Two Yanks in Spain
Chapter I: Men of Respect
The Basques are a courageous people. Courage is neither a reaction, nor a conscious act among Basques. It is as common as two eyes, a nose and a mouth. It is expected.
When at a crossroads, a Basque will instinctively choose the more perilous or more unpredictable path. Probably there are exceptions. I cannot recall any.
Late one night in the Old Town of San Sebastian, Tom Flanagan, myself, and four of our close Basque friends decided to change bars. The streets were deserted as we walked a couple of blocks North on Nagusia, taking a right on Abutztuaren.
It was very dark. Shops had closed hours before. Most restaurants were closed or closing. Street lamps were spaced and rare in the Old Town. Lights, shining out of the windows of a few late-night bars, were our beacons as Javier and Eduardo led the way. A few steps behind, Tom, Jacinto and I followed, relaxed and talking.
Halfway down Abutztuaren, Javier and Eduardo casually crossed the street mid-block, bringing them directly to the entrance of our destination, The Goya Bar.
I was on the left, Jacinto in the middle, Tom on the right, as we stepped out to cross Abutztuaren, following Eduardo and Javier. Suddenly I was aware of a lone black car traveling rapidly down Abutztuaren, less than a block away. The driver must have seen us, but he neither slowed down nor sounded his horn. He also did not speed up.
Three against one are usually good odds. Not this time.
I yelled to Jacinto “Vamos a salir de aqui.” To Tom, a more emphatic: “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Tom and I broke immediately for the safety of the curb ahead.
Now alone, in the middle of the street, Jacinto neither quickened nor slowed his stride. Still walking, with the black car bearing down on him, he pulled a package of Ducados out of his back pocket. Calmly, Jacinto shook the package so that one cigarette protruded enough that he could capture it in his mouth. Jacinto immediately lit the cigarette, replaced the package in his back pocket and had a long draw, all while maintaining his same pace, crossing the street.
Meanwhile, the driver of the black car, also maintaining the same speed, slightly grazed Jacinto’s backside as he continued driving up the street.
When you have spent time among Basques, this small episode is understandable and rationale. It is predictable. Surely it would be unthinkable for a Man of Respect to conduct himself differently. Both the driver and Jacinto, the pedestrian, were Men of Respect.
As a Basque, Jacinto could not run to the safety of the curb, as Tom and I did. Running to safety from a potential collision with a speeding car, while OK for his American friends, would be cowardly for a Basque.
The driver could not slow down, because that would show that Jacinto had more courage than the driver…that the driver was bluffing. That, at some level, may the Holy Father perish the thought, the driver was afraid to hit Jacinto.
Jacinto’s lighting and taking a puff from the cigarette checkmates the driver’s grazing of Jacinto’s backside a nanosecond earlier. The driver can take no further action. If he stopped the car, either to apologize or in confrontation, that would acknowledge Jacinto’s being…an unacceptable loss of face for the driver.
In a week, at 8 A.M., in a town in Navarre named Pamplona, Tom Flanagan, Eduardo Satostegui Munduate, Jacinto Irice, Javier Pantoja and I would again be running down a street. The sun would have risen. There would be no cars. There would be other Men of Respect.
Chapter II: Sanfermines
We had a fine table at Café Iruna in Pamplona’s main square, the Plaza del Castilo. Eduardo’s father, El Senor, had arranged for the table. It was the most difficult night of the year to obtain a table in Pamplona. Of all the tables in Pamplona, those at the Iruna were the most difficult to obtain.
The Iruna was packed that night. So was everywhere else in Pamplona…the bars, the cafes, the streets, the parks. It was the first night of Sanfermines, the annual celebration in honor of Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarre.
Perhaps our crew of a dozen got this table because El Senor was the head of the Basque Gastronomic Society.
Perhaps we got it because the proprietor was an old war comrade.
In an earlier time, as the Commander of a Basque regiment in the Spanish Civil War, El Senor and his men held the line at a at a bitterly cold place called Teruel.
