SAINT JOSÉ TOMÁS
© By Ric Polansky
He has returned. It was Barcelona on the seventeenth of June. Those present will never forget. He left no doubting Tomasitos! Took memory prisoners. Came, did his thing his way and left. If there had been an announcer, he would have proclaimed: “Jose Tomas Roman Martin has left the plaza—the show is over”. I can tell you: “He has returned—spread the word” !
The whole affair started with the usual rumblings of his die-hard followers whispering rumoured promises in darken tabernas late at night. Then innuendo spread to gossip, hearsay, chit-chat, telephone conversation, and internet. By the time the newspapers had verification the Taurine world knew long before the ink had dried Jose Tomas, the forlorn mysterious matador was making a comeback. Finally after five long impossible years of waiting!
José Tomás has always kept himself to himself. After all, he made the rules, set the pattern for his style of torear but this never was acceptable to an avaricious media. The populace had to be fed. Told something of his sex life, been informed of his wanderings, instructed about his suffering, diagnosed, analyzed, and dissected. But, nothing came forth.
He selected an intellectual rather than a Colonel Tom Parker type (Elvises’ manager) pushy PR man and side show huckster business manager (apoderado).
When the media broke the news the 19,000 tickets for the Monumental in Barcelona were sold out within one hour. The press finally had something to write.
One media pundit nudged another, they winked to a few more and the scoop of the year disseminated across the internet quicker than Paris Hilton stripping at a fireman’s ball. A media frenzy followed with the event being blown up larger by each Tabloid looking for top billings to interest the romantics that still love reading something about Spain that isn’t a property swindle. Sunday Times sent representatives to view it as did NBC, BBC, SKY and plenty of broad sheets. Not to be out manoeuvred the Soaps and heart magazines quickly followed. What was initially headlined “corrida of the year”; became “fight of the generation” and then corrida of the century.
For his disciples and followers a ticket became a must thing to have and cherish. In the macho taurine world having a pass was more important than getting laid on prom night. If you couldn’t go, you had better have major surgery scheduled or a dieing mother.
In the end some two hundred plus accredited media invaded the abandoned plaza de Toros that hadn’t been filled for almost a generation.
Catalonia, the regional government had been in the news lately because they are sincerely trying to ban the “fiesta national”. They don’t believe in it nor nationalism either. So Jose Tomas’ decision scored a double whammy bull bellow in their faces. Animal activist quickly grouped and marched, some two to three thousand. They stayed on their side of the street and chanted “assassin” and “bull murderer”—but never set foot from the curb to cross the street into a highly charged and very apparent macho crowd.
If the return of Jose Tomas wasn’t enough to generate the success of the day the supporting Toreros were an attractive lot. Finito de Córdoba yearning to be the 6th Califa of Córdoba and everybody’s most promising aspirant; genetically born and engineered, the next great Torero from the Ronda school one Cayetano Rivera Ordonez, whose own father, Paquirri, (who died in the ring) had become a full matador in the same plaza. Cayetano would enter the Catalan capital with montera (hat) in hand as a first time torero to the Monumental.
By 12.00 noon the Plaza de Toros and surrounds were already packed by “would be ticket seekers” and ardent disciples unable to contain their anxiety. Scalpers were getting rich with andanadas (high up) going for 300 Euros for a 22 Euro seat and much lower and nearer the action I heard of one Mexican paying 3200 Euros for his seat. A buzz filled the air like no other in recent years. It was the second coming.
Those who do not understand the art of tauromaquia will never know what pleasures they have missed by not witnessing a man armed with only a cloth cape wrapped around a wooden stick performing acts of bravery and daring; breathtaking antics while the most legendary of ferocious beasts, honoured throughout history for its strength, intensity, rage and viciousness charged time after time. Those who don’t attend the fiesta brava will never know the spine chilling emotional catharsis that a true aficionado can experience, albeit an emotional substitution for what the Matador is truly risking. And no matter how distinguished and exciting he performed, if he doesn’t cross directly over the horn, risking his life to the whim the animal might abruptly rise it’s horns during (the moment of truth) he will garner no awards or appreciation.
