BOOK REVIEW by Mario Carrión
One morning not long ago I received a package from Madrid sent to me by my good friend George Hall. Since I was not expecting anything in particular I opened it with some curiosity, and inside found the book PASA UN TORERO: CURRO VAZQUEZ DESDE DENTRO (tranlated A Torero’s Journey: Curro Vázquez from the Inside.) (Quotes from the book are my translations.)
Then I remembered that George, who publishes the English magazine INSPAIN in Madrid, had told me that he has attended the official presentation of this book, and that there he talked to matadors Curro Vazquez and Angel Luis Bienvenida as well as with the authors of the book, and he added that my name came up in the conversation. Nevertheless, he did not mention that he would send me the book and nor that the matadors and the authors had autographed the book and added complimentary notes to me. This was a pleasant surprise.
I glanced at the content of the book, looked at the pictures, and put the book aside since at that moment I did not have the time to read it. But since I was motivated by the few lines that I had read, I started to read it late that evening, and I was so taken by the narration that I did not go to bed until I had finished reading the last word of the book late that night. I was glad that the book has only 192 pages, because I could not put it down.
Before I comment about the content of PASA UN TORERO I should say something about Curro Vázquez, the subject of the book, in order to make sense of the reason that a torero who is not a household name, and who has not been a big and popular star is the subject of this interesting and appealing book.
Manuel---Manolo---Vázquez was born in Linares (Jaén), Spain, on May 1st, 1952, but has lived in Madrid since he was a youngster. He was a child prodigy of bullfighting. He fought for the first time in public in 1961 in the little town of Carchalejo (Granada), at the early age of nine. When Manolo started his professional career he decided to change his fighting name to Curro, to differentiate himself from the famous matador Manolo Vázquez from Seville.
After a short, but very successful campaign as a novillero, he took his alternativa in the Vistalegre Bullring in Madrid on October 12, 1969, and he retired in the same arena on October 4, 2002, after having been a notable matador for 33 years, with a two-year hiatus when he temporarily retired in 1994.
As I stated Curro never was a popular star, and if we were to check his statistics we would not be impressed by the numbers of performances he had, nor by the number of trophies he obtained during his long career. Nevertheless, It would be wrong to judge Vázquez by only those parameters, because this maestro was a special torero who always appealed to a minority of aficionados and taurine professionals, including journalists Rubén Amón y Juan Luis Cano, the two authors of PASA UN TORERO, who claim to be unconditional fans and close friends of the maestro. This minority has seen in Curro very refined qualities in his classical and artistic interpretation of toreo, which have provided them with the patience to wait for the right moments when Curro was able to create unforgettable faenas.
Furthermore, there are bullfighters who other professionals recognize as having special gifts, and Curro is one of those privileged individuals. For instance, the authors quote several important toreros praising this matador from Linares, among them Rafael de Paula and Pepe Dominguín, who were present the day of Curro’s farewell in Vistalegre. De Paula said, “Curro is a big torero… It is very difficult to fight with the naturalness, ease y and sensitivity that he does. Now that he is leaving, nobody is left who knows how to held a capote…” And Dominguín asserted that “There are popular toreros, great stars who mark an era…and there are other toreros, very few, who have merited the recognition of the professionals. Curro is one of them.”
In spite of his accomplishments, Curro came up short of being a big and popular star, in part because of the serious gorings suffered in key moments of his career, and in part because of his lack of determination, as well as for his failing to master the use of the sword, which spoiled many possible triumphs. Nevertheless, Curro remained a notable and singular torero for long time with the help of the plazas of Madrid. In Las Ventas and in Vistalegre where, when times were rough, he has often achieved the success and found the support that permitted him to remain active in the arenas of the world. According to the data listed in the book, he performed 82 corridas in Las Ventas.
