Welcome note

Greetings from Andalucía and welcome to my blog, where I’ll be posting about some of the encounters that occur over the course of my doctoral fieldwork in the marshlands southwest of Sevilla. You can read more about by project on my about page, but the gist of it is that I’ll be looking at the world of the bulls in 21st century Spain through the relationship between the town of Villamanrique de la Condesa and local bull-breeding estates. In particulur, the professionals at Partido de Resina (formerly Pablo Romero) have kindly agreed to host me as a kind of apprentice bull-person. I aim to showcase this incredible world and how it comes into being through the humans, bulls, horses and other entities that inhabit it.

Please link, repost and share responsibly with due attribution to this blog and myself as the responsible researcher/author/photographer. I am your first port of call if you have any questions, comments or worries about content posted on this blog or about my project in general.

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The World of the Bulls: An Anthropologist’s Gold Mine

At the beginning of October, in a blog article about a bullfight in Corella, Navarra, taurine photographers and bloggers Gorka Azpilicueta and Arsenio Ramírez suggested that for an anthropologist like myself the world of the bulls represents a gold mine for analysis. Over the years  many commentators from the anglophone North have descended into the land of tauromaquia to extract exotica to be consumed by armchair enthusiasts or critics at home. This is a form of cultural pillage if there ever was one, but many such commentators have also brought their own brands of appreciation to the taurine world, some more academic than others. You have the well-read, articulate commentators such as the much over-cited Hemingway and more recently Fiske-Harrison, who have produced very readable, dramatic and popular accounts of the bulls. Though Fiske-Harrison has taken his appreciation of the bulls a step further and actually put himself in front of the animals. Then you have the academics, including anthropologists such as Pitt-Rivers, Carrie Douglass and Garry Marvin who have produced works on the bulls from varying theoretical perspectives and of varying readability for the general public. Of course there are also many English-speaking fans of tauromaquia who have chosen not to write about their experiences, some of whom choose to appreciate the art as spectators and some of whom choose to train as bullfighters such as the Irishman David White, whose career is going from strength to strength. There is something particular about the bulls that attracts commentary: they really do represent a gold mine as they form part of an incredibly rich and varied set of traditions with much history.

Since Gorka and Arsenio’s comment, I’ve experienced five intense weeks that have served to condense and recapitulate the themes that have emerged in my fieldwork this year. My notes have suffered a lot due to the non-stop succession of events, but fortunately my camera has not stopped working. Through the following photos and captions you’ll hopefully get a good idea of how the world of the bulls or my particular corner of the world of bulls really do constitute a gold mine for analysis. If I keep going at this rate the final product of my PhD thesis is going to be full of  interesting characters, beautiful landscapes and above all very beautiful and unique animals. The photos also capture the array of interrelated topics that will form my thesis.

For those that are interested, here is the link to Gorka and Arsenio’s report on the September bullfight in Corella that starred the Partido de Resina bulls: “Los Chatos de Partido de Resina en Corella”. If you skip the first photo of some Scottish anthropologist or other, there are some excellent photos of the bulls as seen through the eyes of a native fan.

Given that the fate of bulls as a breed is closely linked with bullfighting as an art,  what goes on in the arena was always going to have a significant place in my thesis and no doubt in the more specialist articles I’ll be writing as well. The next few photos underscore the importance of this side of the taurine world for me. I’ve been to a lot of bullfights this year, but obviously the ones that involve the Partido de Resina bulls mean the most to me. It’s one thing to go to any old bullfight, it’s another to go to one with bulls that you’ve gotten to know in the countryside.

The entrance of the bull. The foreman can only watch intently from his barrier as the bull passes through the various stages of the performance.

The entrance of the bull. The foreman can only watch intently from his barrier as the bull passes through the various stages of the performance. Part of what I’m trying to involves getting a feel for not only the details of a bullfight, but how people appreciate such events from different perspectives. For example, the young foreman, the ranch vet and representative, and the family of the owner of the ranch are all invested in the bulls but from very different positions in terms of class.

The morning of the bullfight, the bulls are reviewed in the corrals by vets and representatives of the arena. At this point any bulls that are not in perfect condition will be rejected, which is why the breeding ranches tend to send a couple of extra bulls in case of injuries or great loss of weight during the journey to the arena.

The morning of the bullfight, the bulls are reviewed in the corrals by vets and representatives of the arena. At this point any bulls that are not in perfect condition will be rejected, which is why the breeding ranches tend to send a couple of extra bulls in case of injuries or great loss of weight during the journey to the arena.

The sorting of the bulls, each bullfighter gets allocated a pair of bulls by the drawing of lots from the foreman's hat. You can tell that we were in Navarra by the presence of the red beret on top of the foreman's traditional wide-rimmed hat.

The sorting of the bulls, each bullfighter gets allocated a pair of bulls by the drawing of lots from the foreman’s hat. You can tell that we were in Navarra by the presence of the red beret on top of the foreman’s traditional wide-rimmed hat.

Behind the bull in the arena there is, of course, the bull in the countryside, as well as the cows, the stud bulls and the youngstock. After a year spent on the Partido de Resina estate, this is the place where I feel most at ease in the bullfighting world. It is also the place where my appreciation for the beauty of the bulls was born. They say that once the bull-breeding estates were very private places, but nowadays there is a lot of pressure for them to open up a bit. There is a public that wants to get to know the “king of the countryside” at home and what is more, there is also a perceived need to publicise the relatively good life that fighting stock lead so as to counter critics who focus on the death of the bulls in the plaza.

The king of the countryside in the morning fog.

The king of the countryside in the morning fog.

And the queen... an elegant example of a fighting cow looking up at observers.

And the queen… an elegant example of a fighting cow looking up at observers.

