Passing feather-footed through the plashy fens of life, sniffing out curiosities, amusing trifles and scandals from the worlds of culture, politics, news and sport
Sunday, August 01, 2010
Death (and tapas) in the afternoon
Sunday lunchtime and a special treat for you. The papers reported last week that Catalonia has outlawed bull-fighting, which I think is a crying shame. It must leave the bulls with a curious dilemma, too, a combination of relief that they won't be butchered for sport, coupled with existential angst about their life's role now that they will no longer perform on a Saturday afternoon for an audience. It must be similar to being an actor in Last of the Summer Wine.
I've never been to a bull fight, but wrote about it here a couple of months back and would love to see it one day. I went to a bull ring out of season a few years ago and while unable to see the sport was able to sample a by-product in the form of some delicious bull's blood black pudding.
Anyway, if bull-fighting is to be replaced by something more acceptable to vegans, this gives me an ideal opportunity to reproduce (slightly cut down to save space) a marvellous monologue by Michael Flanders on the cruel sport that is the Andorran festival of olive-stuffing. Read on and enjoy...
FLANDERS: I bought this hat last year when I was on the Franco-Spanish border, in the tiny principality of Andorra. It's worn like this - with the peak at the back - and it is in fact the proud distinguishing mark of the Andorran olivador, or olive-stuffer.
How many of you, as you toy with a dry martini at the bar, have thought of the romance that lies behind the simple stuffed olive, or have witnessed, as I have, the almost unbearable drama of a corrida d'olivas, or festival of olive stuffing.
In Andorra, every boy hopes that he, too, will grow up to be one of the truly great oliveros. Let me now try to recreate for you something of the atmosphere of a corrida d'olivas.
By three o' clock in the afternoon, the stands in the great Plaza d'Olivas are packed and excitement mounts as the band announces the entry into the arena of the olivador. He is closely followed by his assistants, the picador, with his pick of sharpened wood, and the matador, with his small round mat.
They bow to the Presidente Municipale, who gives the signal for the trumpet to sound, and the first olive to be wheeled in. A gasp goes up; for this is no ordinary olive. This is the giant, pendulous oliva brava, specially bred for the ring in the rugged foothills of Andalucia.
A corrida d'olivas is divided into three parts, or tercios - the first, a tercio of quites, or passes. Here, the olivador, keeping the rest of his body entirely motionless, passes the olive from hand to hand, trying to soften up its tough outer skin, in a bewildering series of Veronicas, Naturales, Media Veronicas, Veronicas Reverso.
The trumpet sounds a second time, this time the tercio de banderillos, and now it is the turn of the picador. Planting his feet firmly together in the sand, he holds his pick at arm's length and prods into the olive, trying to determine whether the stone runs true up and down, or whether it is set at an angle, favouring one side, the dreaded oliva revoltosa.
The trumpet sounds a third and last time, for the tercio del muerte. The olivador bows again to the Presidente, saying to him, "I dedicate to you this olive". He then places it on his knee; he takes the pica, raises it high above his head. All is hushed. And then, in one sudden movement, he brings it jabbing down into the heart of the olive. And a great cry goes up of "Olé!" - he has made an 'ole.
But before the gutted olive can fall to the sand it is caught by the matador on his mat, dragged out of the arena, and handed to the estufadores, who are of two types: the estufadores pimentos, and the estufadores anchovas.
No olive is ever allowed a second time into the arena. And woe betide the olivador whose olive is revoltosa. For then, at the moment of pica, the pick, glancing off the angled stone, will jab hard - ungh! - into his own knee.
A cruel sport. Some may think it so. But this is surely more than a sport, this is more than just a vital art form. What we have experienced is total catharsis, in the acting out of that primeval drama of man pitted against the olive.
And as the sun sets over the now empty Plaza d'Olivas, nothing is left but a few footprints in the hot sand, with here and there a tell-tale smear of olive oil. And one is reminded of those immortal words of Garcia Lorca "all lust and life must pass away, to make a cocktail canape."
And this hat - this hat was introduced by perhaps the greatest olivero of them all, Flaminguez. Who, at the very moment of pica, would give a deft twist to the wrist, which sent the sharp olive stone flying high into the air. And this peak is to stop it going down the back of the neck.