History books call Teruel “The Icebox of Spain.” Poorly armed and provisioned, one man’s bullet would not fit the next man’s gun. They held off the Germans, Italians, Moors and Fascists for three months.
Perhaps we got it because El Senor was a fine man.
It doesn’t matter, except to know that El Senor was a man of respect, and that the twelve of us were at a good table, on a night when most people were not at good tables.
Even without a good table, one would surely have had a splendid time that night. But with a good table, a visible table, our group multiplied to include friends of our friends. Wine disappeared, reappeared, and then disappeared once more. Tapas vanished, were replaced, and then vanished again.
As the evening unfolded, The Iruna morphed into a being of its own, fueled by celebrants weaving through spaces between tables as blood courses through one’s veins, speaking the indecipherable language of a Babel of song, laughter and “holas.”
Tom became one with the Iruna, leading a Conga line, first around the perimeter of the restaurant, then weaving between tables, to the tune of “Camino como Chincha.” The refrain spread throughout the place. Soon all of the Iruna was singing “Camino como Chincha. People celebrating on the street outside picked up on what was now a chant.
Remarkably, “Camino como Chincha” is without meaning in Spanish, Basque, French, Catalan or any other modern or ancient language. The chorus is expressed in a non-lingual, communicating discipline named Flanaganish, after its creator and, at the time, its sole practitioner, Thomas Flanagan of South Chicago.
Flanaganish as developed by Tom is a euphonically based technique for a
non-Spanish-speaking individual to communicate with a fluent Spanish speaker. Often both the Flanaganish Master and the Spaniard are well fortified with Vino Tinto.
Although correctly spoken with a slight South Side Chicago accent, Flanaganish proves to be quite pleasing to the ear of the listening Spaniard. it requires, at the maximum, a twenty-five-word Spanish vocabulary to master. Essential Spanish words in replying to a Spaniard in Flanaganish include si, no, como, porque, gracias, muchas gracias, un million de gracias, salud, por supuesto, bueno, muy bueno, and juntos, buttressed by one or two traditional Spanish toasts.
In a one-on-one conversation with a Spaniard, who himself speaks no English, the fluent speaker of Flanaganish must be a master of eye contact, with the ability to judiciously nod agreement to extended verbiage of which he understands not a word.
Shortly after midnight, in a Petri Dish called Sanfermines, two normally unrelated phenomena, El Senor securing a fine table at the Iruna, and the presence, at this table, of a Master of Flanaganish, were to combine, producing the most perilous of possibilities.
It began with Eduardo quietly declaring to Javier and Tom: “I shall run in the morning.”
Javier, his wife at his side, had no choice but to immediately declare. He embraced Eduardo.
The Flanaganish Master, understanding not a word of Eduardo’s commitment, nor of Javier’s subsequent declaration, paused but a moment, raised his glass, with a well-spoken “Salud,” looked Eduardo in the eye, nodded slowly to Javier and gravely embraced each. Tom’s reliance on Flanaganish had dealt us in. I now had no choice but to embrace Eduardo, Javier and Tom.
Our four commitments rapidly spread around El Senor’s table. El Senor walked with some difficulty. He had used a cane ever since recovering from injuries in the Civil War. He declared. Soon every male at the table had declared.
They had to. Except for an aged Catalan friend of El Senor, Tom, myself and two American girls we had met earlier, everybody else at El Senor’s table was a Basque with his associated wife, girlfriend or mistress. With two Americans and a Catalan committed, no Basque in the world could possibly pass. Doubling the stakes were the women. The slightest hesitation fulfilling an act of honor would greatly diminish a Basque’s manhood.
“Bert, what the hell is going on?”
“No big deal Bro, you just committed us to run in front of six bulls about seven hours from now.”
“You’re kidding, I friggin did that? Whoa!”
“Tommy, you did, and you did right. It’s all about the good old US of A…we can’t let these guys think Yanks are cowards.”
“Yeah Bert, I guess if you are going to take a risk, you might as well take a big risk. Bring those babies on.”