How can the public get to know the bull in the countryside? Taurine tourism is one way to meet the fighting bull in his natural habitat. “Natural” having a particular meaning here (as always): invoking ideas of biodiversity and spaces free of human interference in particular.  Artetur is a tour company that offer day trips that involve bulls, gastronomy and flamenco on Partido de Resina and other bull-breeding estates. Another way to see the bulls in the countryside is to get access to more private events on the ranches. The testing of young animals for example. This is trickier though; you have to either be a professional or know a professional sufficiently well to get in. Fortunately for those interested there is a whole class of professional photographers and journalists who dedicate themselves to bring the bull in the countryside to the public. All three of these public aspects of the bull are interesting to me as an anthropologist. How are images of the bull-breeding estates managed? Who can get access? When and how? What do taurine journalists look for in terms of photos and stories? What are the recurring themes of the bull in the countryside?

Me

A crew from the program “Paisaje Herrado” (literally “branded landscape”) visited Partido de Resina the other week to film the separation of the three year old bulls into separate lots and to interview the foreman and representative. I also got asked a few questions as even in a flat cap and plaid shirt I stick out somewhat among the other staff. A foreigner interested in the bulls is generally deemed a good thing, particularly if they come from somewhere where bullfighting is not much appreciated.

A friend and practical fan of the bulls takes part in an event held on the ranch to celebrate Spains national day. Antonio is one of my neighbours in Villamanrique de la Condesa, just a few minutes down the road from the estate.

A friend and practical fan of the bulls takes part in an event held on the ranch to celebrate Spain’s national day. Antonio is one of my neighbours in Villamanrique de la Condesa, just a few minutes down the road from the estate.

Despite technically being inside the limits of the muncipality of Aznalcázar, Partido de Resina is more connected with the towns of Villamanrique and Sanlucar la Mayor. The former because it is the closest town and the latter because the previous owners of the estate had another ranch near Sanlucar. A bull-breeding estate doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it forms a part of the wider life of the local area, so my projects extends well beyond the boundary fences of the ranch and the walls of the arena. I’m also attempted to get to grips with life in the countryside and small towns in this area in general. As always I can only achieve this through the people I meet here; the experiences and histories of local people are vital for my project given my goal of describing a small corner of the world of the bulls in its social, historical and geographical context.

A poster

A poster announcing a series of events to conmemorate the birth of Pascual Marquez “El Manriqueño” in Villamanrique de la Condesa. The bulls have deep roots in the area. In fact, the foreman of the ranch counts Pascual Marquez among his ancestors. Pascual Marquez died a particularly tragic death from a goring suffered in the arena in Madrid. The young bullfighter Juan Solis now bears both the name and the taurine promise of the town.

For me, the event that most highlights the place of Partido de Resina in the local community is the branding of the yearlings. On this day people of all ages are allowed to come onto the ranch and assist with the branding and first vaccination of the young animals - supervised by an external vet and the police.

For me, the event that most highlights the place of Partido de Resina in the local community is the branding of the yearlings. On this day people of all ages are allowed to come onto the ranch and assist with the branding and first vaccination of the young animals – supervised by an external vet and the police.

A pair of yearlings explore their new field after being weaned from their mothers a week or so before the branding day.

A pair of yearlings explore their new field after being weaned from their mothers a week or so before the branding day.

The males receive their brands and vaccinations in the stocks, but the females are done the old way: restrained on the ground in the middle of a corral. The event brings together friends, family and fans of the bull-breeding estate and involves some particularly symbolic moments such as the blooding of first time assistants. A little bit of blood on the forehead means a lot. Well, I say a little but depending on the person doing the initiating the quantity of blood and other stuff from under the tail can be quite generous. There is an injection site on the underside of the tail.

The males receive their brands and vaccinations in the stocks, but the females are done the old way: restrained on the ground in the middle of a corral. The event brings together friends, family and fans of the bull-breeding estate and involves some particularly symbolic moments such as the blooding of first time assistants. A little bit of blood on the forehead holds a lot of meaning. Well, I say a little but depending on the person doing the initiating the quantity of blood and other “stuff” from under the tail can be quite generous. There is an injection site on the underside of the tail.

Partido de Resina is situated very close to the pilgrimage road to El Rocío and indeed the town of Villamanrique is considered the gateway to the pilgrimage site which hosts a famous image of the Virgin. Aside from the fact that there are many fans of the bulls among pilgrims, your average fan and pilgrim have a lot in common: particularly an appreciation for flamenco tradition, art and also forms of training and being with animals. Perhaps most importantly they share an attitude of pride and faith in a twenty-first century world perceived to be at once full of both difficulties and little miracles. It’s fair to say my project will therefore be injected with a good dose of pilgrimage spirit.

Joaquin and José nearing a site called the Kings' Palace on the pilgrimage road to El Rocio. Locally, doing the pilgrimage (~22km) is not only seen as a good way to spend a weekend with friends, but also represents something very personal between the pilgrim and the Virgin. There are some questions even the most interprid anthropologist cannot ask.

Joaquin and José nearing a site called the Kings’ Palace on the pilgrimage road to El Rocio. Locally, doing the pilgrimage (~22km) is not only seen as a good way to spend a weekend with friends, but also represents something very personal between the pilgrim and the Virgin. There are some questions even the most interprid anthropologist cannot ask.

The other king of the countryside: a stag encountered on the road to El Rocio. The surrounding landscape and how it is divvied up legally and in terms of exploitation is also of interest to me.

The other king of the countryside: a stag encountered on the road to El Rocio, which goes through a National Park. The surrounding landscape and how it is divvied up legally and in terms of exploitation is also of interest to me.

A very atmospheric landscape near Partido de Resina.

A very atmospheric landscape near Partido de Resina.

Despite all the themes I’ve drawn out above, the core of my interest centres on the dynamic relationships between bulls, horses and humans in the countryside: how the foreman and his staff manage the bulls – always potentially aggressive – from horseback.

Waiting for the foreman, who was moving tentatively into a corner to draw out an injured bull with the help of steers. Working in such conditions requires much patience, as well as a constant state of alertness because when the action comes it is always potentially explosive.

