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At the heart of the bullfighting world, and at the height of every bullfighter's aspiration, there is a sort of pantheon, an inner sanctum reserved for the few who have earned the title of torero de �poca—matadors, that is to say, with whose names a whole epoch will be associated.
Within living memory, not more than five new names have crept on to this golden list: Joselito and Belmonte, in the great days of their rivalry; Domingo Ortega, the master of the '30s; Carlos Arruza, the Mexican all-rounder; and, of course, Manolete, who died 12 years ago on the right horn of a Miura bull. The tally is short, and you cannot buy your way on to it. Several matadors in the past decade have commanded prices as high as Manolete's: but it takes more than that to satisfy the inner circle of aficionados, those obsessed taurine purists who follow the bulls all summer long, often to the despair of their families, sometimes to the ruin of their businesses. Nor is valor, however insensate, enough; nor, by themselves, are grace, technique and dominating power. The torero de �poca must have all these, working consonantly together. He must also endure. A couple of dazzling seasons, followed by prudent retirement, are not enough for an epoch maker. Finally, and least definably, his style must be personal; inimitable without being eccentric.
In the years immediately after Manolete's death there were many who thought that Luis Miguel Domingu�n might qualify; and, certainly, no one alive knows more about the handling of fighting bulls than this tall, contemptuously handsome Castilian. But with his knowledge there went an academic coldness and a style that was a rubber stamp rather than a signature. Something was missing: and Luis Miguel, the self-proclaimed N�mero Uno, did not help matters by taking a long holiday after officials decided to enforce the old taurine code which barred clipping and blunting bulls' horns, a repulsive modern safety measure that had become prevalent. Last summer, gambling a fortune on publicity, he made a full-fledged comeback. And very impressive it was: there were afternoons of textbook classicism. It was also too late. For last summer the word had gone round. The drums of the afici�n, not only in Spain but wherever bull fever rages, were all beating in unison for the first time in 11 years. They were beating not for Luis Miguel but for a young Andalusian named Antonio Ord��ez, who revealed himself, during the Spanish season of 1958, as the first undisputed torero de �poca since the death of Manolete.
The revelation was no overnight affair. Ord��ez was then 26 and had been fighting bulls in public for a decade. Ever since his debut as a novillero he had been recognized as a suave and infinitely dexterous performer, possessed of a buoyant, chivalric quality that made one think of giant-killing Jacks and boys on burning decks. He had, almost in excess, the attribute known as garbo, which an English enthusiast once defined to me as "a lithe, devil-may-care grace that hits the nail on the head, really and happily, with no more than the precisely appropriate eye-filling flourish." But among the critics there had been qualms. Antonio was prone to fits of apathy; his killing was more often feeble and erratic than solid and foursquare. In 1953, to top everything, he got married, and wives, who like their husbands whole, are notoriously bad partners for bullfighters. Yet last year he summoned up all his powers, the skills we thought he had forgotten, as well as those he seemed never to have learned, and became the best. Apathy was banished: he fought every bull that faced him as intently as if he were proving himself for the first time before an omniscient audience. "I wanted this season," he said to me last October, "to be something special." In 1958 he confirmed the opinion of Ernest Hemingway, his friend and admirer, who thinks him the greatest bullfighter he has ever seen.
His links with Hemingway go deeper than this. In 1926 Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises, a central character of which is a seductive matador called Pedro Romero. The name was lifted from a great seminal figure of tauromachy, born in Ronda two centuries ago, but the character was based on Cayetano Ord��ez, nicknamed Ni�o de la Palma, a popular bullfighter of the '20s whom Hemingway knew well. He, too, was born in Ronda, and he is the father of Antonio. Between father and son there are differences and similarities which we must study if we are to comprehend them. Both, of course, were fearless, but that in itself means nothing. It simply implies a lack of imagination, an inability to envisage the consequences of a slashed femoral artery or a punctured lung. In this sense all good bullfighters are fearless: their minds do not form images of the possible and terrible future. Conventionally, they all say they feel fear, but what they mean by the word is not what I mean. I once heard a girl tell Antonio that she had seen him receive a goring that put him in a hospital for a month. Quite conversationally, he replied: "Didn't it seem to you a pretty thing?" Una cosa bonita: yet if the wound had been a few centimeters deeper he might have died.