“Tom, those “babies” weigh from 1100 to 1600 pounds and are bred to fight.”
“Anyway, the risk may just get a bit bigger. Our buddies are not going to leave this situation as it is. They are friends, but they are Basques, born with the certainty that it is not possible for anyone, anywhere, to have the courage of a Basque.”
“Right now the courage score is tied...Basques and North Americanos.
Eduardo, Jacinto, Javier -- none of them can allow this to long remain.
I do not know where and when the shoe will drop, but for sure it will.”
Chapter III: Not a Second Before
Three decisions must be made if one is to run with the bulls.
First is the decision to run.
The decision to run is often made in advance of traveling to Pamplona. The decision to run might also be made as a last-minute burst of bravado after a night of wine drinking.
Few had less reason to run than Tom and me. We were in this mess because Tom knew little Spanish and Eduardo did not know that Tom knew little Spanish. We were in this mess because once Eduardo and Tom had declared, there was not a Basque at our table with the courage "not to declare" in front of his girlfriend, wife or mistress.
We were in this mess because once we figured out what was going on, we could not let Basque friends believe Yanks were not courageous. Courage is important to Basques.
The second decision is as important to one’s future prospects as the first. It is the decision as to where, along the half mile passage of narrow “old town” streets, to begin one’s run and where to safely end it. Some stretches are safer, offering doorways to jump into, fences to vault, barricades to provide safety. The most dangerous stretch is the tunnel just outside the bull ring, the tunnel where the bulls enter the arena. There are no doorways, fences or barricades, just a mad pack of shouting humanity, running for their lives.
Having made decisions one and two, the third decision, "when to run," is of greatest importance. It becomes paramount because it is a judgment call made "in the heat of battle," possibly with earlier runners passing one's station, possibly with the roar of the crowd advancing ever closer, in lockstep with clattering hooves.
It is the classic fight or flight decision, pitting one's instincts of self-preservation, running immediately to safety, against the thought that: "if I may delay only one more second, and the runners next to me break, I will have been the braver."
El Senor, a wounded Basque hero of the Spanish Civil War, walking slowly with a cane, would be admired if he walked only 15 meters, from a relatively open, safe location to a shielded doorway. He would wear the white shirt and red neckerchief and spectators would cheer. They would cheer even though El Senor began his walk when the first rocket went off signaling that the first of the six bulls for that afternoon’s corrida had been released. The bulls, along with six steers that run in-herd with the bulls and three more steers that follow the herd would be a half mile away when El Senor, his friend from Catalonia and other deserving men, too old or too infirm to move quickly, made their “walk.” They had earned the respect they received.
Not as deserving were hordes of tourists, “running” far ahead of the bulls so they might go home with the red scarf of a runner and a completed pilgrimage. Their respect would come in tales told back home, of their “run with the bulls.”
I cannot condemn them. They had a choice from where to run. Tom and I did not have that choice.
Eduardo, Javier and Jacinto had earlier, with sincerity, bestowed upon us the honor of choosing the station from which we would all run. We expressed our gratitude, immediately deferring to their experience and judgement.
At 8:00 AM, when the first rocket was fired and the bulls began leaving the corral, Eduardo, Javier, Jacinto, Tom and I stood outside the tunnel. A tunnel is not the safest place to run from bulls. It is the least safe.
Soon we heard the first rocket. The gate had been opened, the bulls were leaving the corral. A trickle of early runners passed us.
A few moments later we heard the second rocket…all the bulls had left the corral. We had about two and a half minutes.
More early runners passed us, continuing through the fifty yards of tunnel into the bullring.
The noise of the crowd swept toward us, reverberating louder by the second. Soon we would not be able to hear each other speak.
With less than a minute left and none in our party stirring, I turned to Eduardo, looked him in the eye and said in my best Spanish:
“Eduardo, all in our group are brave men. None need show that he is braver than the other. Tom and I will begin our run exactly when you, Javier and Jacinto do. Not a second earlier, not a second later.”