Waiting for the foreman, who was moving tentatively into a corner to draw out an injured bull with the help of steers. Working in such conditions requires much patience, as well as a constant state of alertness because when the action comes it is always potentially explosive.

It's a great honour to ride and learn alongside people who work with the bulls for pleasure more than anything else. Joaquin and José above all have made me into a very practical anthropologist: less books, more horse.

It’s a great honour to ride and learn alongside people who work with the bulls for pleasure more than anything else. Joaquin and José above all have made me into a very practical anthropologist: less books, more horse.

Bulls

Beyond the dynamics between horses, humans and bulls there are also the dynamics between the bulls themselves, who are intensely social and intelligent (in their own way) animals. Fights take place on all kinds of levels: from full on disputes to gentle sparring between long time companions. The bulls are not only aggressive and have an array of complict avoidance strategies as well as forms of companionship among herdmates. In some ways there are very sensitive, reacting immediately to changes in their environment, but in other ways they are incredibly tough, weathering sun, rain, heat and cold very well. They’re the stars of the taurine world, so evidently they’ll have to be the stars of my thesis.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece – feel free to ask questions and share all you like.

Robin

Posted in Appreciation, Bullfights, Corrals, Countryside, Dehesa, General/Introduction, Horses, Learning, Pilgrimage, Uncategorized, Vaccination, Vets, Yearlings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A step in the right direction? From Madrid to Corella, Navarra.

“Happy, but not satisfied” sums up the feelings of the foreman of Partido de Resina after last Sunday’s corrida in Madrid. There’s more work to be done but the outcome was basically good. The critics – as always – gave mixed feedback, but I’ve noted a lot of positivity and good feeling from the public and in the news. Two bulls performed well; three if you include number 21 – Habonero – who also showed moments of quality, but was not sufficiently “guided” by Ruben Pinar. I might be slightly biased concerning Habonero though, as he was always one of my favourites in the countryside: squat and truly pug-nosed, but well-behaved despite the fact that he was always with the dreaded number 19 (a veritable pest of a bull if there ever was one).

Numbers 19 (Sortijero) and 21 (Habonero) in the countryside during the Spring. Sortijero was aggressive in the field but very reserved and unpredictable in the plaza. Habonera appears to have less presence in the photo, but performed well in the plaza, if a little "tame" with the horse and lance and generally a bit distracted.

Numbers 19 (Sortijero) and 21 (Habonero) in the countryside during the Spring. Sortijero was aggressive in the field but very reserved and unpredictable in the plaza. Habonera appears to have less presence in the photo, but performed well in the plaza, even if he was a little “tame” with the horse and lance and generally a bit distracted.

Numbers 31 and 14 – classic pabloromeros cardenos (grey roan – see photos below) – showed consistency right through the three main stages of the bullfight and charged with lightness and their heads down; showing traits that have long been sought in this bull-breeding estate. All three were applauded on their exit from the arena.

Given that it was the first full bullfight I’ve attended in Madrid, it was immensely satisfying to to attend with the bulls I’ve been working with and getting to know over the last year. I’ve returned to Villamanrique very hopeful for the future of these bulls – they still appear to have a very strong connection with the plaza and public in Madrid.

José Maria Lazaro, with number 31 who was the first bull of the afternoon/evening. Note the low head carriage.

José Maria Lazaro, with number 31 who was the first bull of the afternoon/evening. Note the low head carriage.

Number 14, the only five year-old bull fought on Sunday - Pérez Mota carries him long and low.

Number 14, the only five year-old bull fought on Sunday – Pérez Mota carries him long and low.

I’m no taurine critic – I’ve still got lots to learn – but I enjoy reading the words of the many professionals or dedicated amateurs who put finger to keyboard to vent their feelings about this or that bullfight. The words below struck me in particular:

“Para quien se haya perdido esta corrida tan ejemplar baste este detalle: el quinto de la tarde, un cinqueño cárdeno claro que atendía por Cubanito, número 14, siendo el más chico del encierro con sus 42 arrobas y media, era la definición perfecta del trapío. Sus hechuras, su conformación anatómica, su morrillo, su cuerna, sus músculos junto a su altiva mirada otorgaban al animal una seriedad impresionante, la que emanaba de su impecable, inequívoca figura de toro de lidia, gloria de la cabaña brava.”

José Ramón Márquez (full article here)

(Very) roughly translated:

“For those who missed out on this exemplary bullfight, this detail is enough [to capture the spirit of the event]: the fifth bull of the evening, a five year-old light grey-roan who answers to [the name] Cubanito, number 14, the smallest bull of the lot with his 42 and a half “arrobas” [historic Spanish volume measure – he weighed 489kg], was the perfect definition of “trapío” [appearance/presence/class]. His build, his anatomical conformation, his neck and upper shoulder, his horns, his muscles along with his arrogant look bestowed upon the animal an impressive seriousness, which exuded from his impeccable, unequivocal fighting-bull figure, a heroic exemplar of fighting-stock [in general].”

Flowery I know, but it does capture something very basic when it comes to bullfights in Madrid at least: if the bull is stunning and moves, anything else is a bonus. The good news is not only that all six bulls brought movement (more or less) and awesome beauty to the plaza, but that three of them also brought funcionality as fighting or fight-able bulls: the bullfighters had something to work with, even if not all of them took full advantage of this.

This photo has been doing the rounds on twitter. Bull number 9, Plateador, looks at the foreman, Joaquin, in the corrals of Las Ventas. The caption reads "After four years of getting to know each other, we say goodbye with a single look". Photos that convey the relationship between foremen and their bulls always seem to touch a nerve.

This photo has been doing the rounds on twitter. Bull number 9, Plateador, looks at the foreman, Joaquin, in the corrals of Las Ventas. The caption reads “After four years of getting to know each other, we say goodbye with a single look”. Photos that convey the relationship between foremen and their bulls always seem to touch a nerve.