In addition to his many accomplishments as a bullfighter, the subject of Curro Vazquez as the main theme for a book was enhanced by the fact that the matador led a rather bohemian and interesting life, befriended many important people, and, also because his marriage became part of the Dominguín-Ordoñez-“Paquirri” taurine dynasty. He married Pati, a daughter of Domingo Dominguín, and consequently, is the uncle of matador Francisco Rivera-Ordoñez and of the popular novillero “Cayetano’’, whom he now manages. Therefore, the book, although centered on Curro’s professional career, also deals with many facets of Curro’s private life related to his extended family, and with his dealing with important and diverse taurine and non taurine personalities such as King Juan Carlos, Santiago Carrillo, Salvador Dalí, Gabriel García Marques, “El Pipo”, Pablo Chopera, Rodolfo Gaona, Luis Miguel Dominguín, “El Viti”, “Paquirri” and “Antoñete”.
PASA UN TORERO is a book which is difficult to classify, since it is not a biography in the classical sense, in which a period in the life of a subject is narrated step by step; nor is it a typical ‘bullfighting book’, in which bullfighting topics or theories are discussed and analyzed. Nevertheless, the content has some of both elements, since it covers many facets of Curro’s professional and personal life from his birth until his retirement, and it also deals with taurine matters, although without getting into analytical discussions.
The authors are good and close friends of the subject of the book, therefore they have taken advantage of that proximity to learn first hand from the maestro about the vicissitudes of his life, his thoughts on toreo, his opinions of peers and important persons he had known, as well as his descriptions of the changes that the world of bullfighting underwent during the long period when Curro was professionally active.
The book is divided into a prologue and nine chapters, and is illustrated with eight pages containing interesting black and white pictures. It lacks an index with cross-references. Each chapter deals with a meaningful period of the torero’s life.
The chapters work as independent vignettes, and the readers will not find boring statistics in them, repetitive data, or quotes from articles, which generally slow the dynamic of a narration. On the contrary, in each of the nine chapters there is emphasis on the human aspect of the matador’s life, such as his reaction to events, his ambition, his professional conflicts with managers and impresarios, and also with some members of his extended family, his suffering and his happiness, his occasional economic problems, his social and family life, and some humorous anecdotes.
An example of the many themes that the authors touch on in those chapters is the reference to the relationship of Curro with his family. The following quote emphasizes the constant support, encouragement and understanding that Curro’s wife Pati Dominguín and their four children provided him, and also it refers to how Pati’s background prepared her to play an active role in her husband’s success:
The wife of Curro Vázquez had learned to be the safety net where the torero landed each time he fell from the trapeze…Otherwise, Curro Vázquez never would have accomplished so much. It was Pati who was the center of their home and their family… such as she learned in her own home. Because she was the daughter and granddaughter of toreros; niece and cousin of toreros; aunt, daughter-in-law and wife of toreros.
Nevertheless, she was not a simple stereotype. Pati had a strong personality, courage, and boldness. She did not accept the conventional role of the woman who prays the rosary while her husband unsheathes his sword…
In summary, PASA UN TORERO contains a dynamic narration that entertains and, without attempting to be didactic, informs us about an interesting world, as seen thorough the eyes of an unique and gifted matador de toros and modest man, who has lived an intensive and interesting life, overcoming his failures with stoicism as well as enjoying his glorious successes with restraint.
I will close my comments about PASA UN TORERO by stating that I found the prologue of the work to be unusual. Generally, persons versed on bullfighting who have read and analyzed a given literary work write the introductions to bullfighting books. This is not the case with the work of journalists Amón and Cano, since the 1-1/2 page short prologue of PASA UN TORERO was written by the renown Argentine novelist Ernesto Sabato who, instead of reading the book, listened to a recorded reading of it, and who claims in his prologue that he recognizes that there is a “mysterious and ancestral passion for bullfighting”, but that he “never went to a bullfight”. Nevertheless, he was so well impressed with what he heard in the recording that he stated, “I started to listen to the reading of PASA UN TORERO written by Juan Luis Cano and Rubén Amón, not believing and without imagining that I would lose sleep in order to listen to the narration.”I agree 100 per cent with the conclusion of the master of the pen Ernesto Sabato, since I shared the impelling experience of reading the book without a pause with him. I am sure that if you can read Spanish and get PASA UN TORERO, you also will find it difficult to stop reading the book after you have digested its first paragraph.