I label this type of dialogue as 'cybernetic interview' to differentiate it from a regular interview. The regular interview is done verbally, face to face with the interviewee, or by telephone. There is spontaneity in that dialogue, but the person answering the questions often does not have enough time to supply specific information and accurate data. On the other hand, in the cybernetic interview the interviewer submits written questions to the subject of the interview on the Internet, giving the interviewee time to think through his or her answers. One expects that the more precise and expansive information given by the interviewee will compensate for the loss of spontaneity.
Jim Verner is a gentlemen who makes his living as a successful businessman, but he is identified in the taurine world, not for how he earns his money, but for what he does in the bullring as a successful 'aficionado practico' or 'practico', for short. Everyone knows what a businessman is, but not everyone knows what a 'practico' is in the bullfighting context. Then, let's first define the term 'practico', before I recap some of Jim's biographical data and transcribe what Jim has to say about his extensive experiences in the bullfighting world.
A 'practico' is a bullfighting fan who extends his passion for bullfighting beyond exercising the usual activities of an aficionado, such as attending corridas, belonging to taurine clubs, reading or collecting material related to the fiesta brava. In addition to those activities, the 'practico' fights brave animals with a certain regularity, and without having professional ambitions. The key word in this definition is 'regularity', since many aficionados have given a few passes once or twice to a calf in a taurine fiesta or tienta. For most fans that unique experience is enough, since they quickly learn of the difficulties and danger involved in facing a brave animal. Nevertheless, a few aficionados, after having tasted the intense emotion of bullfighting, take up its practice as an expensive and dangerous hobby. They become 'practicos', and during a facet of their lives, they take lessons, practice toreo de salón, and from time to time perform privately or publicly in tientas, fiestas and festivals.
The hobby is expensive, since the 'practicos' have to travel to the taurine countries, buy the calves or young bulls they are going to confront, and they also have to pay their personal and organizational expenses of the events in which they participate. It is anomaly that in the United States, a non- taurine country, there are more 'practicos' than in any place else in the world. American Jim Verner is one of those 'practicos' and, is possibly the patriarch of the group, who has lately been very active and successful bullfighting as an amateur. In his book YANKEES IN THE AFTERNOON Lyn Sherwood dedicated a chapter to the topic of American 'practicos', and he mentions Jim Verner and a group of other American men who have distinguished themselves performing as 'practicos'. I jokingly called Jim a 'professional practico' because of his multiple performances in tientas and festivals in the last three years, which explains the incongruent title of this interview, since one cannot be a 'practico' and a professional as the same time.
Jim Verner was born April 3, 1942 in Phoenix, Arizona. He attended the University of Arizona and after graduating, completed postgraduate studies in the Thunderbird International Business School. He became a bullfighting aficionado when he was a teenager. Later when attending the University of Arizona, which is located just about 60 miles from the Mexican border, his passion for the fiesta brava boiled to such a degree that in order to cool it, he took time away from college to try to become a professional torero. But, after some rough experiences, Jim wisely decided to put to rest his professional ambitions, and he continued his studies. Nevertheless, his desire for performing with brave bulls persisted, so after his graduation he planned his career with the goal in mind of working in countries where he could continue bullfighting as a 'practico'. He found work with Caterpillar, which sent him to Bogota, Colombia, were he stayed from 1968 to 1971. Then he lived in Madrid, Spain, from 1971 until in 1973 when his company sent him to Quito, Ecuador, where he remained until 1980. Later he worked in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a couple of years. However, his plan to live in countries where he could combine work and pleasure failed, because Jim was sent to work in England, a country where bullfighting is not a part of the culture. Finally, Verner went back to work in Spain, where he resumed his 'practico' hobby with a vengeance, after an almost twenty-year hiatus. Now he resides in Zaragoza.
In addition to practicing bullfighting Jim has also written regularly about this subject for CLARIN, GUIDEPOST, COLONY REPORTER and LA DIVISA and he has occasionally contributed articles to other Spanish and Ecuadorian publications. Jim writes with a very analytical style clearly explaining many aspects of bullfighting, as can be appreciated in his articles posted in the 'News' section of this Web site.