For years, in fact since the time when these bulls were owned by the Pablo-Romero family (the bulls changed hands in the 90s), the breeders of pabloromeros have sought a bull that fights well right through to the third stage of the bullfight (the stage with the smaller red cape and sword), but above all they have sought a bull that brings its head well down in this final stage. The pabloromeros have always struggled with this, partially due to their short necks. Every year stud bulls and breeding cows undergo a rigorous selection process for, among other things, a longer neck (they also have to be outstandingly fierce/brave). Results were never going to be instantaneous, but perhaps we might consider Sunday’s bullfight a small step in the right direction.

Onwards and upwards, the next little step might take place this coming Saturday in Corella, Navarra, where the bullfighters Rafaelillo, Sanchez Vara and Alberto Alvarez will confront six of the best from Partido de Resina. Good luck to the bulls, breeders and bullfighters alike!

Next steps... a bull enters the corrals before boarding the lorry today.

Next steps… a bull enters the corrals before boarding the lorry today.

Forward looking, forward thinking bulls. Hopefully.

Forward looking, forward thinking bulls. Hopefully.

The lorry "docked" next to the corrals in Partido de Resina. The foreman and seven bulls have already left for Navarra.

The lorry “docked” next to the corrals in Partido de Resina. The foreman and seven bulls have already left for Navarra.

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Return to Madrid

This coming Sunday, at six-thirty p.m. the notorious pabloromero bulls will return to Las Ventas in Madrid, which continues to be the most influential and important bullring in the taurine world. These beautiful but tricky bulls will be making their comeback after a hiatus of a three and a half years. During these intervening years the day to day management of the bulls has been passed from the hands of a retiring third-generation foreman to those of a (relatively) young man from nearby town of Villamanrique de la Condesa – Joaquin Morera Garrido. Sunday will be his debut in Madrid as mayoral (foreman): as the person responsible for the care of the bulls up until the moment they are presented in the arena. It may well be a watershed moment for the future of both him and these bulls, who have been struggling so much to deliver consistently in the ring since as far back as the 1970’s.

Madrid

Joaquin and Joselito, aided by Mona the wee black dog and two steers (of fighting blood), guided three of the Madrid bulls into the corrals on Wednesday afternoon in front of a small crowd of friends, family and wellwishers.

Despite their decline in performance, the pabloromeros – who now fight under the name of Partido de Resina – are still the line of fighting bulls that have fought most in Madrid. In 1888 they debuted there, under the name of Pablo Romero, in the old bullring on the road to Aragon. Cuchillero, the first bull was awarded two triumphal circuits of the arena after killing eight horses. Note that the significance lies not with the death of eight horses but with the fact that the Cuchillero returned to take the punishment of the lance of the picador a total of 14 times (two being the statutory requirement in a first tier plaza nowadays). The regulations that govern the world of fighting bulls have of course changed with the times and the picadors’ horses are now career animals that wear armour.

Power captured

The awesome power of a pabloromero bull contained momentarily in the stocks as the foreman’s team take of the horn-coverings that stop the bulls injurying each other in the fields. That mountain of muscle can knock over even the heaviest armoured horse.

The Pablo Romero bull-breeding estate first fought in Las Ventas in 1940, nine years after the inauguration of Spain’s principal plaza de toros in 1931. Since then the bulls have been a regular feature during the springtime San Isidro festival. However, their return to Las Ventas will be to participate in a somewhat more modest series of bullfights designed to showcase bulls from “minority” bull-breeding estates. As bulls of unique blood and breeding, perhaps the grey-roan animals of the Sevillan marshlands will never reach the consistency of performance of the numerous breeding estates that rely largely on Vistahermosa bloodlines. These estates strive to produce bulls that charge with lowered heads and the slavish generosity that allows the great bullfighters to in turn produce fleeting moments of art in the arena. Althought they are fighting an uphill battle, Joaquin, José Luis Algora (representative and resident vet), Tico Morales (owner) and the rest of the staff at Partido de Resina are determined to both conserve the particularity of the pabloromeros and turn them into bulls more suited for the requirements of the 21st century bullfighting industry and fanbase.

Ready to go

Horns unsheathed, a four year old bull ready to go to the arena after a long summer of food, exercise and rest.

Having worked for nearly a year alongside Joaquin on the Partido de Resina estate I feel at once attached to the bulls themselves and attached to their destiny in the arena, where they will be confronted by three youngish bullfighters of (frankly) middling-to-low rank: José María Lázaro, Pérez Mota y Rubén Pinar. I hope both bullfights and bulls bring their best to the arena on Sunday. The hard work the team has put in to produce these bulls for Madrid merits a good result.

De promesa

Last Sunday, a week before the bullfight in Madrid, the foreman made a private pilgrimage on foot to see the Virgin of El Rocio 20-odd kilometres from the Partido de Resina estate. As they say here, the promise that Joaquin made to Her is between them and will remain so.

There’s nothing much more I can say until I’ve digested whatever happens in the arena on Sunday – I’ve got my favourites among the bulls, but until they sally from their holding pens I’ll be keeping quiet. I’ll be sure to carry a white handkerchief in my pocket, I just hope I get the opportunity to use it.

Lorry

The lorry beairing eight bulls bound for Madrid rolls out of the yard. Suerte!

I leave you with two photos of Madrid-worthy bulls that I took this Spring – I hope they express my appreciation of the sheer beauty of these animals.

P1030266full

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Spectacular days

It’s April and things are really starting to kick off after a quiet winter in the Villamanrique de la Condesa area. If there’s is one word that covers everything that has happened in the last few weeks – from the springtime blooming of the countryside, to the bulls now reaching fighting weight, to the processions of Semana Santa (Holy Week) – it’s “spectacular”. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

The image of Christ on the cross, borne by men of the town, sallies from the church on Holy Friday, the most important day of Holy Week for Villamanrique. The men need to be roughly of the same height as they bear the weight on the back of the necks/shoulders, with a special pad.

The image of Christ on the cross, borne by men of the town, sallies from the church on Holy Friday, the most important day of Holy Week for Villamanrique.

