Chicago bullfighters honor Hemingway

Two new bullfighting passes named for prolific author

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

In an homage to literary hero and Oak Park native Ernest Hemingway, the Amateur Bullfighters of Chicago, in collaboration with the Chicago Tauromachy Club, have created two new bullfighting passes called the "Hemingway natural" and "Hemingway de pecho." When bulls charge, matadors use specific techniques to avoid contact, resulting in a "pass."

"We wanted to name these new passes to honor Hemingway," said Oscar Lopez-Hoyos, Amateur Bullfighters of Chicago founder and Chicago Tauromachy board member. 

A bona fide bullfighting aficionado, Hemingway saw his first fight in 1923 while visiting Pamplona, Spain. The experience sparked a lifelong passion and respect for bullfighting in the author, who went on to befriend many famous matadors.

Hemingway also wrote extensively about the art of bullfighting. His non-fiction "Death in the Afternoon" is widely considered to be one of the best books ever written on the subject, and the bullfighting scenes in "The Sun Also Rises" provides excellent analytical fodder for literature classes and bookworms.

Bullfighting has many critics, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which sees it as animal abuse. It has become far more controversial than in the decades when Hemingway glorified it.

Such is the respect for Hemingway in the bullfighting community, the "Hemingway natural" and the "Hemingway de pecho" have caught the attention of famous professional matadors. Arturo Macías of Mexico and Spain's Manuel Escribano, Saúl Jiménez Fortes and Curro Marquez have committed to using the two new passes in their next bullfights. 

"We are really excited to watch their performances of the new passes in front of the bulls," said Lopez-Hoyos. "They are some of the bravest bullfighters of the world. The three of them have been seriously gored by bulls several times."

Outside of amateur bullfighting and training, Lopez-Hoyos is an economist and the deputy director for the Trade Commission of Spain in Chicago. Before he immigrated to the U.S., he trained Fortes at the Provincial Bullfighting School of Malaga.

Hemingway's love of fishing helped inspire the "Hemingway de pecho," which looks a bit like casting a fishing line, whereas the "Hemingway natural" is a new take on the "natural," a basic but highly dangerous pass.

Amateur Bullfighters of Chicago and Chicago Tauromachy do not use real bulls or cows when practicing passes. Professional matadors do not practice bullfighting on real bulls either. 

In fact, professional matadors only come into contact with bulls during the actual fight. Bulls are never exposed to more than one fight because they become too dangerous.

The audience may choose to spare the life of bulls that exhibit elegance, bravery and strength during the fight. Those bulls are widely revered and live comfortably on ranches for the rest of their lives.

"Respect to the bull is the landmark of the art of bullfighting," said Lopez-Hoyos. 

For Hemingway and other aficionados, the fight for survival, combined with the elegance of the matador's movements and the sheer power of the bulls, makes bullfighting a ballet of sorts, a tragic and beautiful display of tradition, grace and strength. 

"The first time you see bullfighting, you get engaged with the spectacle, the performance, with the beauty," said Lopez-Hoyos. "It's a very eye-catching event."

Bullfighters prefer the term art to sport when describing bullfighting. Perez compared it to boxing.

"It's emotional," Perez said. "It's not like watching baseball or American football."

Bullfighting requires discipline, concentration and respect, Perez said, the very "principle" of the art. 

"If you don't respect the bull, the bull teaches you to, demands you to," said Perez, who was a banderillero in bullfights back in his native Mexico before moving to the United States. Similar to theater productions, bullfighting takes place in acts. The banderillero comes in before the matador. 

While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other animal rights activists have decried bullfighting as glorified animal abuse, Hemingway saw it differently. "Anything capable of arousing passion in its favor will surely raise as much passion against it," Hemingway wrote in "Death in the Afternoon."

Bullfighters and enthusiasts argue that bullfighting bulls live longer and have better lives than cattle raised specifically for meat. 

"An angus only lives one year," said Lopez-Hoyos. "After that, the owner of the ranch kills it to take advantage of its meat."

"Bullfighting bulls live in semi-freedom, semi-liberty," said Lopez-Hoyos. "The ranches are really big; the average is one mile per two animals."

Bullfighting bulls enter the bullring when they are 4-6 years old. Prior to that, they live on spacious ranches, grazing freely on grass, according to Lopez-Hoyos.

"The purpose of the fighting is to kill them," said Lopez-Hoyos. "But we want to give dignity to this death. We want them to have a chance to defend themselves."

Lopez-Hoyos said he knows that not everyone will understand the art of bullfighting, finding beauty in strength and dignity in death.

But did Hemingway?

"Yeah. Absolutely," said Perez.

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