“You mean that, do you not Bert...”
“As God is my judge dear friend.”
Eduardo nodded, tapped Tom on the shoulder, nodded to Javier and Jacinto. We began our run.
Already the tunnel was crowded. Already one could barely see the light from the opening ahead. Already it was too crowded to run as fast as one could. Already the air was close, with the smell of sweat and wine.
We were bumped, pushed and cursed. We bumped, pushed and swore.
Thank God nobody fell.
Fifty thousand spectators were cheering as we emerged into the bullring. The exhilaration of survival is a marvelous feeling. Tom and I drank it in.
Elated we both jumped into the stands.
“We did it partner!”
“Yeah Tom…one for the good old US of A!”
“Darn right, we did it right Bert. We’re done, retired bull runners, retired with honor.”
We soon learned we were both wrong…there was unfinished business ahead.
Chapter IV: Pase Natural
Tom and I had run close to the horns. We had not run en los cuernos, on the horns, like some of the crazies, but closer to the horns than many. Close enough for respect…as close as Eduardo, Javier and Jacinto.
We had made it through the madness of the tunnel from a difficult station. We had handled ourselves well enough.
Once through the tunnel into the bull ring, the bulls not far behind, we had jumped into the stands. By itself, jumping into the stands is not bad, but it is not as good as not jumping into the stands.
Few of the other runners had jumped into the stands. They had run to the side when the six fighting bulls, scheduled for the afternoon’s corrida, made a frenzied rush into the bull ring.
The bulls were herded into pens by steers and shepherds. The shepherds wore green shirts and held long poles.
Sitting in the stands, Tom and I relaxed.
“Hey amigo, do you have a green shirt and a pole?”
“Hell no Bert.”
“Then I guess it’s best that we sit this one out and have a pull on this wine skin. We’ll leave the rest up to the boys with the green shirts.”
“Madre de los dios! Look Tom…”
Javier, Jacinto and Eduardo had not jumped into the stands. They were in the center of the bull ring as young cows were being released into the arena.
Celebrants were engaging these young cows. That the cows’ horns were wrapped was little comfort as “would be Matadors” got tossed, while attempting passes using a variety of real and improvised capes, shirts and beach towels.
“Tom, damn it, we have no choice.”
“Let’s go Manolete.”
We jumped back into the bull ring, making our way to Eduardo and our crew.
Eduardo embraced us both.
“Bert, Tom, you have done well this morning. Do not do anything too adventurous now. A simple pass, then into the stands with our group. “
Tom and I took off our shirts and with the others, moved toward the cows.
“Bert, you’ve been to bull fights before, what the hell do we do.”
“Tom, I figure one pass, a natural, then maybe de pecho and then we’re out of here.”
“What the heck are you talking about?”
"This is the one we should both do…it's called Pase natural.” I figured that a natural would give us a decent chance of getting the hell out of trouble. The heck with de pecho.”
De Pecho is the stylish finish at the end of the natural in which the bull, having turned at the end of the natural, recharges and the matador brings him out by his chest with a sweep of the cape.…Tom and I did not need style points.
Putting my right foot toward an imaginary bull charging, grasping my yellow T-shirt in my left hand, arm extended, I swung slowly counterclockwise.
Matadors study and practice passes for years as aspirants, then as novileros. Tom had less than a minute's instruction from me. My expertise was about as much as any other Gringo that had seen a couple of fights in Nogales and TJ.
Well the Pase natural, or our version of it, worked. We both completed a couple of naturales that would have gotten a matador whistled out of every bull ring in the world…but it enabled Tom and me to end our time in the arena forever.
We and our comrades returned to the stands in glory, joined by El Senor, his Catalan friend and the girls.
We left together for a fine breakfast and then to get some sleep.
Over breakfast Tom and I learned that the natural, the fundamental pass of bullfighting, when done correctly, is indeed the simplest pass of bullfighting. I also learned that it is the most dangerous to make.