It is not courage that makes Antonio unique, but gentleness. This may seem a paradox, applied to a man who last year stabbed about a hundred and fifty bulls to death. Yet he kills with kindness; and he plays his bulls with a generosity that makes them colleagues, not enemies. Every pass announces, as Orson Welles once said of Antonio, "not what I am, but what we are." Alone among star toreros, he eschews arrogance. He never barnstorms, squabbles with the crowd or resorts to phony melodrama. His fighting is calm and contained, its rhythm as casual as that of a bop drummer dusting his cymbals. He is the opposite of what a non-Spanish audience expects a torero to be. Involved as he is in a career which kills men, horses and bulls, he pursues it temperately, with a modest smile. He is of middle height, with elegant shoulders tapering down to light, poised feet; one notices a slight stoop and knees that tend just perceptibly to knock. The face is boyish and considerate, with amused, caressing eyes. Any woman would expect him to invite her to dance. No bull would. Yet he invites both, and both accept the invitation.
Outside the ring he has no hobbies. He owns a Rolls-Royce and a Mercedes and enjoys driving them, sometimes very dangerously indeed; but he is bored by the usual matador's pastimes—riding, shooting and cock-fighting. Disillusioningly, his pet spectator sport is soccer, and one of his ambitions is to see the Bilbao Athletic play in Britain. By Spanish standards he is very rich: he has a nine-room apartment in a smart quarter of Madrid and a 1,000-acre ranch in Andalusia. Meeting him, in fact, for the first time, you would not guess that he had ever had to earn money in his life—you would take him for the slightly pampered son of rich parents. Yet he has been earning since adolescence, and in the hardest possible way. The effort has left plenty of scars on his body, but none on his mind, which is a simple book readily opened.
His father once had the same charm and sweetness, though to see him today you would hardly guess it. Surviving on a small pension paid by Antonio, he is a ravaged and depleted veteran who looks much older than his 55 years. He first fought in 1921, and a year later the great critic Corrochano consecrated him with the phrase: "Es de Ronda y se llama Cayetano" ("He comes from Ronda and his name is Cayetano"). Both place and name have a special resonance in the world of bulls. Ronda, a hilltop city built astride a gorge 500 feet deep, was the birthplace of the Romero dynasty of bullfighters which flourished two centuries ago and changed the corrida from an aristocratic, equestrian sport into a popular art practiced on foot. The name Cayetano has equally imposing overtones: it recalls Cayetano Sanz, perhaps the greatest bullfighter of the middle 19th century.
For a while the young Cayetano lived up to Corrochano's tribute. In 1925 he was the rage of the peninsula, a prodigy of grace and freshness; nobody could resist him, women and critics alike, and many good judges predicted that he would revitalize the fiesta brava. But before long he was brutally gored, and a decline set in. It became precipitate, by what is probably no coincidence, soon after his marriage, in the summer of 1927, to a handsome Andalusian gypsy—the women, as the taurine proverb says, inflict more gorings than the bulls. For whatever reason, his courage dwindled, though he went on fighting until the civil war. The less he earned, the more he spent. He went to the Americas, where he fought himself still further into debt and erotic adventure. By 1932 he had two sons, Cayetano and Juan, and very little money. That was his worst year; he fought only a dozen times. It was the year in which Antonio was born.
For some curious genetic reason, a matador's third son often grows up to outshine his father. Luis Miguel and Antonio Bienvenida are other examples of this. Antonio Ord��ez, with a globe-trotting spendthrift for a father, had strict and obvious reasons for wishing to improve on the paternal example. Both his elder brothers became toreros, neither with much success (Juan now serves in Antonio's squad of assistants). Of his younger brothers, Pepe made a showy Madrid debut but has since, as Antonio says, "lost heart for the bulls"; and Alfonso, a bulky red-faced boy, embarked last year on an exceptionally unpromising career as novillero. None of them is in Antonio's class. He himself would blithely admit this, but he would probably attribute it to the fact that he, alone of the five sons of Cayetano, was born in Ronda. Not that he thinks himself a product of the so-called Ronda school, which is popularly supposed to represent grave simplicity as opposed to the baroque flourishes of the Sevillian school. A famous critic once said of Antonio that his cape came from Seville and his muleta from Ronda. I asked him last year if he agreed. He shrugged and smiled. "My cape is my own," he said, "and my muleta is my own. They come from myself."