On 19 August 1951, I made my first appearance in France, in an unpicced novillada. It was in a portable ring set up in Canet-Plage, a place with a beach attracting thousands of holiday-makers, on the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan. The cartel was an attractive one, for I was appearing with the Corpas brothers, who were enjoying some popularity in France at the time, in a cuadrilla of niños-toreros, together with another novelty, the rejoneadora Beatriz Santullano, one of a number of ladies who were then trying to emulate the incomparable Conchita Cintrón. The ring was full, and we all cut ears.
I record all this not because it was all that important in my career or in the history of the fiesta brava, but because of something which happened thousands of miles away, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, forty-seven years later.
In December 1998, I went back to Quito, Ecuador, with my wife Sally, to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. It was there that we had met, when I was on one of my South American tours. But man does not live by romance alone, and I took the opportunity to see the Feria del Señor del Gran Poder in Quito, and to look up old friends. In Quito I met a great friend of mine, the classical torero from Salamanca, Victoriano Posada. We had appeared together in the rings, and he had confirmed my alternative for me in Madrid.
Victoriano and his wife Beatriz invited us to spend the week-end with them in Guayaquil, where they live. There the two of us began reminiscing about the old days, perhaps romanticising a little, as 'old soldiers' will. Victoriano, who had become a painter of no little talent, brought the conversation around to painting, and I was able to tell him that I had once dedicated a novillo to Pablo Picasso in France.
But before I go on with that, back for a moment to the little bullring in Canet-Plage. I didn't tell you that Picasso was among the spectators, and we toreros dedicated a novillo each to him, as is the custom when some outstanding personality attends a corrida. Afterwards someone came to the hotel, on Picasso's behalf, to invite us and our managers to have dinner with him that evening nearby. The fact is that I was very young at the time and too obsessed with the bulls to appreciate what it meant to be invited out by Picasso, or anything else that was not to do with toreo. But I was impressed by the simplicity and friendliness of such an eminent man, and also by the fact that he invited us to a very ordinary restaurant. I expected him to act much more high and mighty and take us somewhere really select. During the meal he occasionally scribbled on paper napkins, and when we all got up to leave he said "toma, y suerte muchacho", and without comment pressed a napkin into my hand. No one said anything about it, and now I think that if anyone had seen they would have thought that I was discreetly being given a tip, as beginners who dedicated a bull to someone often were. Back at the hotel I looked at the napkin, and on it there were only some vague marks which looked like the beginnings of a rough sketch of a bull. By my standards then, such as they were, it looked like the doodles I used to do when, as a bored schoolboy, I was daydreaming about afternoons of glory in the bullring.
So, coming back to my conversation with Victoriano Posada, what he asked me was, "Did Picasso give you a drawing?" I spent a few moments digging back into my memories, and Victoriano carried on. "He used to respond to dedications by giving some little drawing as a souvenir, but without making anything of it himself, and they were often on any old piece of paper. You can get five to ten thousand dollars for one of them now." My face went white, as I told Victoriano that I thought I had wiped my lips or face or blown my nose on that paper napkin of cloth of gold.
Then, after letting loose a "¡Coñooo!" that came from the depths of my soul, I told Victoriano that Picasso had given it to me without saying what it was and that now, Picasso having had his little joke, I hadn't the faintest idea what I had done with that extremely valuable paper napkin.
Whenever I think back on it now, it's not so much the cash value, since I would always have hung on to something so special. What worries me is how ignorance can undervalue art.
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