Later that day, at 6:30 PM, when half the arena would be in shade, we would see how very dangerous a natural could be…
Chapter V: Paquirri
It was late afternoon, cooler now, with just the hint of lengthening shadows. We were back in the arena. All of us were back. We who had run were back; those who had watched us run were back.
El Senor had secured fine seats. This is not easy to do in Pamplona on short notice. On short notice, it is difficult to get any seats of quality. Our seats were in the shade (sombra) about a fourth of the way up from the arena. They were of good quality.
Seats in the shade are more desirable than seats in the sun (sol). Some seats are designated as sun and shade (sol y sombra.). They begin in the sun, but as the sun sets in the West, they end up in the shade.
Seats located close to the ringside barrier, which are also in the shade, are the most expensive. Seats in the sun (sol) are the least expensive. The sun section is where the social clubs (Penas) sit. They party the entire time. Bands, shouting and food fights rule.
Comfortable in our seats, we suddenly became aware of the great crowd. Roars of enthusiasm spread like circles from a stone thrown into a pond. It was exhilarating. Gone were the stomach butterflies of our entrance this morning.
We who had run were now in a safe place. Soon we would be watching three men, far more skilled, far more experienced, far more courageous than ourselves, entice bulls to charge at them. They would handle these charges with art and grace, while maintaining a two and a half century ritual. They would not run from bulls as we had, twelve hours earlier. Their craft would be judged by the manner in which they imposed mastery over a 1200 lb. bull, descended from an ancient strain of wild bull that roamed Spain in prehistoric times. A strain bred for generations, for beauty, size, strength, speed and ferocity. Bred to fight and, perhaps, to kill.
The three men would not enter the ring as part of a wild, drunken, disheveled mob, running from the bulls as we had earlier. They would enter in a paseillo, a parade with Jose Fuentes, the oldest matador, on the left, Francisco Rivera, the youngest matador, in the middle and Miquel Marques on the right. They would be announced first by trumpet, then accompanied by band music as they saluted the presidente and other dignitaries of the arena. Francisco Rivera, known in bullfighting by his nickname “Paquirri,” being new to the Plaza, would do the paseíllo without his hat on. They would be dressed in the traditional trae de luces, “suit of lights,” that bullfighters, toreros and picadors wear in the bullring. The sequins and reflective threads of gold or silver would glimmer in the late afternoon light.
El Senor had a long, slow drink from his wineskin, then passed it to me. I also had a drink, longer and slower than I normally would. I deliberately did not, however, hold the wineskin as long as El Senor, nor did I drink quite as much as El Senor.
To drink from the wineskin longer than El Senor would be an act of disrespect. I then passed El Senor’s wineskin to Eduardo. He handed it to Tom. It traveled among our group. At the end of the line, Jacinto refilled it.
I turned to El Senor.
“These are fine matadors, Senor?”
“Yes, my friend. They are fine matadors and, also, important matadors. It is good that you and Tom will see these three. Each has their own manner in working with the bulls.”
“You also will see courage. Perhaps, you may see even more courage than any of the fighters would have if he were alone. You know, it is the aficionados that kill the matadors, not the bulls.”
“Senor, we should be most grateful if you might possibly tell us more of these men we shall see today.”
“Of course Bert.”
“Jose Fuentes of Linares, is exceptionally skilled with the cape. He is known for his classical style. Many value Fuentes’ movement of the cape. He has the reputation of drawing the charge of the bull’s horns very close to his body.”
Demonstrating, El Senor rose, propped his cane against the back of his seat and performed a Naturale, using the day’s program as his muleta.
“How about Marquez?”
“He is a Malagaueno. Miguel has a style not as classical with the cape as Fuentes, but exciting to watch. It is a style of drama, blending strength and courage with good technique. Marquez never backs off from the hardest bulls.”
“…and Pacquirri. I am not familiar with that name.”
“His real name, Francisco, is, I believe, “Frank,” in English. Paco is a nickname for Frank, so “Pacquirri” would be “Little Frank.” At 20, he is the youngest of the three. Paquirri has great promise.
