‘We are always waiting for somebody,’ observed a vexed British journalist. Usually it was me they were waiting for, but this morning I had boarded the tour bus on time and I tutted along with the righteous. While we waited I picked up the driver’s copy of that day’s edition of El Pais. On the front page was an arresting photograph of President Trump going head to head with President Macron, in Paris, their forearms joined and their hands clasped in the arm-wrestling start position. At their first public handshake in Brussels, Macron had crushed Trump’s hand until the Donald’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. Here was the second leg of the contest and the Donald was playing away from home. A steely-eyed Melania was watching closely, as if her husband had been in training and she had placed a hefty bet on him making the frog blink first this time. Indeed President Macron’s glassy eyes suggested that Trump had the upper hand.
I raised the newspaper to invite the other 12 European travel hacks waiting on the bus to comment on the photograph. But I might as well have held up a snap of Heinrich Himmler or Fred West; the US President’s image was greeted with knee-jerk groans and gagging sounds. I lowered the paper and turned to the culture section and made a largely futile attempted to translate into English the bullfight correspondent Antonio Lorca’s report on the final bullfight at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona.
Traditionally, the bulls on the last day are Miuras, a unique, dangerous and beautiful mixture of old fighting bull strains, including Cabrera, which survives only in the Miura, I believe, and which accounts for both their beauty and sapience. The car-maker Lamborghini named three of their sports models after celebrated Miura bulls: the Murciélago, the Reventón and the Islero.
I met Señor Eduardo Miura once. He is a shy, rangy bumpkin with huge hands. Every season I try to keep up with news of his latest crop. This year’s Pamplona string, according to Antonio Lorca’s summary, were beautifully presented and dangerous, though constitutionally weak and lacking in class — which, oddly enough, are the same accusations levelled against Donald Trump. The first, third and fifth bulls, added Lorca, lacked courage when faced with the litmus test of the horsemen.
That much I grasped. But this was merely a summary at the head of his piece. For the nitty-gritty I needed a translator. So I migrated with El Pais across the minibus and plonked myself next to our Spanish PR woman, Valentina, and asked her if she wouldn’t mind. She tried her best, but foundered too often on the many untranslatable bullfighting terms and gave up after a paragraph. ‘You are interested in toros?’ she said. Of course I was, I said, and I was a bit surprised that they hadn’t been mentioned on our cultural tour of Valencia thus far. We’d seen any amount of Unesco-designated sites of intangible cultural heritage and several, clearly tangible, even monumental, World Heritage Sites. And we’d learned all about the silk trade, and admired the churches, and looked at more contemporary bourgeois art than you could shake a stick at. And yet Valencia’s Las Fallas festival in March, for example, is one of the highlights of the bullfighting year. For all the talk of Valencian culture, I’d not heard one single mention of the toros.
‘Well, we don’t like to speak about the bulls to the international press,’ she said frankly. ‘Because it is such a controversial subject and because we don’t want to upset anybody. I’ve been showing international journalists around this city for about ten years, and you are the only one who has ever been interested.’
I recalled yesterday’s tour of the silk museum. We were shown a model of silk moth cocoons being tended on beds of leaves. The cocoons were harvested just before the pupae emerged, we were told, and the silk thread was extracted from these. ‘But what about the baby silk moths?’ said a horrified Dutch journalist. ‘Are they killed?’ ‘Of course,’ said the baffled guide. ‘Ritually and publicly by highly paid matadors,’ I added. ‘This being Spain.’ The Dutch journalist shook her head at the incomprehensible beastliness of it all.
I nicked the driver’s El Pais and looked at it again after lunch in the tapas restaurant. ‘Isn’t she lovely?’ I said to the assembled hacks, holding up the photo of Melania Trump spectating at the head of state hand-squeezing contest. One of the younger hacks let go a virtue-signalling obscenity. They’re such ridiculous snobs, these liberals. ‘Well I think she’s a wonderful Christian woman,’ I said, draping a red cape in front of the furious, naive animal.
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