Lets see what Jim has to say about his long experience as a 'practico':
MMDT: Jim, since I saw you masterfully fighting a novillo in the Castillo de las Guardas Bullring, near Seville, at the 'practico' festival honoring Barnaby Conrad on April 14, 2002, I have read about your successful performances in 'practico' festivals in different countries. Congratulations! But let's leave the near past for now and go back in time. How did a young American boy, living in Phoenix, become an aficionado?
Jim Verner: I grew up in a family that hunted and had horses, so it was natural for me to try to understand animals. When I was 15 years old, I saw my first bullfight. It was immediately obvious to me that this was something I wanted to learn more about. And I was lucky to have been at the right place at the right time for an American aficionado. The 1950s and 1960s were the golden age of American interest in bullfighting. Border towns were holding corridas on a regular basis and books and magazines were becoming available that contained practical information about bullfighting. So, even without knowing Spanish, it was possible to learn about bullfighting to a degree that just a decade earlier would have been impossible. I will always feel indebted to those authors - Conrad, McCormick, Kehoe, Fergus, Sherwood, and others - for allowing me to develop an understanding of la fiesta brava. It was precisely this sense of gratitude that prompted me to organize the festival in Castillo de las Guardas.
MMDT: At that time, did anyone in your family, relatives or friend share your bullfighting passion with you?
Jim Verner: My parents attended a few bullfights, including the ones I was in, but they never became real aficionados. My two younger brothers, as well as some friends and relatives, would often try their hand at "bullfighting" with a carretilla I fixed up out of a bicycle and horns. My brothers are actually very good aficionados practicos, and I am sure that starting to practice when they were about eight years old is a major reason why. A few friends began fighting in festivals when I did, but they soon lost interest when they saw the bulls we had to face and the sacrifices that were necessary to fight them.
MMDT: Being a teenager, how did you manage to get to the Mexican border towns to attend corridas or festivals?
Jim Verner: It used to be common for Americans to visit Mexican border towns. In those days, you were allowed to bring one gallon of liquor back into the US for every person in the car. So it wasn't too hard to get rides with my friends' parents who were making their "rum run", and letting me go to the bullfight while they did their shopping was just a part of the deal.
MMDT: When did you face a brave animal for the first time? Please try to convey to us the feeling you felt facing a brave beast for first time without having any experience.
Jim Verner: I think it was in 1960. Some publicity seeking disk-jockeys from Tucson arranged to fight a couple young animals after a regular corrida in Nogales. I think they had seen Cantinflas in "Around the World in 80 Days" and thought they knew everything about how to do a comic bullfight. But when they saw the calves aggressively charging, they refused to go out, and the announcer invited anyone in the stands to come into the ring. I jumped at the chance, and even though I had only made passes to a set of horns on a bicycle wheel per the instructions in the books I had read, these noble little animals followed the cape beautifully. As for how I felt, I don't have the words to describe it: elated, ecstatic, exhilarated, exultant, thrilled, overjoyed - none of these words really convey the wonderful sense that filled my body and soul. At that point, I knew I was infected by "el gusanillo." I was hooked.
MMDT: How did you learn the mere essential techniques to survive in front of a bull? I do not think there were taurine schools or professionals who would teach you in Arizona.
Jim Verner: In the beginning, as I said, it was mainly book learning. But I also understood that bullfighting was about more than simply knowing how to swing a cape. Bullfighting is really about understanding bull psychology. This is where my experience with hunting, horses and other animals helped me greatly. And, while I eagerly sought the advice of any bullfighter who would help, I never had the opportunity to study or train with a matador and learn in an organized way. So, in the end, it was mainly a lot of trial and error combined with observation of professional toreros, trying to think like a bull, and critical self-examination -things that I still do today as I continue to learn.
MMDT: Obviously the bullfighting 'toreo's gusanillo' infected you with the urge to bullfight to such an extent that for a while you were an aspiring bullfighter. Please, tell us about that experience.