The image passes one of the many, apparently random quotes painted onto the town walls. What the quotes all have in common is the word "Rocío", which literally means "dew". However, when the quotes are read with an appreciation for the significance of the nearby pilgrimage site of "El Rocío", the quotes often take on new and interesting meanings.

The image passes one of the many, apparently random quotes painted onto the town walls. What the quotes all have in common is the word “Rocío”, which literally means “dew”. However, when the quotes are read with an appreciation for the significance of the nearby pilgrimage site of “El Rocío”, the quotes often take on new and interesting meanings.

Finally the image returns to the church, facing the crowd after a tricky reversing of the direction that first the float and then the bearers were facing. This is the first of the two images paraded in Villamanrique - I didn't manage to get any suitably spectacular shots of the second float, which carries an image of the Virgin.

Finally the image returns to the church, facing the crowd after a tricky double reversing of the direction that the float and the bearers were facing (the float was turned round, then within the float the men turn round to face the direction of travel into the church). This is the first of the two images paraded in Villamanrique – I didn’t manage to get any suitably spectacular shots of the second float, which carries an image of the Virgin.

Although I saw the processions of Semana Santa in both Jerez de la Frontera and Sevilla, where there are more brotherhoods and floats bearing images, nothing quite compares to witnessing the spectacle in a town that you feel you’re both gradually adopting and being adopted by. When the people who are bearing the image or walking in their “penitence stations” are people you know, as are the people in the watching crowds, the atmosphere becomes particularly intimate and intense. I had a wonderful pair of Polish guests over the weekend and after 6 months of living in Villamanrique my appreciation for the town was renewed through their eyes and their enjoyment of the “deep song” (cante jondo) that accompanied the return to the church.

Outwith the town, the bull-fighting season has begun in earnest and the combination of sun and spring rain has seen the countryside flourish, despite the dry winter.

Manuel Escribano

Manuel Escribano and an excellent bull from Partido de Resina – watched with appreciation by the foreman, owner and representative of the ranch. The bull was consistent, charging the cloth at a gallop when cited, with his head down and full commitment. “Buen torero y buen toro” (“Good bullfighter and good bull”) was the comment that echoed round the plaza after the bull had exited.

After the tentadero

A cow makes her way back to her field and herdmates after being tested in the arena with a visiting bullfighter. If she made the grade she will become a breeding cow, if not she will most likely go to the slaughterhouse next year.

Cardenos

Two of the iconic grey-roan bulls of Partido de Resina, alert as the tractor and trailer combination that bears a visiting group of people approaches.

Flowers

Among the purple flowers.

Negros

The bloodlines at Partido de Resina produces a combination of black and grey-roan bulls that are distinctively low-set and snub-nosed.

Recortadores

A group of “recortadores” from Madrid visited to practice with cows from the ranch. All men in this case, young and old, they dodged the charges of the cows with various gymnastic moves and without the aid of the two types of cloth that bullfighters on foot use.

Recortadores

The cows enter the plaza, charge the recortadores until they are deemed tired and then exit. They are usually cows that have previously been tested by a bullfighter on the ranch. The men work closely as a team to move the cow round the plaza and position her so they can perform particular moves alone or in pairs.

 

 

 

 

Camera trap

With the greening/purpling of the countryside come visiting photographers and bloggers. I have come to realise that my blog is somewhat humbled by the work and dedication of indigenous fans of the bulls. Here I was assisting Gorka Azpilicueta and Arsenio Ramirez from Por las Rutas del Toro who produce visually stunning photos of bulls in the countryside all over Spain. As you can see their equipment for capturing the spectacular nature of the bulls is somewhat more sophisticated than mine – in the photo I am holding a remote that triggers a camera positioned on the fence to capture the moment when the bulls and foreman come stampeding through the foot bath.

Although I wasn’t able to be there this time, my good friend Pablo was also at Partido de Resina to capture the bulls in spring condition among the purple flowers – he produced this video to professional standards based on one day’s visit.

De lejos

From a distance. I stepped down from the wings of the tractor to photograph the foreman running the bulls in front of the onlooking guests, high and safe in the trailers.

Mas cerca

A little closer. This is when I wish I had cameras half as good as most of the other visitors on the ranch. Beyond the bulls and foreman you can see that the land adjacent to and previously owned by the ranch has now been developed for commercial agricultural use. Nowadays the ranch is an island of biodiverse pasture and light woodland in a sea of orange, olive and peach plantations. The pro-bull lobby is using this fact to support their cause. Though of course there are other kinds of local site that also conserve biodiversity that don’t involve fighting stock; e.g. national and private parks and low intensity grazing of other kinds of livestock.

Dynamic photo of mayoral in action

Closer still. The foreman curves round the back of the herd to steer it closer to us for more photos – taken on everything from smartphones to iPads to large digital SLRs.

P1030430

And finally I leave you with this image of some young cows taking their leave of me – except the one on the far right, who was set on spoiling the photograph by remaining facing me. The cows tend to “press” or “crowd” intruders more than the bulls, before fleeing as a herd once one cow startles.

With the April fair in Sevilla next month and then the biggest pilgrimage to El Rocío in June, as well as the first major bullfights for the Partido de Resina bulls, I’m expecting many more spectacular days to come. It’s a privilege to work in such a beautiful place – both town and countryside full of friendly people willing to share their professional and private lives with a visiting anthropologist.

Until next time,

Robin

Posted in Appreciation, Countryside, Dehesa, General/Introduction, Semana Santa (Holy Week), Spring, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What counts as fieldwork for an anthropologist in Andalusia?

What does a social anthropologist even do when in the field? What is the stuff of fieldwork? What counts? What goes down in the notebook? Who counts? Who do we write about? When do we stop listening? Or jotting down notes?