“Where is Pacquirri from?”
“He was born in a poor town in Southern Spain. He has risen quickly, sponsored in his alternativa – the ceremony that elevates an apprentice to full rank, by the great Antonio Ordonez. In this program, it states that Pacquirri has bled, worked and studied in learning his calling.”
“Do you know of today’s bulls?”
“They are from Ganaderia Muria, in the province of Sevile. The ranch originally belonged to Don Eduardo Miura Fernandez and is known for producing large and difficult fighting bulls.”
“It is said that Miura bulls have the ability to learn from what goes on in the arena, faster than the actual fight progresses. This makes it more difficult from one minute to the next to control them. They have a reputation for being large, fierce and cunning. It is said to be especially dangerous for a matador to turn his back on a miura. They have been described as individualists, each bull seemingly possessing a strong personal character.”
“Islero, a Miura bull, killed the great Manolete at Linares on April 28, 1947.”
“Bert, you and Tom have been to bullfights before?”
“We have been to a few in Spain, more in Mexico, Senor, but never with a good friend, such as you, who is a true and knowledgeable aficionado. I do have one further question.”
“How important is the cuadrilla?” Are all the people with the Matador part of his cuadrilla?”
“Each matador has six assistants...two picadors (lancers) mounted on horseback, three banderilleros (flagmen) and a mozo de espada (“sword servant). Collectively they compose a cuadrilla or team of bullfighters. Each has an important, prescribed role in the corrida.
If their matador goes down, there is no longer any ritual. All ritual, all tradition is meaningless. Seconds may determine the matador’s life. Each member of the cuadrilla has practiced for this critical moment to save his life.
Many a bullfighter’s life has been saved by an alert, well trained cuadrilla.”
Amigos, the paseíllo begins!”
We got as comfortable as one could in our seats. “Comfort” in a bullring is a relative state. Most bullrings are very old, built when people were smaller.
The three matadors and their cuadrillas were presented. Each was announced by trumpet music and Pasodobles. Music and ritual are a deeply penetrating preamble to Spanish bullfights. “The Notre Dame Fight Song, Fight on for USC, On Wisconsin…any of those, are “Jack and Jill” by comparison.
Finally, the presentations over, the arena cleared, the matadors’ time had come.
Jose Fuentes had drawn a fine bull. It was a courageous, aggressive bull. It was a bull that permitted Fuentes to display his great skill with the cape. Graceful veronicas, naturales, de pecho; Jose would be awarded an ear on this, his first bull of the afternoon. The crowd gave Fuentes a huge ovation as he took a victory lap with his oreja. Wineskins were thrown from the stands. Jose drank from a few.
Bad luck for Marquez. Miguel drew a near-sighted bull on his first. Near-sighted bulls can be dangerous. A near-sighted bull may not follow the cape. He may, instead, go straight for the matador. The bull did, pursuing the former path of the cape straight into Marquez’ right thigh. Miguel was badly gored. Someone in the audience shrieked. Somehow Marquez managed to extricate himself from the horn. Blood showed through his suit of lights.
Fuentes stepped into the sand. By tradition it was now his responsibility to kill Marquez’ bull. This was not to be. Somehow, Marquez struggled to his feet. He dispatched the bull, then collapsed. Marquez cuadrilla reacted instantly, carrying Miguel from the ring to the infirmary.
Silence enveloped the arena. It was abrupt and resonated on its own. The band stopped playing mid-note. The roar of the crowd muted. Individual conversations, a distance away, became decipherable.
We too sat quietly. As if in salute, El Senor lifted his wineskin toward the door to the infirmary where Miguel Marquez lie. He passed his wineskin. We all did the same.
Minutes went by, ten, perhaps more. The bull was not removed. Other than a few subalternos (subordinates) sweeping the surface, no activity had taken place since Marquez’ goring.
Like a jury delaying before a verdict, Tom and I tried to fathom if the delay portended “good or bad.”