Jim Verner: After the first time in the ring, there were a couple other amateur-day events in Nogales. One of them, however, taught me how serious bullfighting can be, but it was also my "big break." Instead of the usual becerros, these animals were novillos that had already been fought. That day I spent more time in the air than on my feet, but there was a small town promoter in the crowd and he approached me and my friends about participating in festivals he organized. Our first festival was in Magdalena, Sonora, and you can imagine our surprise when we found the "plaza" was a corral built in the baseball stadium. But our shock was beyond belief when we saw the animals: several Brahma bulls, a couple white-faced Herefords, and some wide-horned range steers. After a few events, my friends dropped out but I continued. I fought in many small towns in Northwest Mexico, facing all sorts of cattle. Sometimes I even appeared in a suit of lights. In addition to fighting with the cape and muleta, I often placed banderillas, but I never had the chance to kill a bull in these festivals because they were low-budget affairs. Although the animals were not fighting bull stock, they were generally wild enough to charge to some degree. While most charged in an erratic way, some of them were as good as any fighting bull. I also traveled with a Mexican rodeo for about six months. I would distract the bulls from the fallen riders, much like American rodeo clowns, but then, if the bull would charge, I was allowed to fight it. All of this gave me experience with many types of animals, although I still had not killed a bull. So, when I was finally able to fight and kill a real novillo of fighting bull blood, it seemed so easy.
MMDT: Why did you decide that the professional path was not the way for you to fulfill your need for bullfighting?
Jim Verner: I met too many bullfighters who were good toreros but had never succeeded. I also began to learn about some of the unsavory aspects of professional bullfighting. I preferred my bullfighting in a more idealist, romantic way, and so I decided to return to school and see if I could continue as an aficionado practico.
MMDT: With that decision, America lost a future matador, but gained one of its most dedicated 'practicos'. Now, after a good performance as a 'practico', does something inside you tell you that you should have tried to pursue bullfighting as a career as John Fulton did?
Jim Verner: No, I enjoy bullfighting too much. I don't think I would enjoy many aspects of the professional world of bullfighting. I received several offers to fight professionally as a novillero and always turned them down. I was even offered a corrida in Ecuador to take the alternativa. I just thanked the man, and said when he wanted me to fight in a festival I would be there.
MMDT: I noticed that when you offered your performance to your mother in the Castillo de las Guardas festival, she seemed to be at ease when you were bullfighting the two-year-old bull. What were the reactions of your parents when they found out that you wanted to be a matador, at the time you should have been concentrating on your college duties?
Jim Verner: Of course, my parents were concerned. While they did not understand bullfighting, they understood my dedication and they accepted it. I dedicated the first bull I killed to my mom and dad because I felt lucky to have such good parents. But I know they were relieved when I decided to return to college.
MMDT: After leaving college you went to work and lived in Colombia, where you restarted your bullfighting adventures, but without professional aspirations. What happened there?
Jim Verner: I happened to meet an aficionado practico in Bogotá and we agreed that I would participate in the next festival he organized. I was traveling when he prepared the posters, and since he couldn't remember how to spell my name he announced me as "El Gringo." The name stuck, and so I was known as "El Gringo" in all the festivals I fought in Colombia. I fought in several festivals and tientas, and even a few of the small town events with range cattle, so I was able to keep pretty active.
MMDT: The demands of your job took you to live in Spain, Ecuador and Mexico. Did you have many chances to bullfight in those countries?
Jim Verner: In Spain, I used to rent cows at a ranch near Madrid. And in Mexico, I only managed to get to a couple tientas. But in Ecuador, I was in aficionado practico heaven. There was a group of aficionados practicos there, the Peña Corinto y Oro, that was quite active, so I was able to fight often - probably some eighty festivals over an eight-year period. It was in Ecuador where I also had the chance to raise fighting bulls. With two partners, we formed the ganadería "Pasochoa," named for the mountain where it was located. Raising bulls was the biggest joy of all my taurine experiences.
MMDT: Then in 1980 you left Ecuador and eventually moved to England and, like those matadors who retire temporarily, you left the active practice of bullfighting for several years. For how long and why?
Jim Verner: The last festival I fought in Ecuador was in 1979 or 1980, and the next bull I killed was in 2000. During this period I think I fought in maybe 4 or 5 tientas. My work simply took me to places where it wasn't possible to stay involved in bullfighting. Then, in 2000, I decided to buy myself a bull as a special present for my 58th birthday. When I got to the ranch, Cabrera Hermanos, near Sevilla, the only animals they had were good-sized, really bigger than I wanted. So I selected the smallest, about 300 kilos, and then went to a neighboring ranch and bought a smaller one. Fighting these two animals revived a dormant "gusanillo."MMDT: When did you reappear as an active 'practico' again?