The answers to these questions are no doubt dependent on the individual researcher involved, so today I thought I’d share what I consider an exemplary day of fieldwork for me, here, in the marshlands outside Sevilla. By exemplary I mean my bestest, busiest day last week – that is, not the working day I lay in bed till 10am or the day when coffee at 6pm morphed into drinks and then supper and then more drinks and then… well, lets just say that no typing up of notes happened that evening. I suppose I won’t know whether I encountered the stuff of my fieldwork on this exemplary day until I have written my thesis, but, until then, this is a *slightly* jazzed up snapshot of the making of one anthropologist’s doctoral research project.

2014-03-19 08.15.00

A forifying Andalusian breakfast made by José and Juan at the bar round the corner from my little flat.

So, like all good days, my day started in the bar at 8am. Aside from the obligatory coffee, breakfast was a mini-loaf of toasted village bread, taken with Iberian ham and some token slices of tomato – all liberally doused with local-ish olive oil of course. Thus fortified, I sallied forth from the village to see what was happening on the bull-breeding ranch where I spend the bulk of my working time.

At this time of year, the foreman, Joaquín, usually works between 9am and 11am, when he takes a break to eat a sandwich, before resuming work till about 2pm, when he eats something more serious on his own or in the village with his family. He’ll then return to work into the early evening. On this particular morning, it was just him and I for the first couple of hours and we rode out immediately to check on the animals. If there are more people or if there is no horse for me, we head out in a 4×4, in which case Joaquín usually rides out alone later, to run (exercise) the bulls and jiggle their stomaches to prevent gas building up.

Joaquín and his dogs in the early morning mist. From the moment he wakes up he is in constant contact with the representative of the ranch, suppliers of things and services that are needed and also potential bull buyers.

Joaquín and his dogs in the early morning mist. From the moment he wakes up he is in constant contact with the representative of the ranch, suppliers of things and services that are needed and also potential bull buyers.

Joaquín and Cabezón (lthe horses name meaning literally “big-headed”) ride out of the yard to join me outside the gates, where I had been warming up a newer, less-experienced horse to make sure his head was in the right place to work with fighting stock.

Joaquín and Cabezón (lthe horses name meaning literally “big-headed”) ride out of the yard to join me outside the gates, where I had been warming up a newer, less-experienced horse to make sure his head was in the right place to work with fighting stock.

First we check the different fields of cows and calves, with their respective stud-bulls. I took this photo because the calf in the middle with the white-tipped tail reminded of us of a now fully grown bull who was bottle-fed by Joaquín because his mother didn't want him. Once the time came to wean the calves, the young “Blanqui”, with his white-tipped tail, was returned to his cohort to learn to be a bull. He has wide, open, horns, so will probably end up running in a street festival, rather than in an actual bullfight. I'm supposed to be looking carefully at the relationships between people and animals here, so there are lots of little stories like this in my notes.

First we check the different fields of cows and calves, with their respective stud-bulls. I took this photo because the calf in the middle with the white-tipped tail reminded of us of a now fully grown bull who was bottle-fed by Joaquín because his mother didn’t want him. Once the time came to wean the calves, the young “Blanqui”, with his white-tipped tail, was returned to his cohort to learn to be a bull. He has wide, open, horns, so will probably end up running in a street festival, rather than in an actual bullfight. I’m supposed to be looking carefully at the relationships between people and animals here, so there are lots of little stories like this in my notes.

 

Joaquín and Cabezón wait out a suspicious cow. He says that Cabezón knows better than him how close they can get before a cow or bull is likely to charge. Mini-confrontations like this usually end up with the cow turning away to join the rest of the herd.

Joaquín and Cabezón wait out a suspicious cow. He says that Cabezón knows better than him how close they can get before a cow or bull is likely to charge. Mini-confrontations like this usually end up with the cow turning away to join the rest of the herd.

 

Checking the fences is an important park of these morning rides.

Checking the fences is an important park of these morning rides.

This photo is a bit over-saturated with light, but it aptly illustrates the constant pressure of the sun here, even in the Winter. Coming from the Highlands of Scotland, I'm used to finding trig points (geographical reference points) at the top of mountains, but this one marks the highest point for miles around, despite the fact that it is only marginally higher up than the rest of the Sevillan marshlands.

This photo is a bit over-saturated with light, but it aptly illustrates the constant pressure of the sun here, even in the Winter. Coming from the Highlands of Scotland, I’m used to finding trig points (geographical reference points) at the top of mountains, but this one marks the highest point for miles around, despite the fact that it is only marginally higher up than the rest of the Sevillan marshlands.

And finally we get round to the various lots of bulls. Here a bull that will turn five this year watches us approach (the photo was taken at some distance). Aside from the fences, we check for injuries, escapees and much more. I end up with new nuggets of information about the bulls in my notebook everyday. Of course we don't only talk about the bulls, as to young men and friends we talk about our lives and relationships in a much wider sense too. All the stuff of anthropology. People and animals. People and their landscape. People and people.

And finally we get round to the various lots of bulls. Here a bull that will turn five this year watches us approach (the photo was taken at some distance). Aside from the fences, we check for injuries, escapees and much more. I end up with new nuggets of information about the bulls in my notebook everyday. Of course we don’t only talk about the bulls, as to young men and friends we talk about our lives and relationships in a much wider sense too. All the stuff of anthropology. People and animals. People and their landscape. People and people.

Two utreros (three year olds) joust playfully on the other side of the fence from us. Sometimes these fights get serious, but mostly they appear to handle their horns and each other surprisingly delicately, despite the obvious weight behind those sharp horntips.

Two utreros (three year olds) joust playfully on the other side of the fence from us. Sometimes these fights get serious, but mostly they appear to handle their horns and each other surprisingly delicately, despite the obvious weight behind those sharp horntips.

