Spain in August is an aficionados dream. It is the most taurine month of the year. Every day during August cities and towns across the piel de toro celebrate with corridas striving to feature the best matadors and the finest bulls. But it is also an aficionados dilemma: since we cant be in two places at once, choices have to be made. And when the NATC selected the Feria de la Virgen del Mar in Almería as the site for the 2015 Convention, it was an excellent choice. While the corridas are the base of any NATC convention, to experience the full beauty of the fiesta brava and the excitement of the mundo taurino we must move beyond the plaza, and it would be hard to find a better location than Almería. The citys numerous peñas combine their passion for toros and flamenco, holding nightly tablados and terulias, and they welcomed the NATC group like long lost family. Attending sorteos was also a part of the convention and provided an opportunity to talk with professional taurinos and aficionados. During the day, visits to local sites and museums added to the enrichment of the convention.
The Plaza de Toros de Almería also has a special character and history. Built in the classic Neomudejar style, it was inaugurated on August 26, 1888, with a mano-a-mano that featured the best of the day: Lagartijo and Mazzantini with bulls of Veragua. Inside, the plaza has a high row of palcos above the tendidos, where, according to custom, colorful mantas are draped over the railings. Local legend claims this was done to protect the modesty of the ladies in the front row so that spectators below could not see their ankles. And there is the tradition of the merienda a 30 minute break between the third and fourth bull. While the toreros stand around in the callejón waiting for the corrida to resume, spectators use the time to share food, wine, and conversation with their neighbors asthey discuss the outcome of the first three bulls and their expectations for the remaining performances.
But toreo was the main attraction, and the Feria de la Virgen del Mar had an interesting program. The feria opened with a novillada sin picadores that featured six students from various escuelas taurinas and novillos from Simón Caminero. While the levels of technical ability varied, all the novilleros showed they are serious about advancing in this most difficult of professions. But one young man clearly showed class and ability beyond the others, and the NATC presented the triunfador, Antonio Catalán, with a capote de brega. The next day there was a competition of recortadores, displaying their amazing skill and physical prowess as they performed recortes, saltos and quiebros. While many aficionados claim this is not toreo, it actually continues the tradition of what Spaniards were doing with bulls long before the appearance of professional toreros that caped and killed bulls. And furthermore, a review of Goyas prints shows how the feats of the recortadores were still very much a part of the matadors repertoire in the early years of bullfighting.
The first corrida, on August 26th, featured two local matadors Ruiz Manuel and Torres Jerez with bulls from Benjumea. Sometimes these “hometown boys” events are below par, but this was an exception. Four of the six bulls were quite good so both matadors had a chance to show their stuff. Ruiz Manuels work was smooth and classical, but poor sword work kept his awards to two ovations. Torres Jerez pulled out all the stops and with his desire to triumph he cut three ears and was carried out on shoulders.
The next day we saw six bulls of variable quality from Zalduendo for Morante de la Puebla, Sebastián Castella, and Alejandro Talavante. The highlight of the day was Talavante with his first. It was an ideal animal, with the mix of bravery and nobleza that allows a matador to triumph if he understands the bull. And triumph Talavante did. From the opening work with the capote and throughout the faena, Talavantes toreo was inspired as he led the bull in a way that further developed the bulls good qualities. He delivered an inspired and wonderfully structured faena of classical derechazos and naturales with just the right amount of adornos to make true arte taurino. An excellent sword dropped the bull and the matador received two ears and the bull was given a vuelta. His second bull was erratic and allowed only limited details. Morante cut an ear from his first after a faena that included a series of naturales de frente in this matadors unique style. His second bull hurt itself as it crashed into a burladero, so there was nothing to do but kill it promptly. Castella was excellent with both his bulls, but with sword work that was as poor as his work with the capote and muleta was brilliant. In his relaxed and varied style, it looked like Castella was on the way to filling his espuerta with orejas, but the sword kept it to ovation and applause.
The cartel for August 28th was also outstanding Enrique Ponce, Jose María Manzanares, and Miguel Angel Perera with a mixed lot of bulls from Núñez del Cuvillo, Garcigrande, and Domingo Hernández. Making this day even more special, the NATC was invited to the presentation by Almerías mayor of a capote de paseo to Enrique Ponce for his triumph last year. Then, that afternoon, Ponce showed he is not one to rest on his laurels, cutting two ears from his first and hearing an ovation on his second. Manzanares drew the worst of the bulls and while he showed his ability to work difficult bulls, that kind of lidia is not fully appreciated by todays aficionados and kept his awards to an ovation after each animal. But it was really the afternoon of Perera. The statistics of three ears dont tell the whole story. Perera received his first with eight veronicas done with both knees on the ground and then took the bull to horse with chicuelinas. He saw this was an animal that, in spite of some difficulties and charging with its head high, had real possibilities so he called off the picador after the slightest pic. As he began his quite, he was spectacularly tossed, but rose to continue with gaoneras that passed the bull impossibly close. With the muleta, Perera began to work the bull so it charged smoothly throughout the artistic faena. A good sword earned him two well deserved ears. His second bull was the kind of manso most matadors would be content to finish it off with a few flaps of the cape and a bajonazo. But Perera had other ideas. Ignoring the danger, he worked close and pulled charges from a bull that looked to have none. It was what I would call classical tremendismo, using each word with the positive sense of its true meaning. One ear was insufficient reward for what Perera did. The day ended with Ponce and Perera going out on shoulders.
The final day of the feria was rejoneo. Six bulls from El Canario for Hermoso de Mendoza, Leonardo Hernández, and Lea Vicens. The bulls were more manso than bravo, so the horsemen had to work hard to get them to charge. Using their ability and fine horsemanship, they made what could have been a boring day enjoyable. Hermoso de Mendoza cut an ear on his first and heard silence on his second. Leonardo Hernández cut an ear from each as he guided his mounts into the impossible terrains of the mansos. The young French rejoneadora, Lea Vicens, also won the hearts of the crowd with her ability and desire, receiving a total of three ears. Leonardo and Lea left the ring on shoulders.
In summary, an excellent feria and a successful convention. The empresa brought in top figuras and decent bulls for a public that knows bullfighting and enjoys the fiesta. We saw many old friends and made many new ones. If you havent been to the Feria del Virgen del Mar, you should definitely put it on your bucket list.