I turned to El Senor.
“Senor, this quiet, this delay, it is good?”
“After what we have seen, it is not easy to be optimistic. However, Bert, if Marquez were either mortally wounded or on the way to the hospital, the corrida would resume with Fuentes and Pacquirri. That it has not yet carried on gives all of us a measure of hope.”
El Senor’s hopes were confirmed a few moments later. A huge roar from the crowd announced the return of Miguel Marquez. Miguel’s cuadrilla returned behind him, stationing themselves along the perimeter.
Marquez, with a bandaged thigh and a decided limp, took a lap around the arena. Wineskins and hats rained down as Miguel raised his arms and drank of the wine and the ovations. The governors awarded him an ear and a tail.
Pacqiurri entered the arena to a hugely energized ovation. Fuentes classical mastery and Marquez’ deep courage had set expectations high.
Sadly, Pacquirri’s bull proved difficult to work with. It charged not true and in response to the cape. It charged randomly and perilously close. Perhaps it was Francisco’s youth and inexperience, combined with a fierce desire to compete with the two previous outstanding performances, but he fought clumsily and with uncertainty.
Finally, it was time for the kill, the estocada. Pacquirri’s estocada was unacceptable. It failed to give a “quick and clean death.” He left the arena to a cacophony of whistles and jeers.
Fuentes returned for his second bull. Jose’s second performance again displayed complete mastery…this time over an exceptionally large, aggressive Miura. Even Tom and I, so lacking in our knowledge of the bulls, were caught in the enthusiasm. Fuentes was awarded two ears.
The crowd was shocked when Miguel Marquez, blood staining his suit of lights, limped out to fight his second bull. After his goring on the first, it was certain that his day had ended. It had not. The cheering was deafening as he dedicated his bull to the whole audience. He received a second ear.
As Yanks, Tom and I were, and still are, instinctively for underdogs. Never was there a bigger underdog than Francisco Rivera, on his second bull, on the first day of Sanfermines in 1968. Never has an underdog done better than Francisco Rivera, on his second bull, on the first day of Sanfermines in 1968.
Entering to a torrent of whistles and jeers, Pacquirri quickly waved away his Picador. He similarly waved away his banderilleros, setting the banderillas himself in the bull’s shoulders. He fought magnificently, performing several tandas, including three to five basic passes, with finishing touches as pase de pecho and pase de desprecio.
In the final stage, the tercio de muerte, the “part of death,” rather than kill the bull near the fence, close, if necessary, to the assistance of his cuadrilla, Francisco elected to kill the bull in the most dangerous place, the center of the ring. The kill was quick and clean.
He was awarded an ear. The same crowd that had whistled and jeered Pacquirri gave him ovations, threw their hats and wineskins into the arena. As he was awarded a victory lap around the ring, women threw him kisses.
Salida a hombros, exit on shoulders of admirers, is the highest recognition a torero can have. It is not often given by the president of the bullring and the governors. That July afternoon in 1968, in Pamplona, the honor was given to all three matadors.
Following Eduardo, we joined the group carrying Pacquirri through the Puerta Grande, the main gate into town, back to Café Iruna… Café Iruna, where all had begun.
We toasted Pacquirri. We drank with Pacquirri. Every woman in the Iruna was attracted to him. Dark with ice-blue eyes, high cheekbones and dimples, a combination of the classic tough guy, he was, none the less, friendly, modest and engaging.
Our paths would cross ten years later In Seville, then, for the last time, five years after that, in a bookstore in San Francisco.
Chapter VI: The Bookstore in Union Square
Life had changed for the “Two Yanks” by the Spring of 1985.
Returning from Spain, Tom went to work as a prosecutor in Chicago, sending bad guys on vacations. From there Tom founded the first national firm handling real estate tax abatements. He made enough money to buy Pamplona.
