When Salvador Vega failed to kill his bull in Malaga during the August feria of 2012 and was given the three warnings, his career took a nosedive. Not that he had been considered a top matador but the way the public responded had given him enough courage to continue. The modest amount of yearly contracts confirmed it. However, four years after that dreadful afternoon when everything went wrong, Vega announced his retirement from the bullring. In the following period he tried to find his way in the civilian world, even attaching his name to the list of candidates for the Popular Party PP in the local elections of 2019. A year later the pandemic struck and the world came to a standstill. When at last the worst seemed to be over and the dark red map of Andalucia turned yellow, Malaga announced a very special, very short feria.The news that the bulls were returning to Malaga caused a nervous flutter in the hearts of the feria-hungry Aficionados. There were flights to book, hotel rooms to reserve and most important of all, phone calls to make and tickets to order. It soon became clear that this edition was to be different. Instead of a week of taurine events, this feria would consist of two corridas de toros and one novillada. The plaza would admit 50 percent of its usual capacity and during the corrida sanitary masks were compulsory and would be strictly controlled. Tickets could not be reserved by phone or Internet but had to be collected and paid at the ticket window of the bullring. Passes could not be renewed. But most surprising were the names printed on the poster. The first evening we would see bulls from Juan Pedro Domecq for three Sevillians, Morante de la Puebla, Juan Ortega and Pablo Aguado in a corrida announced as “Picassiana.” The following day would give us Salvador Vega, Cayetano and Andrés Roca Rey with Daniel Ruiz bulls and this mini feria ended with six local novilleros and novillos from Manuel Blazquez. For someone who hadn’t seen the inside of a plaza de toros for two years, Malaga 2021 was an occasion not to be missed.
I arrived at Malaga’s Pablo Picasso Airport late in the afternoon and checked in at the reception desk of my hotel. Once unpacked and comfortably seated at a terrace table with a glass of cold Manzanilla and a small plate of pickled anchovies, I telephoned my friend Juan José to enquire about the days to come. We met for breakfast the following morning and he handed me my tickets. I was ready to receive my first bull.Juan Pedro Domecq brought six nice bulls to Malaga for three Sevillan matadors. As usual the plaza was decorated with “taurographical” panels by the French artist Lorén but instead of one of the best taurine bands in Spain, management thought it appropriate to bring in a small symphony orchestra, a shrilling soprano and a tenor whose voice found it hard to reach the high notes. Instead of the well-loved taurine pasodobles “Concha Flamenca,” “España Cañi” or “Nerva” we suffered a loudly amplified selection of obvious operatic evergreens from Bizet’s Carmen. It completely ruined my evening. But I remember Morante’s dreadful turquoise suit, his kneeling veronicas, his very personal approach to bullfighting and the ear he cut after his second faena. Juan Ortega had two unwilling bulls but, much to my dislike, the music started to accompany him. He was passionately applauded when the first bull was dragged out but did not get the public’s approval after his second performance. The fifth was the best of Pablo Aguado’s two juanpedro bulls. It allowed him excellent cape passes and some fine right- and left-handers during his faena. The sounding ovation could not encourage the president to show his white handkerchief. Aguado walked a triumphant lap of honor.Afterwards we had a lovely time at cafetería Flor.
It had been known for days that an old injury to his ribs prevented Cayetano from coming to Malaga. His replacement was another surprise. Antonio Ferrera already had several glorious afternoons in important plazas and knew the Malaga’s August feria well, but no one expected to see him. Since he stopped being his own banderillero Ferrera had grown as a matador. Unlike the “ojeda-style” of so many of his contemporaries, his faenas were based on distance, he gave the animal space before moving into its territory. His capework was classic, his knowledge of bulls (from Victorinos to Jandillas) outstanding and his killing spectacular. He would cite the bull from a distance then slowly walk toward the bull, all the while keeping the animal fixed on his muleta. As he was near enough and the bull charged, he’d plunge the sword in the bull’s back. That’s how it went and Antonio Ferrera was awarded an ear but a reluctant second bull prevented him from repeating his success. Nevertheless, he left the Malagueta in triumph.After Saúl Jiménez Fortes was injured in Madrid earlier this year, Malaga had no significant local matadors left. Conde semi-retired and the very experienced (and indeed legendary) torera Maripaz Vega was never accepted in her hometown, so when Salvador Vega (no relation) announced he would return, it caused a minor sensation among the aficionados. And what no one expected to happen, happened. Salvador Vega was magnificent. His veronicas were classical, his medias sensational. The bull passed him so slowly as if he was attached to the muleta while his low, left-hand passes took ages to complete. Vega’s faena got me out of my seat several times and although knocked down twice, he got up, dusted himself off and continued as if nothing had happened. The public petitioned for two ears but the president conceded to only one which the matador strode around the ring in a victorious lap of honor. Andrés Roca Rey toreared with his usual stoicism and characteristics and cut one ear. His second bull somersaulted on the sand, crashed down on his spine and was unfit to continue. The young Peruvian dispatched him after a short faena.Afterwards we had a wonderful time at cafetería Flor.The mini feria came to an end on August 22, with six novillos from Manuel Blázquez, a young ganadería with Nuñez de Cuvillo blood for six local novilleros, each of whom had once taken part in Malaga’s annual “International Competition for Bullfighting Schools.” Santana Claros, Curro Márquez, Juan Carlos Benítez, Pablo Paéz and Alvaro Passalacqua returned home empty-handed while José Antonio Lavado was awarded the only ear.Afterwards we had a great time at cafeteria Flor but were sad to leave Malaga after such a short but pleasant feria. That was it, my taurine season of 2021: Two corridas de toros and one novillada that could have been one more if I hadn’t abandoned a trip to Requena to attend the alternativa of José Ruiz Muñoz in October. Let’s hope next year will be better. For everyone.
Manuel Ortiz Benítez—Manolo Ortiz—one of the best toreros Malaga ever knew died on October 27. He was born in July 1950 and took his alternativa in his home town arena at the age of 20 with an Osborne bull and José Luis Román as his padrino. Another legendary malagueño, Miguel Solér Gasolina (so-called because he worked in a petrol station) acted as witness. The following year Ortiz confirmed his alternativa in Madrid with bulls from Conde de Ruiseñada. Sánchez Bejarano and Marcel Librero El Marcelino attended the ceremony but with few opportunities as a matador Manolo Ortiz became a banderillero. He was especially famous for being part of the “Cuadrilla de Arte,” a group of three extraordinary banderilleros (with Pepe Ortiz and Curro Alvarez) who served several matadors and performed successfully in almost every bullring in the country. I saw them in action in La Malagueta in 1981 in the service of fellow Malagueñan Miguel Márquez who cut four ears in a Benitez Cubero corrida. After retiring Manolo Ortiz played an important part in establishing Malaga’s taurine school. His son is the former matador de toros Ricardo Ortiz. Rest in peace maestro.
Cronica de Pieter Hildering
Foto. Pieter Hildering