Sometimes, once we return from checking the animals, I stay on to work and learn on the ranch. On other days, like my exemplary day, I nip home to tidy up my notes and send Joaquín any of the photos I have taken that he likes, so he can upload them on Twitter. Having snacked on some leftover chickpeas (made by the grandmother of my best female friend in the village – such a spoilt anthropologist!), I decided I had time to pop over to the next village over and see one of the cowhands who regularly works on the bull-breeding estate on his own little finca (farm or piece of land) in the countryside. José, as I mentioned in a previous post is a very generous local elder who encourages me to exercise his horses and spend time with him and the various people that appear on his finca. His son also runs a small garage from the same location. Having picked a horse, Bandolero, who hadn’t been ridden for some time, José suggested that I ride the 18km to his home in yet another little town, where we could have lunch in his house. Laughingly dismissing my worries about not having any sun-cream with me, he helped me tack up the horse and told me not to linger too much so he didn’t have to wait too long before eating.

You might well wonder what an anthropologist is going to learn, riding alone through the olive groves and pine-forested parkland between rural Spanish towns, but it’s surprising just how many people (and animals) you encounter on such little journeys. Moreover, these trips are also part of my developing relationship with José and his horses. Come June, I hope to ride with him, his family and his friends to El Rocío (a hamlet that hosts an image of the Virgin) for the biggest pilgrimage of the year.

An encounter with some mares and foals while crossing the river at El Vado del Quema (literally the ford of the fire, but I'm not sure if it's much more than a name now). This is on one of the pilgrimage routes to El Rocío and the little pavilion in the background hosts an image of the Virgin and marks a point where pilgrims stop to pay their respects.

An encounter with some mares and foals while crossing the river at El Vado del Quema (literally the ford of the fire, but I’m not sure if it’s much more than a name now). This is on one of the pilgrimage routes to El Rocío and the little pavilion in the background hosts an image of the Virgin and marks a point where pilgrims stop to pay their respects.

After a relatively peaceful hour of riding, both horse and rider sweating in the March sun – him because he’s still carrying his Winter coat, me because I’m just not designed for hot places – we encountered a pair of mules pulling a carriage full of jovial men in flat-caps in the road. Having just settled Bandolero after a long canter, I opted to try to discreetly skirt round the party with a polite nod and greeting. The merrymakers were having none of it though and I was summoned to the side of the carriage and asked if I’d like a beer or a glass of wine.

“Oh, you’re from Scotland, a whisky then?!”

Roars of laughter.

“What’s your name?”, asked a thickset man with greying girls escaping from beneath his flatcap.

“Robin, como Robin del bosque”, I retort. (Robin, like in Robin Hood.)

“Ah hah! Well if you’re Robin Hood then I am Friar Tuck!”, came the jolly response.

One beer, some chorizo and a mountain of questions later, I managed to escape, feeling a bit inadequate as an anthropologist, but not wanting to be late for lunch with José. I’d been asked much more questions than I had asked. I didn’t even know where they were from, though I’d guessed they were pilgrims as they were wearing medals from previous visits to El Rocío. I wondered if I might encounter them on the way back and ask a bit more about them.

Lunch (at about 3pm) was spinach and more chickpeas, complemented with slices of cured pork belly and salad, washed down with a second beer. We talked about the old foreman of the bull-breeding estate, who is now retired, while watching a film about french schoolboys during the war. Not having my notebook with me, I took notes on my phone, which is discreet but it is frustrating to have to compile notes from various sources in the evening.

With both the horse and I suitably refreshed, we started the journey back, weaving dozily between the pine trees before waking up for a good gallop once we hit the sandy tracks. A 35km round trip justifies a solid lunch I think, but what I hadn’t realised is that I was about to be fed again. As we approached the ford at El Quema we heard the clinking of glasses and bottles. Sure enough, just round the corner Friar Tuck and his merry men had pulled over to rest the mules and have lunch. In between slices of fried chicken and beers, I found out that they were a group of friends from Malaga, part of the Hermandad (brotherhood) de Malaga la Caleta and were here for the weekend, making an informal pilgrimage together. Although all fully grown men, they were the niños (children) of the brotherhood. They too would be doing the big pilgrimage to El Rocío in June.

Being a very British anthropologist, I was getting worried about José, who would be expecting my return at his finca, so once Friar Tuck had deigned to allow me on my way, I called in to say that I’d been accosted by a group of pilgrims from Malaga. José wondered why I hadn’t stayed with them longer. I worry too much apparently. I worry about reciprocity. About hospitality. About the adequacy of my notes, scrawled into my phone with one hand as I steer Bandolero home with the other (though to be honest he didn’t really need to be steered). I suppose it’s part of our job as researchers to worry, but there also comes a point where if you worry too much in public about things like reciprocity it becomes ‘ugly’, at least here in rural Andalusia.

Los Niños de la Hermandad de Malaga la Caleta, in the main square of my town that evening, where I joined them for a drink to conclude my 'working' day. Your intrepid anthropologist is wearing blue jeans and standing next to Friar Tuck, who is wearing a gilet in place of his monk's habit.

Los Niños de la Hermandad de Malaga la Caleta, in the main square of my town that evening, where I joined them for a drink to conclude my ‘working’ day. Your intrepid anthropologist is wearing blue jeans and standing next to Friar Tuck, who is wearing a gilet in place of his monk’s habit.

After taking care of Bandolero and then joining the Malaga lads for a pre-supper drink, I retired to my flat. I could have continued doing fieldwork that day, in the sense that I might have joined the pilgrims at their campsite, but there comes a point where sometimes I just have to stop and recuperate, ready for the next day.

There you have it, the stuff of my fieldwork, at it’s most intense. As you might imagine, my notes are chaotic. People I encounter go from jolly men in flatcaps to friends with names and background stories in a surprisingly short time. Animals go from herds to numbers to named individuals with histories and back again. I learn about people through other people. I learn about animals through people too, and people through animals. It’s not really clear which is which at times, or rather who is doing the educating or even who is ‘speaking’. I imagine clarity will have to come later on, after many more days that bring together bulls, cows, calves, foremen, anthropologists, horses and characters from Robin Hood.

As a final point, the thing that stands out for me most from this day is how much of my fieldwork consists of relationship building and maintaining. Although my informants routinely surprise me with interesting turns of phrase and actions, much of my time is spent simply being with them and building trust and tacit knowledge. Only a very small fraction of daily happenings actually get into my journal.