With the help of Tom and his brother Jim, I bought a small cheese company with headquarters in Boston and a factory in Wisconsin. I didn’t know much about cheese. I knew less about the cheese business but had to learn fast. It was as much about survival as running through the tunnel into the Plaza de Torros. Having my last few dollars and the hard-earned money of my best friends backing our venture was the best of motivators.
In April of ’85 I took a trip to Northern California to call on Safeway in Pleasanton, Raley’s and Tony’s in Sacramento, Savemart in Modesto and some other smaller but worthwhile potential customers.
The Hyatt Regency in Union Square became my San Francisco command post. The staff was accommodating, the workout facilities acceptable, transportation easily arranged and there were a few good restaurants within walking distance. Best of all, if one had time to burn on a nice day, there might be an art exhibit in the Square or, at the very least, there were a few bookstores and some kiosks with various crafts.
On this day, after driving back and forth to meetings in Pleasanton, I had a couple of hours before dining with an old friend, Howard Gotelli.
Howard, ran an outfit in the Bay Area called Monterey Cheese. Monterey was a perishable distributing and importing company that controlled much of the specialty cheese distribution in Northern California.
Howard had been good to me in business, helping our fledgling cheese company become established in Northern California. Business aside, he was the most loyal of friends. If you were a close friend of Howard, he would go to hell and back for you…on his own, you didn’t have to ask.
Howard, raised in the Italian section of North Beach, knew lots of good guys and a few not-so-good guys. The not-so-good guys were often good guys to have a drink or two with, or even dinner.
Howard knew them all because he grew up with them, played center for Galileo High’s basketball team and his dad, “Minimum Wage Gotelli,” employed them at his North Beach gas station.
I never went to San Francisco without getting together with Howard Gotelli. Howard was every bit as much San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower or Fisherman’s Wharf.
Dinner with Howard was always a fine time. Depending on Howard’s entourage for the evening, a night beginning at Flor d’ Italia for dinner could spin off into various directions or lack of them. One night we aimlessly sailed Howard’s boat to Tiburon, got ourselves becalmed and did not return until morning. Another time we all wound up wine drinking and philosophizing in the Prosciutto curing cellar at Italian Cantina, long after closing…long enough after closing to see the sun rise.
The business part of my trip now over, I looked forward to the evening with my old friend. Prepping for dinner with the son of “Minimum Wage Gotelli” by sitting in a minimum, “commercial rate,” hotel room made no sense. I headed for the Square.
A few blocks down from the hotel, I came across a bookshop. Looking through the display window, I noted with interest that there were neither best sellers nor books by formula authors on display. Refreshingly, the offerings seemed to reflect the taste of the proprietor...not the “cookie cutter” display of a corporate chain.
On entering I was delighted to note the proprietor casually mingling with several browsers, encouraging them with an occasional reference.
I soon became immersed in the scene, briefly perusing books on The Russian Civil War, World War I Battles in Flanders and then became “locked in” on a Spanish section, thumbing through They Shall Not Pass: The autobiography of La Pasionara, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and Fascism in Spain. Continuing in this section I picked up Bullfighter from Brooklyn, the autobiography of Sydney Franklin, the great Jewish American Matador and a contemporary of Earnest Hemingway.
Finding a book listing the careers of Spain’s greatest bullfighters, I turned to the index and found our old friend Francisco Rivera.
Opening the page, my heart sank, my eyes misted. On September 26, 1984, Pacquirri had been gored by a bull named Avispado during a bullfight in Pozoblanco. He never made it to the hospital in Cordoba.
I needed this dinner with Howard tonight, I needed the wine. Wherever Howard and his entourage wound up would be fine.
Better call Tom in the morning.
For all my Days…
I’ll always remember El Senor, The Catalan, Eduardo, Javier, Jacinto at Pamplona. I’ll always remember Javier’s wife Charro, Eduardo’s girlfriend Rosa. I don’t remember the names of the two blondes from Washington that Tom and I hooked up with, but I remember what they looked like and that they were nice and shared a special time with us.
Bullfighting can be fun and memorable. Until it isn’t.