Miracle in Seville by James A. Michener

  Miracle in Seville is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

  2014 Dial Press Trade Paperback Edition

  Copyright © 1995 by James A. Michener

  Illustrations copyright © 1995 by John Fulton

  Excerpt from Centennial copyright © 1974 by James A. Michener

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Dial Press Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

  DIAL PRESS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

  Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Random House LLC, in 1995.

  eBook ISBN 978-0-8041-5162-7

  The illustration of Matt Carney was based on a photograph by Jim Hollander.





  Title Page


  First page


  Other Books by This Author

  About the Author

  Excerpt from Centennial

  or two good reasons I did not cable New York a true account of what transpired during that spring feria in Seville twenty years ago. First of all, I could not decide if I had seen what I thought I saw. Did it really happen, or was it the product of a mind made overactive by the feverish festivities of Holy Week? Since I kept my writing headquarters in the gracious Alfonso Trece Hotel, I was not far from that famous cigarette factory where Carmen with the rose between her teeth bewitched the Spanish captain sent to guard her. I could distinctly hear her singing at dusk when I passed her factory, so I might also have witnessed other miracles. Even today I cannot be sure of what happened during that vital, spiritual and social three-week fair the people of Seville call their feria.

  The second reason for my duplicity was more simple, but devastatingly effective in keeping me silent. If I had reported all of what I had seen to my magazine, my boss would have cabled back: ‘Lay off that Spanish wine,’ and the conscientious woman who handled my manuscripts, removing the gaucheries in my prose, would have wired: ‘Stop your medieval dreaming. Miracles don’t happen in the twentieth century.’ I could not afford such ridicule.

  Now, reflecting calmly two decades later, I suspect that what I experienced was some shadowy glimpse of a truth we men do not like to acknowledge: that women possess an arcane power to influence men, making them see visions and influencing them to perform acts they would not normally commit. I’d struggled through a messy divorce and was already contemplating remarrying, so my thoughts were concentrated on the relationships between women and men. Was I translating my own confusion about women into universal truth regarding their potency? Certainly in Seville I witnessed a battle between two powerful women, and to me they remain as forceful as they were when they involved me in their combat.

  I worked in those days for a lively magazine called World Sport, which owed its success to a belief that sports-hungry American men would buy a journal that kept them informed about what was happening in the sporting life of countries they’d never seen. One of my more successful stories had been a riveting account of the brave aborigines on Pentecost Island in the New Hebrides who climbed to the top of very tall trees, then leaped headfirst down to earth supported only by vines lashed about their waist and ankles. Make the vines too long, you dashed your brains out. Make them too short and you dangled in midair, an inept fool who would be ridiculed. Make them just right, and you walked away a champion among men.

  Since I specialized in bizarre stories, it was my good luck to have seen much of the world’s playful nonsense, such as the performance of Argentine gauchos working wonders on the pampas with their bolo ropes, which they could twist perfectly around the rear legs of a galloping horse, or the daring fellows who canoed down the Yukon River during the turbulent spring floods.

  My editor had given me the Seville assignment one morning in March: ‘Shenstone, we’ve decided to send you to Spain for a six-pager on a little-known aspect of bullfighting.’ When I objected that our magazine had carried numerous takes on that sport as it operated in Peru, Mexico, Portugal and, of course, Spain, the boss rebutted me: ‘Sure, Hemingway did that series for Life on the summer-long duel between Ordónez and his brother-in-law Dominguín, and Barnaby Conrad has been effective on the story of Manolete. But what we’ve never had in America is an honest case study of some typical rancher who raises the bulls that fight the matadors, and we think that the roly-poly in this picture from a Spanish magazine might be just the man we want.’

  In the Madrid bullfight magazine he tossed to me I saw the full-moon face of Don Cayetano Mota, owner of the historic Mota Ranch for fighting bulls. He was, the story explained, sixty-eight years old, five feet five, and looked as round as an English toby mug in its three-cornered hat. His thick gray hair was rumpled, just like his suit, and I had the feeling that a man with a build and a face like that ought to be smiling, but he was frowning as if to say: With me, things are not going well.

  I liked Don Cayetano from the moment I saw him scowling at me from the page, an impression that was reinforced when I read additional details about his career: Inherited from his grandfather the distinguished line of Mota fighting bulls whose fame-had been well established by the middle of the last century. Exemplars of the breed constantly appeared in the history of bullfighting. One Mota was immortalized by the great Mazzantini, and vice versa. Mota bulls were prominent in those historic fights early in this century in which Juan Belmonte and Joselito contested for supremacy.

  The article described how the quality of the line had declined so pitifully during the Civil War in Spain that major matadors had begun to spurn the bulls from this once-famous ranch. The decline continued during World War II to the extent that leading matadors of the postwar period, such as the immortal Manolete and the Mexican Arruza, tried to avoid fighting events in which the Motas were scheduled to appear; even superior artists could accomplish nothing with bulls that were inferior.

