BOOK REVIEW: COMO VER UNA CORRIDA DE TOROS (How to See a Bullfight)
José Antonio del Moral.
Alianza Editorial, Madrid 1994.
Reviewed by: Mario Carrión
(Published in LA BUSCA, January 1997; Taurine-Bibliophiles-of- America Magazine.)
A few months ago Don Conover, the President of Taurine Bibliophiles of America and the editor of this publication, sent me the book Como ver una corrida de Toros, and requested that I read this Spanish book about bullfighting and write some comments about it. It has been a pleasant assignment since I read an interesting, didactic, masterfully written book from cover to cover. It contains an overview of basic taurine themes which address the curious and the novice would be aficionado, and is a book that I would have not been motivated to read otherwise because of my proficiency in the subject.
The vast majority of taurine books written in Spanish has analytical, biographical, or historical content that appeals to the aficionados, but José Antonio del Moral has taken a different route by writing a book that teaches about the many aspects of the 'fiesta de toros' and helps the spectators interpret and evaluate the development of a corrida; so they can, along the way, become real aficionados. The outcome of his work can be considered unique in Spanish taurine literature.
The author defines his target audience and his goal with the following words:
A great number of the spectators who attend the bullfights, and many who watch them on television are unaware of the mysteries of what they are seeing. Let's not mention the people who never have seen them, and who have only heard taurine references from sporadic and brief comments in the media. This book tries, in part, to bring them to the unknown, and in part, to enable them when attending the bullfights to not only appreciate the more or less plastic images that the taurine interplay offers, but to discover as well the depth of its meaning.
Como ver una corrida de toros, in its paperback edition, has 315 pages organized into a prologue, 11 chapters dealing with different topics of bullfighting which are illustrated with appropriate pictures taken by the famous Sevillian photographer Arjona, and 2 indexes; one of taurine terms and another of names with references to the pages on which they appear in the text.
In the chapters titled 'The First Tercio,' 'The Second Tercio,' and 'The Last Tercio' the author explains in a descriptive way the principles of bullfighting with the cape, the muleta, the banderillas; the picking and the killing. This is also standard practice in most of the introductory taurine books written for the American audience. Also, the chapters 'The Bullring,' 'The Brave Bulls,' 'Costumes, Tools, and Music,' and 'Bullfighting on Horseback' are written in a didactic prose with some historical perspective added. José Antonio del Moral, a taurine critic and author of several books, has an immense knowledge of bullfighting, but he tries very hard to ration his knowledge in his discourse in order to keep his subject matter basic. In those chapters he very skillfully defines taurine terms that he uses like building blocks to explain new terms, so that the would-be aficionado can assimilate the concept. The narrative flows easily from chapter to chapter with a literary flair added to enliven the didactic tone.
In other chapters the author deals with subjective concepts that are more difficult for the uninitiated in the material to grasp; such as 'what is the nature of the art of bullfighting,' 'how to distinguish and qualify the bravery, nobility, desirable appearance and temperament of a bull,' 'what is temple,' 'how to evaluate passes' or 'what behavior of torero and bull is acceptable and what is not during the fight.' In trying to put across the profound meaning of those concepts he uses more authoritarian language, similar to that expressed by a professor when writing a textbook; at times he knows that he is giving the reader more information than the novice can digest now, expecting that the more obscure principles will be understood in the future when the reader might become more familiar with the subject.
In the last chapter 'Historical Bullfighters and Active Bullfighters' del Moral surveys and evaluates the most influential matadors in the history of bullfighting and the leading professionals who were active in 1993, when this book was being written. In this chapter del Moral writes as the critic he is. He evaluates the matadors subjectively, but fairly and without orthodoxy, and I probably have used the term 'fairly' because del Moral's taurine criterion seems to agree with mine.
A good test for the effectiveness of this illustrative book would be if the converted aficionados were to see the bullfighters evaluated by del Moral perform and they would enjoy their performances and agree with the criteria of the author.
I will share with you my belief of why this book has been considered in Spain to be a basic one, when in reality it contains material that is more advanced than the books listed as 'Taurine Primers' in the survey done for La Busca-1992. I feel that the reason is cultural based on the different manner in which Americans and Spaniards generally become aficionados. Americans live in an environment where it is possible to spend a lifetime knowing nothing, or almost nothing, about bullfighting. But sometimes Americans have a chance taurine experience, and if they like it, they embark on an adventure of discovery and learning. They are aware that they know little, so they become avid searchers for taurine knowledge, and no matter how elementary the information might be, it is eagerly absorbed. They might read real taurine primers such as Anatomy of a Bullfight of Arthur Greenfield to lay the foundation for additional knowledge. On the other hand the Spaniards live in an environment where bullfighting permeates the culture. Some might not like bullfighting, they might even hate it, but they cannot ignore its existence, and whether they want to or not, they learn something by osmosis about bullfighting since it is present in the celebrations, the language, the literature, the conversations, and the media, as happens with baseball in the United States. Generally the Spaniards do not become aficionados by discovery but by inertia, drifting into the taurine world already having some knowledge of bullfighting and its basic concepts. Unfortunately many of the Spanish spectators think they know more than they do...and they stop learning. They are the ones who should read Como ver una corrida de toros to reinforce their basic knowledge of bullfighting, put it in context, and acquire more advanced concepts so they can make the leap from spectator to aficionado.
Lastly, for the American aficionados who can read Spanish I strongly recommend Como ver una corrida de toros as an excellent textbook to refresh their knowledge, acquire a few new concepts, or just to experience very enjoyable reading about bullfighting.
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