So be it, I have heard that there have been men who have never stood tall, swore or competed at anything but lived the pure Kafkaesque existence, a mundane life riddled by moments of habit and ungracious routine (smoked cigarettes, read the newspaper, drank coffee) and died.
Barcelona, June 17th was a unique and unusual atmosphere.
Everyone in attendance was a fan, if not a true follower, an expert, a famous personality, a bull reader or a worker on a ranch. I will allow them to tell you the historic events that transpired that day. In short, Finito de Córdoba on the greatest stage imaginable “whimped” out again, killing poorly on both bulls. It was the young Cayetano, who cut 4 ears and rose to the grand occasion. Cayetano was superb and sublime and was magisterial with the sword. Yet he still didn’t steal the show from the magic of José Tomás.
The one thing that makes José Tomás different from all the rest is that he has put the human absurdity, courageousness and daring back into the art of Torerar.
It was the great Belmonte, back in the 20s who initiated the modern era of caping bulls, in that he was gallant and daring enough to stand in front of the bull, put his weapon, the red flannel cloth off centre and then entice the bull to charge. The toro simply had to charge around the man to get at his enemy--the cape. This in short is what makes José Tomás so incredibly distinct.
Some on the inner sanctum still refer to him as AIR TOMÁS, for the fact that in almost every Corrida he is flipped or gored because he makes the bull do things and perform his way. Complete domination or constant peril for the torero.
The critical but intelligent observer knows that bulls just can’t turn that way, hence appreciate, Jose Tomas. Those with no attachment to a wife or football club usually fall into the category of adoration and undeniable worship— nevertheless, JT takes the risks that few others consider.
To those myriads of fans who adulate El Cordobes (MD) when he throws his cape away and drops on his knees just inches away from the nose of the bull … just don’t understand that he has positioned himself exactly in the bull’s major blind spot. In fact, he could get naked and read a book and never be noticed by the Toro. For me, it is not true Toreando. Nor is it for those hundreds of populist matadors who actually put the cape constantly directly in front of the bull, while they position themselves well to the side, swing the muleta past them while stepping into the bull to appear as if they are fighting in the danger zone. Nor killing badly, risking his life to go directly over the horns, its a cheat, cop out! José Tomás forces the bull to cross over and invade the human areas. It might be suicidal, (that is entirely another discussion) as he is thrown if not gored in almost every corrida.
Of all the fotos I did that special day, this one stands out as the best example of Jose Tomas torera: notice his feet and the left arm. Where else can he take the bull but across his own space, almost—right over him. El Cordobes (MB) knew these movements too, but found it easier to please the public 90% of the time rather than the true aficionados. Notice the position of his body in front (easily-get-at-able) before the muleta (cape), especially with the position he strides. Jose Tomas has been taken to heart by true aficionados because they know the angles of the charge, cape and where he can take the bull: either a brilliant pass or a trip to the clouds.
Now that I have told you, explained all—I will clarify. It is my conception of what TOREANDO is all about. And it most certainly leaves a lot of “publicly popular crowd pleasers” in the plaza enchanting the unworldly while I repose across the street in a friendly bar. “Pega pasos” (shoving the cape directly in front of the bull and standing to the side), dropping to their knees after the horns have passed, leaning in with the traje de luces (suit of lights) to obtain a blood paint job and killing poorly-- is really for the weekend amateurs. I want true danger and fright and swift kills.
What does the maestro himself say: “I do not want to establish any records. This profession is about “sentiments” and “sentiments” cannot be found in the Guinness book of records.”
For me the fiesta brava is only about feelings. In my own defence I am taking what the world presumes TOREANDO to be and insisting it is!
Copies of fotos can be obtained by writing Jennifer on