COMO VER EL TORO EN LA PLAZA (How to See
the Bull in the Bullring) by José
Luis Prieto Garrido. Editorial Almuzara, S.L., Córdoba, 2006
At the TBA Tertulia in June Dave Tuggle, the editor of LA BUSCA, asked me if I would like to review the book COMO VER EL TORO EN LA PLAZA, which seemed to deal with how to predict and judge the behavior of bulls in the bullring. I told Dave that, based on my experience as a professional matador and as an aficionado, I doubted that anyone could be successful in writing about that complex topic, since there are so many unpredictable variables involved in the manners bulls react to the random challenges that they are exposed to in the bullring. Nevertheless, I was curious to see how the writer would handle this challenging task, so I agreed to read and review the book.
I received COMO VER EL TORO EN LA PLAZA a couple of weeks later. The first thing I did was to read the promo on the back cover as well as the titles of the fifteen chapters listed in the table of contents which, as in most Spanish books, is placed at the back of the book. I immediately noted a certain discrepancy and disproportion between what the promo claims the scope of the book to be, and the material the chapters cover in accordance with their titles.
In the promo the publishers claim that this book is “essential to the aficionado who aspires to be knowledgeable in the taurine subject.” It also says that the book deals with what happens from the moment a bull is unloaded in the corral of a plaza, during his stay in the corral and the bullpen, how the bull is examined by the veterinarians and the representatives of the respective authorities, as well as other practical and bureaucratic procedures that the bull has to undergo prior to entering the ring to be fought by the toreros. Then the promo adds that this work also covers, in great detail, how the bulls may behave in the ruedo, the way in which they attack, what terrain they prefer during the fight, and many other characteristics displayed by the animals in their behavior in the ruedo. The promo concludes affirming that, “to know all these circumstances means to fully enjoy the grandeur of bullfighting.”
Also, Dr. José Luis Garrido, the author of the book, states the book’s goals in a similar manner as the publishers claim in the promo.
My speculation that there was a discrepancy between the goals stated by the publishers and the author and the real content of the book became a reality when I finished reading the entire 325 pages that the book contains. Some of my thoughts that support my point of view follow.
In my reading of the fifteen chapters I found that only two directly addressed the behavior of a bull in the ruedo. They are the chapters titled “The behavior of the toro in the ring” and “The last phase of the fighting: the sword thrust,” which occupy about 60 pages of the 325 that the work contains. There are also other chapters that might have some content that could have some bearing on the behavior of a bull in the ring, like the ones dealing with the vision of the animal and with the anatomical differences among bulls of different types---encastes. Also, some chapters deal with how the administration of drugs and how the picking affects the behavior of the animals. But even those chapters place greater emphasis on the anatomical and clinical aspects of the subject than on how these circumstances may affect the behavior of the animal in the ruedo. On the other hand, the remainder of the chapters deal with the anatomical description and the health of the bulls, as well as with the specific procedures that veterinarians, bull breeders and the personnel in charge of the organization of a corrida have to follow in order to comply with the many governmental rules and regulations related to the handling of the bulls on the ranch, in their transportation, and in the plaza de toros, including the butchering of the animal in the facilities of the plaza after the corrida. These chapters also include samples of the multiple bureaucratic forms that have to be completed to comply with the governmental regulations.
Before I comment on the prose that Dr. Prieto uses in the writing of COMO VER EL TORO EN LA PLAZA, I will highlight the parts of the author’s background that gave me the idea of why his book turned out to probably be more interesting for veterinarians and other people involved with the bureaucratic aspects of handling the bulls in the plaza de toros, than to the average aficionado, or a former torero like myself.
Dr. Prieto is a veterinarian and a professor of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Córdoba in Spain. As a veterinarian he has been part of the team of veterinarians of the Plaza de Córdoba for more than fifteen years. His primary task in his assignment is to inspect the bulls, certify that they are healthy, and that they possess the necessary conditions to be fought in a first class bullring. Furthermore, he is partially responsible to verify that all the regulations pertinent to the handling of the bulls while in the plaza are enforced. In addition to the author being a veterinarian, in his youth for a while, he experienced adventures as a beginner novillero performing in places of minor importance.
In his writing the author shows that he has an immense knowledge of the matters related to the anatomy and health of the bulls, as well as of the organizational and bureaucratic procedures he addresses in his text. Unfortunately, however, he does not ration his knowledge, since he uses a great amount of specialized professional concepts and vocabulary too often in his prose, without taking the time to properly clarify the terminology for the non-professional reader. In many instances I was not familiar with the terms being used, and since I could not find them in my several regular Spanish or English dictionaries, I had to guess the meaning of some words by their context in the text. Here are just a few examples of the type of terminology appearing with much frequency in the text: “pasteurella hemolitica”, “queratitis”, “carifoscos”, “opistoceros”, “ortoceros”, “biotipo ortosténico” or “hipoparatiroideo”.
To make matters worse at the end of the book there is a “Diccionario del toro” in which I was expecting to find those types of words like “ortoceros” defined, but the dictionary lists only words with pure taurine meaning such as “becerro”, “chiquero”, “monosabio” and many others, the meanings of which are known to most aficionados.
I find that the heavy use of a specialized vocabulary plus the professorial content and tone of the prose are not conductive to an easy flow of the reading.
This mostly negative opinion of Dr. José Luis Prieto’s book does not mean that the book does not contain some interesting information, since the reader can learn with profuse details about the anatomy and the external appearance of the bulls, about the anatomical and behavioral differences among the existing breeds---encastes---, and much more information related to the bull as a zoological specimen. In many cases the information is illustrated with beautiful pictures of the bulls. Also, some readers may find it interesting to read about the many procedures involving the certifications of the bull to be fought in a corrida. On the other hand, they will not find what I expected to find in the book, clear and specific descriptions of how bulls act and react in the ruedo as well as prescriptions on how to modify their behavior.
In conclusion COMO VER EL TORO EN LA PLAZA would be a perfect book to be used as a specialized reference in a workshop for new veterinarians and other professional people directly involved in the process of handling the bulls in a plaza de toros. For the average aficionado it is just a book where he can satisfy his curiosity about non-essential matters related to bullfighting not easily found in other taurine books. Nevertheless, I do not believe that for the aficionado, as the promo optimistically claims, “to know all these circumstances means to fully enjoy the grandeur of bullfighting,”