Jim Verner: After killing the two animals at Cabrera Hermanos, I happened to learn about the plans for a convention of aficionado practicos in Reynosa, Mexico in October 2000. I didn't know the North American aficionados practicos, so when I attended this event it opened up a whole new world. The people I met became good friends and since we all shared our passion, it was only natural that we would fight in festivals as often as possible.
MMDT: Since your 'reappearance', how many bulls have you killed and in what countries?
Jim Verner: I don't keep a log of all my festivals, but I think I have killed about 30 animals since April 2000, and I have fought in Spain, Mexico, France, and Ecuador. I have also fought in a few bloodless festivals in Texas at Fred Renk's Plaza Santa Maria.
MMDT: That may be a record for a 'practico'. What is the range of age and weight of the animals fought in 'practico' festivals?
Jim Verner: Although most of the animals are between two and three years old and weigh about 270 to 300 kilos, I have fought a few animals that were legitimate novillos and weighed in the range of 350 to 400 kilos. But my biggest thrill was last year in Cadereyta, Mexico. I fought a four-year-old bull that weighed about 400 kilos. It was blind in one eye, but charged beautifully on its right horn and I fought it so well that most of the crowd didn't even realize the defect and it was given the indulto.
MMDT: No doubt, that from what I saw in Castillo de las Guardas you have the good qualities to fight with ease the type of bulls generally fought in 'practico' festivals. Do you ever have the urge to go over the limit of what you are doing with mastery now and confront more serious and mature bulls?
Jim Verner: The biggest bull I ever killed was in Riobamba, Ecuador. It was 5 or 6 years old and weighed 480 kilos. In the past three years I have selected the bigger bulls I just mentioned because I sought the personal satisfaction of fighting animals that I would call "serious and mature." I have no desire for anything bigger.
MMDT: On the subject of the 'practicos' Lyn Sherwood says in his book "rewards are limited to painful bruises, broken bones, torn ligaments…." And I add serious goring, since two- year-old bulls or calves in festivals or tientas have gored several experienced matadors. Have you ever being gored or hurt while bullfighting?
Jim Verner: I have never been gored, nor have I broken any bones (knock on wood), but I have had my fair share of bruises. . But I have to disagree with Lyn about the rewards. The camaraderie and friendship among aficionados practicos are unique, and will live on long after I have ceased fighting.
MMDT: What kind of training do you do to be fit to continue performing in festivals?
Jim Verner: Not nearly enough! My apartment is on the 9th floor, so I try to make myself use the stairs rather than the elevator for at least a few weeks before I know I will be in a festival. I occasionally do toreo de salon, but I really should exercise more. Mainly I try to fight a cow every few months to keep in reasonable shape.
MMDT: Jim, I know for a fact that when matadors stay active for too long, when they are getting older, they usually get strong or subtle pressures from the family to retire, or to not go back to the arenas after having retired. Although, you do not face the same danger as a matador, nevertheless there is always danger when facing an unpredictable brave animal, not matter how small he may be. What support to continue being a 'practico' or pressure to quit did you have from your wife and your four children?
Jim Verner: My family has given up trying to convince me to quit. I just hope I will know enough to quit when it ceases to be fun.
MMDT: I have read that you are scheduled to fight in several festivals this year, one of then in the congress of "aficionados practicos' to be held in Monterrey, Mexico, in October. Any plans after that…. or are you thinking about 'retirement'?
Jim Verner:n I have several festivals scheduled before the congress in Monterrey, but so far nothing afterwards. As for thinking about retirement, I sometimes do wonder how much longer I will be able to keep this up.
MMDT: Jim, anyone can read the date of your birthday in the introduction of this interview, and by doing some simple math one can see that you are not a young man. However, you still show up in the ring over and over again to compete with some 'practicos' half you age. Let me conclude this chat by stating that I admire you, and other 'practicos' like you who just for the pleasure of testing their courage and to satisfy their burning need to bullfight, face danger from time to time, and not always under the best of the conditions. Suerte y al toro.
Jim Verner Thanks, maestro. It has been a pleasure "talking" with you, and it is a real honor to be included in your outstanding taurine website.Go to MY WRITINGS