Humor is not the most prevalent mood in universal taurine literature and is even less present in the books written in English about bullfighting. Because of its dramatic and tragic nature it is easier for an author to write about taurine matters in a serious mood, using prose interjected with words like courage, death, goring, blood, danger, daring, and killing among others. Furthermore, a writer probably feels that it is his or her duty to avoid trivializing the toreo. For that reason, it was so refreshing to read Hugh Hosch's MOMENTS OF TRUTH, FLIGHTS OF FANCY. AN ANTHOLOGY OF TAURINE RUMINATIONS with a smile in my face.
MOMENTS OF TRUTH, FLIGHTS OF FANCY. AN ANTHOLOGY OF TAURINE RUMINATIONS by Hugh Hosch "Hugo el Verdugo"
Special Publication Issued in Conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of Los Aficionados de los Angeles,1999.
Reviewed by Mario Carrión
In most of the essays collected in his book, "Hugo el Verdugo" looks at the world of bullfighting and at the 'foreign' aficionados through a rosy prism. He humorously and tongue-in-cheek describes what he has experienced and perceived in the world of tauromaquia. His prose reflects the gift of a good humorist by dealing with his subjects in a lighthearted fashion, while subtly informing and making profound observations in his writings.
Let's first see what the 120-page book contains between its covers, and we will later comment about its content. The book starts with three introductory chapters. The first is a presentation of the publication by Jimee Petrich, president of Los Aficionados de los Angeles, the second is an essay by the 'godfather' of American taurine literature, Bernard Conrad, and the third is a prologue by the author himself. The 45 essays of Hugh Hosch follow. The book is illustrated throughout with amusing cartoon type drawings, that set the humorous tone of its content. Hosch also did this artwork.
In her presentation of the book, after saying a few words about her club and the celebration of its 50th Anniversary, M's. Petrich thanks both Hosch and Conrad for contributing to this commemoration with their writings. Author Conrad, in his introduction, which is an essay titled A Musing on Taurine Humour in General and the Writings of Hugh in Particular, addresses the role that humor plays in the life of the toreros. He also points out that relatively little is written about it. He illustrates his point by retelling, with his unique skill as a narrator, some of the funny anecdotes he has experienced or heard about while participating in the bullfighting world. Then, he goes on to praise Hosch for his rare literary ability to inject humor when writing about "la fiesta brava, this very serious, unfunny, anachronistic, endangered, reviled, indefensible, irresistible, glorious pursuit." Based on my experiences as a matador I might add something to what Conrad wrote about the role of humor in the professional lives of the toreros. They seem to possess split personalities, displaying their serious faces on the days of the corrida and in their public life, which is when the aficionados socialize with them more often. On the other hand, in private life and when dealing with their peers and close friends the other half of their personalities takes command. Practical jokes, playfulness, joviality, humor and a tendency to avoid dealing with serious matters become an integral part of their daily behavior. This may be the comic relief that they need to ignore the thought of the possibility of failing or of losing their lives in the arena. Hosch provides this relief with his writings, not for the matadors, but for the aficionados, who need a break from reading so much material dealing with death and similar dramatic topics.
The body of the work consists of a collection of unrelated articles and essays, dating from 1960 until the present, and mainly unified by the bullfighting theme, as well as by the prevalent humorous, whimsical, and playful tone of his prose. Most of these pieces have been previously published in magazines, such as LA BUSCA, and in newsletters of several taurine clubs.
Some of the titles of the pieces convey the idea of the sense of humor of the author. Some of these are: The Great Stone Face Meets the Bull on Rail, The Barbarello of Seville, Deaf in the Afternoon, Big Washout in Cadereyta, Toros in Extraspace, The Hamburger/Handbag Bull vs. the Fighting Bull, and Dr. Rose Explains Bullfighting…Not!. But we should not allow the funny titles, puns, quips, punch lines and other humorous devices in Hugh's prose to lead us to believe that what the author writes about bullfighting is unimportant or without substance. On the other hand, "Hugo el Verdugo", who is a knowledgeable aficionado and a kind observer of human behavior, manages to add to our understanding of the world of bullfighting with his jovial opinions, narration, and descriptions of places, of toreros, and of 'gringos' aficionados.
Not all the articles included in the collection have a humorous mood, since four pieces are written in a straightforward descriptive and informative style. I find the articles Six Spanish Ferias: A Comparison, and Bulls in the Spanish Civil War of special interest. In the first piece, the author analyzes the special circumstances that make the ferias of Seville, Valencia, Madrid, Pamplona, Malaga and Zaragoza different and unique. In the second essay, he describes how bullfighting survived on both sides of a divided Spain during the war.
The reading of MOMENTS OF TRUTH, FLIGHTS OF FANCY amuses, entertains, and, at the same time, adds to our knowledge of tauromaquia. Hugh Hosch is not an executioner, as the translation of the Spanish word "El Verdugo" implies, since he writes of the world of bullfighting with cheerfulness, and he wittily focuses our attention on the funny, the ridiculous, the ludicrous and the absurd that can be found in that melodramatic environment. He seems to tell the aficionados 'folks, lighten up, yes bullfighting is art and drama, but it is also fun.'
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