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