SAINT TOMAS WALKS AWAY WITH RHYME and REASON INTACT!
Ric Polansky ©
I am ordained to dress in “luto” (morning). The sand in the plaza will be a bit darker in hue and the crowd gaiety deemed less. Just before the opening trumpets herald the entrance of the fiesta’s commencement a soft sombre tone will cloak my thoughts. Lots of doubt and overly critical examination will surround the performance of any pretender to the throne. Without the maestro the music cannot sound the same. Those of us that made our pilgrimages to witness HIM did so always knowing we would never be disappointed. The celebration between man and beast would be experienced as with no other torero. A catharsis of routine sun and shade living purged—through death-- there was life.
“Saint Tomas” as his ardent band of followers refer to him will not cape the bulls anymore. He has stopped. Walked away. For how long? Rumor versus conflicting street gossip. In his usual pontifical fashion the word initiated from his brother his sword handler who told a highly placed friend in RNE that HE had already said good-bye to his cuadrilla (assistants).
Within moments hourly reports were stuttering on the radio waves and TV flashes of his brilliance were creeping into the evening news reports. No one journalist could get the man himself to authenticate the astonishing hearsay. But, for the record, the news was impossible-- too preposterous to imagine; too unexpected. As the clock ticked and the days groaned making mańana a today the unmentionable seem to grow into a reality in each aficionados mind. The greatest torero since Manolete was no more. Jose Tomas Roman Martinez had left us not in death but in derelict duties to his profession. He didn’t want to pontificate any more and therefore his thousands of learned, zealous and passionate followers became orphaned overnight. Lost. Without direction, without compass, a north star or a truth to measure the rest by.
The world of Tauromaquia was good and comfortable. Evolving at just the right pace. In the village festivals existed young “action filled heroes” of the El Cordobes school that loved leaping about and pleasing the baying crowds. They would swirl their capes, drop to their knees and bump the toro a nose kiss in just the right spot for the bull not to see what was between the cross of his own beastly eyes-- a wild eyed yet to shave young matador or a beat up Ford Escort. In the third rate plazas they loved the show. Most likely 85% of that hysterical mass have never seen a real corrida de toros in a first rate bull ring so would never know any difference.
The world of bulls has it’s niches too for different categories of toreros. There are so many of them nowadays almost all equally competent enough so with just the right toro they glitter like their suit of lights. Morante de la Puebla, Manuel Caballero, Rivera Ordońez, Miguel Abellan—but they are not “toreando de verdad”. There are rugged capers like Pepin Liria and Califa much admired for their personal courage and sense of public bravado. Rising meteorically on the horizon are also the neophyte super athletes, Antonio Ferrera, Juan Jose Padilla, and above all the magnificent El Fandi from Granada, all of whom can place banderillas into the charging hunk of horned death with a deafness and ease that traumatize any spectator’s heart into skipping a beat or two and leave them mouth agape and gasping for breath.
Any hack writer worth his weight in beer should never pen an article about toros unless he mentions the man of the decade for his yearly century of performances during the past ten years. An incredible mark unlikely to be repeated in the near or far off future but Valencia’s Enrique Ponce did just that. And of course there is the young phenomenon Julio Lopez who has caped full toros in front of 125,000 spectators in the plaza de Mexico when he was but sixteen and too young to legally perform in Spain. When El Juli was finally allowed to bring his grown man “sabe” and ten years of experience home he became the only BOY to become number 1 in the first year he appeared as a full matador (killer of bulls).
Still, “Saint Tomas” was different than all the rest. First and financially surprisingly HE didn’t want to become numero uno, the idol to the multitude for his frequency of performance. “Quality not quantity” was a phrase he never stated-- but exhibited. Jose Tomas wanted to limit his corridas to respectable plazas and didn’t want pictures or films done of him unless previously contracted. He was Jose Tomas a man of few words, none of which were for the media of any type or hype. His dignity and legacy is what he did in the ring. His followers became “Tomasitos”.
Jose Tomas had a personal style distinct from the rest: (similar only to Juan Belmonte) HE stood in the direction of the bull’s charge and made the toro reposition itself each time it attacked. Other matadors would throw their capes in front of the animal pass after pass (pega pasos) while they stood cleverly just to the side. In honesty it was the furor of the beast that really controlled the tiempo of the engagement for the others—not the torero. Jose Tomas was complete domination and control of the bull.
Now some bulls didn’t see it that way. Accidents happen. Critics have joked that J.T. spent more time in the air talking with Saint Peter than with his feet planted firmly on the ground. It’s an honest criticism but exaggerates the consequences of what needed to be demonstrated to prove absolute dominance over HIS adversary--control. By positioning himself directly in line with the bull’s forelegs Jose Tomas became a rarity. All other torero’s stand to the side putting the cape in front of the bull’s anticipated rush and sweep their muleta in a well-timed motion. It looks great to the working public but not to the true aficionado. Jose Tomas technique was to blatantly stand inside the horns and position that cape outside so the bull had to charge through and around the man—therefore risking his life each pass of each afternoon.
By doing so HE allowed his followers to ascend with him to the celestial heights of purity through domination of the beast rather than trickery and degenerate passes that show nothing of the human resource of a man armed with but a cloth and personal dignity can do alone with a beast placed in confined quarters and set to destroy anything within range.
Of course he had valor, no one else cared to cape his way. Art is what he made of his passes. But most of all Jose Tomas had honesty which returned the exhibition to the cunning of the man versus the dangerous beast. The bull however poor in quality, angry or blind had his say, his moments could act out his animalistic treachery. The corrida became alive again … the bull in a prime role-- not a secondary one to the matador.
Gored or injured almost every week his own mental anguish must have depleted his psychic resources. There was nothing else that he can do to further his career. The lingering pain and evident scars were visible to all. On rare moments HE even caped liked others; HE wasn’t himself.
Sadly, I saw it coming. No one could continue at that measure for long. Each afternoon and again the next day bathed in glory and adulation but the injuries were constant and almost daily. In Granada he descended as an angel. Tossed twice, bounced around, bruised and ruffled he still cut two ears from an unpredictable toro. In Almeria he did the same, but wasn’t the authentic Jose Tomas. Murcia he was booed out of the ring on bulls he normally would have once again mesmerized and converted. The well had run dry. Quitting was proof of better times ahead. He has still maintained his rhyme and reason. He is off to recuperate. Better that than a punch drunk man of fifty similar passes lacking originality or courage. The angels weep—and so do a good few of his followers. Saints are that way.