Until next time, and if any other anthropologists want to point me to accounts of their bestest-busiest days in the field or just comment on mine, I’d be very glad.

Robin del bosque

*Jazzed up snapshot? Ok, I admit that I have smooshed together the morning of one day with the afternoon of another day, but hey, the events could have happened on the same day. Besides, the only real difference between the days is that on one of the mornings we checked the stock in the 4×4 and the other we did the same job from horseback. Artistic license I say. Also, the photos are from various days as I prefer not to be constantly taking photos of everything over the course of individual days. Jazzing up fieldwork notes is probably a fairly accurate way of describing the work of an anthropologist after all.

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An homage to the older cow and horse hands out there

The other week, I took this photo of photo of three relatively young men heading out to tag newborn calves at Partido de Resina and some of the comments that were made about the photo on twitter said how good it was to see young people working on the ranches. This got me thinking about the generational divide that’s supposed to exist in Spain regarding the bulls. The gist of the typical narrative is that young people are not interested in the bulls and the fan base for the bulls is ageing. I’m in no position to either cite or rubbish statistics. I do my research in a small corner of the world of the bulls and I’m not trying to assess things on a grand scale. However, being an anthropologist, I suspect that the full story is somewhat more complicated. In the heartlands of bull-breeding I’m sure there are more young people involved than elsewhere – I imagine it varies somewhat depending on regional history too. I suppose the bulls might also sometimes be something that people come to appreciate as they get older.

The youngseters

The younglings sally forth after a mid-morning snack to catch, identify and tag newborn calves. Though Cabezon, the grey horse in the middle is a veteran on the estate and has the opinions and work ethic to go with this status.

The foreman at Partido de Resina is a little older than me (I’m 26) and people of his age and younger often come to help out on the ranch. Also, on big days (like the herradero), there are often children about. However, if there’s one group of people who have been most patient with me, it’s the older vaqueros (stockhands) and aficionados (fans) who work on the estate. Though these venerable and wise fellows are also the ones most likely to make a joke at my expense. I’m never quite sure what to do or say, other than go red, when they insist that the best way of learning Andalusian Spanish would be to have a local girlfriend or friend with “touching rights”.

José, man of many talents, with his horse Bandolero herding youngstock on an Autumn morning.

José, a man of many talents, with his horse Bandolero herding youngstock on a cold Autumn morning. He has not only taking me under his wing in terms of the handling of fighting stock in the corrals, but has also been kind enough to let me ride his horses at his home in order to learn how to ride like a proper vaquero.

Moy, who can get his tractors to do just about anything. He is making the bulls' winter breakfast, mixing cereals with water and straw. It's through working with Moy on the tractors that I've slowly come to know the many different fields and the different groups of cows and bulls they contain.

Moy, who can get his tractors to do just about anything. Here, he is making the bulls’ winter breakfast, mixing cereals with water and straw. It’s through working with Moy on the tractors that I’ve slowly come to know the many different fields and the different groups of cows and bulls they contain.

What I’ve most appreciated from people like José and Moy is that although they are more than willing to correct me when I do something wrong, they also tend to be sensitive to my predicament and the frustrations of trying to at once learn very practical things and a language. Sometimes that means leaving me to work something out on my own. Or sometimes leaving me to stew when I’m past the point of being able to listen when I can’t do something right! Sometimes it’s a much needed slap on the back when I go quiet and my eyes glaze over as we wait for the riders to bring a group of bulls in. Juan, who frequently pops over to help out, is particulary good at this back-slapping and always has pockets bursting full of mandarins to offer to overwhelmed anthropologists.

So, here’s to all the older stockpeople out there, upon whose shoulders us young upstarts stand. Working outdoors in all weathers is not easy and I admire the passion that leads people do work in such environments for a lifetime and still find joy in it. José, Moy, Juan, and lets not forget Cabezon too – I salute you!

More photos of our heroes follow.

José chasing the bulls and bullocks/steers up towards the corrals. The animals in the lead are used to "guide" the bulls and keep them in herd-mode rather than fighting-mode. Though sometimes they have their own ideas about where they want to go. You can see how active José is (he's 80-something I think!).

José herding the bulls and bullocks/steers up towards the corrals. The animals in the lead are used to “guide” the bulls and keep them in herd-mode rather than fighting-mode. Though sometimes they have their own ideas about where they want to go. You can see how active José is – he’s 80-something I think!

Cabezon, enjoying the extra time off he got over the festive period. Looking pretty solid for a horse supposedly over twenty years old!

Cabezon, enjoying the extra time off he got over the festive period. Looking pretty solid for a horse supposedly over twenty years old!

José and Bandolero riding back to the stables after a morning's work with the garrocha (lance).

José and Bandolero riding back to the stables after a morning’s work with the garrocha (lance).

Riding through the dust in the wake of a herd of fighting stock. Not just for young men.

Riding through the dust in the wake of a herd of fighting stock. Not just for young men.

Until next time,

Robin

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Hot-branding revisited

Just a quick note to say that for those that are interested I read a piece about the hot-branding of fighting stock on yesterday’s BBC world service version of From Our Own Correspondent. It gives a slightly different angle on the events I narrated in an earlier post on hot-branding.

Here’s the link to the radio piece, I believe I don’t come on until the second half:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01pdyp2

As an added bonus, below are a couple of slightly blurry pictures of me learning to receive yearlings for branding. They don’t really convey the sheer stress of being shouted into the centre and then expected to handle a rambunctious young fighting cow with something approaching efficiency and care. Though I suppose if the calf can handle being restrained and hot-branded then the least I can do is learn to handle performing in public. I’ve misplaced the better photos of the day, but, in any case, I should probably save those photos for the book(s).

Rugby

There’s something very reminiscent of a public schoolboy lining up for a rugby tackle in this photo. That is, lining up while fulling expecting to be bowled over like the puny 3rd year you were.

Gotcha

Then the moment when you have a hold of the little beast’s horns – ok you can come and help me now!

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