to relate the incident that took place during his performance that caused me to play the unplanned role of an 'espontaneo' in the festival. Bruce started his performance with the brave second animal with some stylish veronicas. Then, he continued bullfighting, having full control of the animal, but after a couple minutes into his muleta work, he suddenly felt sick and withdrew away from the bull to recover. Since I noticed that Bruce was not feeling well, I instinctively reacted by asking him for permission to continue the faena, so he could have a few moments to recover without causing any interruption in the progress of the festival. He agreed, and I found myself actively participating in a festival, in which I would have been happy just being an observer, since I was not mentally prepared to face any bulls, big or small. I gave fifteen or twenty passes and, and I think I did well, because I felt good inside, and the audience responded with applause. By that time, Bruce had recovered enough to face the danger again, and he came back to courageously confront the eral. He gave e a few passes to prepare the animal for his final moment and he finished him promptly
In the second part of the festival veteran Jim Verner and novice practico Néstor Gallegos fought two smaller bulls. Jim drew an excellent eral and he fought him with mastery and gusto. His faena consisted of several series of classic linked right and left handed passes, complemented with several varied passes. He might have given forty or fifty passes in total, when he invited matador Curro Camacho, the students of the Seville Taurine School, and me to share the bravery and nobility of the Cabrera brave animal. We did, and managed to squeeze out a few more good passes from the noble but tiring animal. Néstor closed the festival fighting a manageable eral, with which he was able to complete an enthusiastic faena with some ups and downs. He also allowed some of the students to practice with his bull.
At the conclusion of the festival, bull breeder Señor Cabrera Puche and the officers of the Virgen del Rocio Religious Association invited the festival participants and their guests to their Spanish style picnic. The meal consisted mainly of tapas, paella and bull steaks and was served with fine Andalucian wines. We stayed until late in the evening, enjoying the company of new friends, and chatting about the particulars of the festival. I remember that I had to satisfy the curiosity of the association members answering many questions about the American aficionados in America, since for them it was hard to believe that there would be would be so many enthusiastic aficionados. It was harder yet to believe that some of them could fight so well.
I conclude this remembrance by thanking Jim Verner for including me in this American practico Spanish adventure in which, by chance, I acted as an 'espontaneo' for the first time in my life. The experience at Castiblanco has also reinforced once again the admiration that I feel for the dedication to bullfighting that the American practicos such as Jim, Bruce, Bill, Mario, Ed, Juan Carlos, Néstor and others have.