  When Don Cayetano inherited the ranch in 1953 he had dedicated himself to restoring the Mota name to the glory it had known when Veragua, Concha y Sierra and Mota were the honorable triumvirate of breeders for the plazas of Spain. Unfortunately, Mota seemed to have been waging a campaign that was honorable but doomed—the author of the article wrote that Mota bulls are still more often a disgrace than a triumph. Don Cayetano could take what solace he could from a matchless wall in his ranch north of Seville adorned by the heads of four Mota bulls famous in history. The article was accompanied by a photograph showing the heads handsomely preserved by taxidermists who had polished the deadly horns with wax, and from the photo, which I would want to use in my story, I caught a sense of how majestic and lethal a Mota bull could be. But why were these four special? The text had anticipated my question:

  When a bull has performed in some major ring with unparalleled bravery and the time comes for him to be killed, spectators will fill the plaza with a blizzard of waving white handkerchiefs, pleading with the judge to spare the life of this noble animal, which is then taken out of the ring to spend the remainder of his life in pasture. No other surviving ranch can boast of four indultados. May the time come again, and soon, Don Cayetano, when you will witness another indultado for one of your bulls!

  Within a moment of seeing the photo of the four bulls, I knew how my story should be
organized: I’ll use that word indultados, pardoned ones, for the motif. As the Mota bull is sometimes pardoned, so Don Cayetano can be pardoned for the low estate into which his famous ranch has fallen. And Spaniards will rejoice that he’s made a comeback, or tried to do so. I like this sentence in the caption: ‘When a noble bull is spared, and it happens maybe once in two decades, all Spaniards seem to rejoice, as if Spain itself has somehow been ennobled.’

  I saw the fat little owner, scowling and with shoulders hunched forward as if preparing for battle, as an Everyman who, as the years close in on him, wants to leave behind him some worthy achievement. I would not sentimentalize him, but I would use a portrait of him standing below his four indultados to present a warrior fighting to restore his own life. Folding the magazine pages and stowing them in my gear, I asked the secretary in the New York office who handled our travel to get me a flight to Madrid.

  I was fortunate that I arrived in Spain at a time when bullfighting, notorious for its violent swings from epochs of greatness to periods of shame, was in a relatively stable condition. If it could boast of no transcendent pairs like Belmonte and Joselito of the 1915–20 period or Manolete and Arruza of the 1940s, it did offer three young men worth seeing whenever they appeared in the ring, for you could be sure they would give an honest account of themselves. They were as honorable in their fields as Joe DiMaggio, Red Grange, Paavo Nurmi and Don Bradman had been in theirs, and in one significant aspect the matadors surpassed these other greats because when they performed with the bulls they laid their lives on the line. In this century two of the very greatest matadors, Joselito and Manolete, masters of their art in every respect, were gored to death in the ring as thousands watched.

  The three noteworthy matadors I encountered were smallish, not much over five feet six, an advantage in bullfighting, where quickness and deftness of movement can mean the difference between life and death. These men were highly skilled artists, built more like ballet dancers than athletes.

  Paco Camino was the beau ideal of a matador. Possessed of an elfinlike physique, he was also handsome of face and charismatic in his deportment, exhibiting his skill in the ring with a mesmerizing mix of grace and confidence. On special afternoons he could perform with such perfection that both men and women first gasped at his mastery, then cheered as the graceful Paco circled the ring while the bull he had just killed was dragged away. Nodding to the crowd and flashing a dazzling smile, he would make one tour to the wild applause of the crowd, then another and, at the insistence of the spectators, perhaps a third. On certain memorable occasions, men would leap into the ring at the end of a fight and insist upon carrying him on their shoulders out through the great gates reserved for heroes, saliendo en hombros.

  El Viti—like many matadors of previous ages, he fought under a nom de guerre—was the classicist, a thin fellow slightly taller than his two rivals and whose comportment was marked by a solemnity that never varied. A high priest of the bullring, he was a man of the most uncompromising honor, a figure from ages past who had come into the ring to fight in a mode of classical purity regardless of the quality of the bull he had acquired in the lottery. He presented a remarkable stance when he fought: erect, immobile, face cleansed of any emotion other than dedication to duty, feet fixed in the sand, regardless of whatever ominous moves the bull might make. He seemed at times to be a statue linked with the wild bull in some mysterious way. Men who loved bullfighting revered El Viti for his classic purity and, even more, because he alone still practiced the most difficult feat in the ring, killing recibiendo (receiving), which required unbelievable courage and willpower. In the normal final act of killing the bull, other matadors waited till the precise moment the tired bull was about to make a lunge forward, then they also moved forward and leaned in with the sword to gracefully slide safely past the outstretched horns. This in itself is a difficult and dangerous feat. Those who do it poorly land in either the hospital or the morgue, but in killing recibiendo—while “receiving” the bull—El Viti did not move his feet at the final moment. Erect and immobile, he allowed the enraged animal to charge directly at him and impale himself on the sword’s point. This act is so difficult and so dependent upon the lucky coincidence of timing—the bull moving forward directly onto the sword—that nine times out of ten, no matter how perfectly El Viti has performed his part in the tragic ballet, the attempt fails. The sword either hits bone or misses the mark or is deflected by the bull, and the deadly dance must be repeated. No one jeers at the matador, for he has done his part, standing there impassively as the bull charges at him, and I was to see one fight when El Viti, through no fault of his own, failed six times to kill the bull, with the crowd encouraging him to try yet again. But I was also to see him kill on the first try, with the bull falling dead at his feet and the arena exploding with triumphant shouts as if each spectator had somehow participated in this recreation of bullfighting’s historic days.

