After two years of silence, Valencia has finally announced the return of its famous Fallas festival. On March 12, for the first novillada sin picadores since 2019, Manuel Caballero will step onto the ochre sand to face a two-year-old novillo from the ganaderia of Valrubio, a new name from Salamanca. The young Caballero, son of the retired matador de toros from Albacete, will lead the procession. Next to him go Nek Romero, Aaron Rull, “Jarocho”, Lenny Martins and Joel Ramírez. All are students from Spanish Escuelas de Tauromaquia except Martins who is a French novice from Beziers. Horse-less novilladas are always interesting and are an occasion to see the future of bullfighting. Most matadors we see today started their career at this bottom rung of the taurine ladder. What is also interesting about this novillada are the bulls. They are of Vega Villar stock which means we can expect spectacular black and white markings.

The following evening, Sunday March 13, a corrida for the “toristas” as Victorino Martin brings six of his grey Santa Coloma/Saltillo bulls to the bullring on the calle Jativa for Antonio Ferrera, Daniel Luque and local celebrity Roman Collado “Román”. (Many expected to see Rafael Rubio Lujan «Rafaelillo» who enjoys great prestige with the Valencian aficion and is a master with the Victorinos.) Ferrera of course is also an old hand in the confrontation of the fast and difficult Victorinos and, as I wrote in my account of my 2021 season, one of my absolute favourites. The Sevillian Daniel Luque is a strong matador who has already earned his spurs in corridas with challenging bulls while ten years after his alternativa, Román is still trying to make his mark. He doesn’t lack in valour but he hasn’t yet shown much taurine charisma and a successful appearance with tonight’s bulls would certainly be to his benefit. 

On monday and tuesday we have a break to get used to the deafening fireworks and to sample the sugared buñuelos and churros con chocolate. It gives the Valencian people time to erect their hundreds of enormous colorful images on every street, plaza and street corner and to fill the city with daily processions in honor of the Virgen de los Desamparados. 

On Wednesday March 16 our taurine adventure continues with a novillada con picadores with novillos from El Pilar (from Salamanca) for a Valencian novillero well known to Sol y Sombra members: Jordi Pérez “El Niño de la Monjas”. He will appear with Alvaro Alarcón from Toledo and Manuel Perera, a rather accident prone young torero from Badajoz. Being novilleros of the Lost Generation, all have had their taurine expectations come to a standstill by the pandemic. For them it is vital to leave a good impression and continue their career. 

Next on the poster is the commercial peak event of the week: Thursday March 17 lists Juan Pedro Domecq bulls for Antonio “Morante de la Puebla” and Sevilla’s Juan Ortega and Pablo Aguado. It is a combination that has already featured on many evenings of the taurine calender elsewhere and is a guarantee to bring in the crowd. Although I am a fan of Morante, I find this threesome obligatory and the outcome predictable. It will no doubt feature incredible capework by the matador from Puebla del Rio with long muleta passes executed in slow motion during the faena and (probably) a bad sword that will lose him the trophies. Ortega and Aguado will do their very best to keep up with their teammate but are likely to get an ear or two. The Juan Pedros will show nobility, will cooperate but will not give up without a little resistance. Everyone –from impresario to public– will go home happy. 

Diego Urdiales, José Maria Manzanares and Roca Rey with bulls from Victoriano del Rio (of Domecq stock) are announced for Friday March 18. Another crowd pleasing and interesting group with Manazares performing the first of his two evenings. The veteran Urdiales takes on the first bull. He is from Arnedo (he won the local golden shoe competition as a novillero) and is regarded as a “toreo modesto”. But above all he is an honest matador whom I’ve only seen in Valencia twice –ten years ago he toreared Adolfo Martin bulls– he is someone whom the aficionados have always considered a matador to follow. Manzanares needs no introduction. He features on the poster and has become one of toreo’s dependables, a worthy successor of his late father. If only he wouldn’t kill his bulls “a recibiendo” when the animal clearly requires a “vol-a-pie”. I’ll tread on many toes when I say that Roca Rey still hasn’t shown me why so many aficionados are over the moon with his toreo. The notable things I have seen him do and remember can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yes, he is daring and brave and yes he can do nice things with his capote as well as his muleta, but I would like him to slow down. I know he can because I’ve seen him do it. 

On saturday March 19, “Dia de San José”, about half a million people descend on Valencia to celebrate the day of Saint Joseph, the town’s patron saint. (Remember to congratulate every José, Pepe or Pepa you meet that day!) Today the fireworks and the street music is louder than before and the bullring features two events. At midday a corrida de rejones will attract the horse-people to see Rui Fernandes, Diego Ventura and Lea Vicens with bulls from Los Espartales. Their Murube-Urquijo bloodline seems to be a favourite of rejoneadores. Two Portuguese horsemen and a French amazon. Gone are the days when the line-up was all Spanish. In my view rejoneo has become a circus act more than a duel between horse and bull, between speed and cunning. It is sad to see the bull relegated to a supporting role where instead he should play the main part. I will probably stay until the fourth bull.

The corrida de toros on the evening of the 19th, used to feature a fiery competition between Valencian matadors. This year no Valencian was available so instead it sees Julián López “El Juli”, Manzanares and Emilio de Justo confront bulls from Garcigrande (of Domecq stock). “El Juli” has become a far better torero since he left out the silly things like placing his own banderillas and flapping his cape about in nonsensical gestures. I salute his former manager Roberto Dominguez for that. Thankfully he has become a fantastic swordsman, often placing his sword in the manner of his fellow madrileño maestro Joselito. Manzanares  –and depending on how his performance went yesterday– could become the 2022 Fallas “triunfador”. In my opinion one of the most interesting toreros of the week is Emilio de Justo who was one of the few who starred and triumphed in the televised corridas of last season. He is a strong, no-nonsense torero whom, to my surprise, I only saw once before torear in Valencia… as a novillero in 2005! It is one of the mysteries of the world of bullfighting why it took a matador who had his alternativa in 2008 so long to come into the spotlight. His career proves that it is better to simmer slowly than to be a flash in the pan.

That’s it. Although the Fallas abono also includes a novillada on May 7, with novillos from the Conde de Mayalde for a line-up of first class young bullfighters, the Feria de las Fallas has ended. Whether or not my predictions come true is another matter. Nothing is certain in a bullfight.  A young anonymous torero can unexpectedly leave the arena in triumph, while a famous star walks out empty-handed. Bulls from well-established breeders can fail miserably and an unsightly specimen of obscure origin can be declared bull of the year. So what are my thoughts about this year’s Fallas? It will be strange to be back in the bullring and not see the familiar faces of some of my friends who passed away. It will take time to get back into the routine. Regarding the taurine programme, I find above all it mainly has crowd pleasing, commercial line-ups, without any risks, taking in mind that only 50% of its capacity will fill the plaza. The matadors guarantee good ticket sales and the selected bulls are almost sure to cooperate. It is a mystery why Manzanares was offered two evenings instead of contracting former “triunfadores” like Paco Ureña –whose career was launched in this very same arena– or other matadors worthy of a first class feria in a first class bullring. Román is the only local bullfighter (apart from novillero Niño de las Monjas) which tells you something about the quality of the local talent since Enrique Ponce left the scene. But there’ll probably be a July feria which should feature the matadors who were left out in March. Most importantly though, the taurine wheels have started turning again (albeit slowly). I’ll see you in Valencia.

Cronica de Pieter HIildering

fotografias de Archivo