  The third member of this notable trio was a wild man, as far removed from El Viti as a matador could be. He was El Cordobés, named for his native city in southern Spain, who had discovered early in his life as a street urchin that the bullfight spectators could be brought to their feet by wild exhibitions of daring. Challenging the animal in a dozen tricky ways, his flamboyant histrionics had never before been seen in serious bullfighting. Half circus performer, half matador with superior athletic skills, El Cordobés perfected an exhibitionistic routine that outraged classicists, who wanted to bar him from the plazas, but delighted the crowds, who eagerly crammed into the arenas to see what outrageous thing he would do next. When I first saw him I said: ‘This is preposterous! It’s not bullfighting as I know it! And Spaniards who pay good money to see him ought to be ashamed of themselves.’ But when I chanced to see him fight in a little town north of Madrid, I saw him give a performance that went far beyond the limitations of classical bullfighting but which retained the ancient thrilling glory of this unique form of entertainment: one solitary man poised against a maddened bull to be slowly and artfully bent to man’s will. After a series of awesome maneuvers by both man and bull, El Cordobés had killed with a single thrust, and I had joined the crowd’s ecstatic explosion.

  So when I reached Spain to write my article on the rancher Don Cayetano Mota and his stumbling bulls, there were these three matadors worthy of attention: Paco Camino, the charismatic; El Viti, the marble statue of rectitude; and El Cordobés, the daring showman.

  And there was López.

  A lean, long-legged scarecrow of a Gypsy with a scraggly mop of unwashed black hair, Lázaro López was an unlikely bearer of the hallowed name of matador. As a boy of eight in Triana, the Gypsy quarter of Seville, he had roamed the fields about the city with a gang of boys like himself, making forays at night into the carefully guarded bull ranches. By moonlight he and the others practiced the dangerous art of tormenting young bulls to make them charge. Lázaro never mastered the art of keeping his feet bravely planted while the bulls charged at him, but he had devised a score of rather shameless tricks that tantalized the bulls into charging while enabling Lázaro to give the impression that he was honestly fighting them.

  One night when he and his team of young scoundrels had sneaked onto the grounds of the Mota ranch, Lázaro encountered an especially splendid young Mota bull. With the red-and-white checkered tablecloth he had stolen to serve as his cape, the aspiring matador launched a chain of linked passes, one leading beautifully to the next, encouraging the bull to charge the cape again and again. His cheering compatriots spread the news throughout Triana that ‘Lázaro López, the scrawny one, he knows how.’ As a consequence, some older Gypsies who remembered how their Cagancho, also a tall, shifty man, had become a major fighter in the 1920s and won the grudging admiration of the American writer Hemingway, decided to take young Lázaro under their protection. Since these Gypsies were some of the most venal in Triana, they quickly taught their boy a hundred evil devices.

  BECAUSE of my childhood in New Mex
ico and my subsequent work in the bullrings of Spain, I speak Spanish easily and also know the lingo of the plazas, tempting me to throw around esoteric words relating to the fight and making me sound more knowledgeable than I am. My editors always restrain me with a sensible rule of their magazine: ‘If the Spanish word has found its way into Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, use it without italics as an ordinary English word. If it’s not there, don’t use it. Don’t clutter up your manuscript with show-off italics.’

  I generally adhere to that rule, for it gives me most of what I need. Everyone knows toreador, matador and picador, but many may be surprised to learn that ‘corrida,’ for a full afternoon of six bulls, is also English, as well as the difficult words ‘banderilla’ (barbed dart) and ‘banderillero’ (the man who uses it). I was happy to find that the word for the small red cloth used at the end of the fight, ‘muleta,’ has now been anglicized; I often needed it. I refused to lose faena, which designates the matador’s entire work in the important last act of the fight, but I could do without alguacil, the man on horseback who opens the fight by riding in to ask for the key to the bulls’ corrals. There was one forbidden word that is so Spanish and covers such a distasteful part of bullfighting that I would have to use it, rule or no: bronca. A marvel of onomatopoeia, it sounds exactly like what it designates: the uproarious riot that can occur at a fight when the audience feels that it has been defrauded and wants to kill the matador. In a bronca, with cushions and bottles tossed in the ring, and almost anything else, even human bodies, Spanish bullfighting can be almost as violent as English soccer. Indultado is necessary if one is to deal with the emotion of the fight, and I’m also glad that ‘aficionado’ has become English, for without it I’d miss the spirit of bullfighting. As a bullfight fanatic who goes ape over the spectacle, much like a baseball crazy so intoxicated by his sport that he can even cheer for one of the Chicago teams, I confess that I’m an aficionado.

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