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Spain Explained

Lectures on Spain, Andalusia and Bullfighting
by William Lyon

William Lyon

Opening a door to the real Spain

An Insider’s View

William Lyon was born in New York in 1940 and visited Spain for the first time 14 years later. In 1962, after graduation from Yale, where he majored in Spanish, he took up residence in Madrid. Over the years he has worked here for, among others, the show-business weekly Variety, United Press International, Time-Life and CBS and NBC radio.

From 1982 to 1986 he was a reporter-editor in the Culture, Editing and International sections of El País, Spain’s leading newspaper, where he frequently wrote about bullfighting: a collection of his feature stories and historical pieces, La Pierna del Tato: Historias de Toros, was published to popular and critical acclaim in 1987 by Ediciones El País. He was also on the founding team of the daily newspaper El Sol, where he headed the editing and bullfight sections, and later was a columnist in the Metro section of El País. Lyon has also published articles in the International Herald Tribune, Connoisseur magazine, The Financial Times, El Europeo and the Spanish editions of Vogue and GQ.

He still lives in Madrid, where he works as a translator and editor of bi-lingual magazines and is co-author of a weekly bi-lingual column in the daily 20 Minutos.

Contact information

William Lyon

Calle Guillermo Rolland, 3
28013 Madrid

Tel. from Spain: 91 541 3309
Tel. from US: 011 34 91 541 3309

Email William Lyon




Photo: Sofía Sánchez Adalid

You have carefully organized a high-end visit to Spain: the best hotels and restaurants, famous art galleries and museums, perhaps a winery, very likely some fiery flamenco. But how much will your group take away about more popular Spanish culture? William Lyon, an American journalist and bon vivant who has lived here since 1962, delivers a fascinating mix of basic information and personal experience to help bring Spain alive and unveil its true character.

There are three basic talks, all illustrated with slides, and they can also be combined in different ways:

1. Spain and its People

2. Andalusia

3. Bullfighting

Lecture 1 Spain and its People

Spain: People and Paella

This amusing account begins with a brief description of central Spain: Castile, the land of Ferdinand and Isabella, of Don Quixote and Sancho, of Velázquez and Goya and of the conquistadores, who planted Spain’s flag and culture in the New World.

But there are other Spains and other Spaniards, some often fiercely nationalistic: the Valencianos with their kitsch and surreal Fallas festival; the industrious and chauvinistic Catalans; the lively and gluttonous Basques; the Galicians eating octopus in their rainy northwest corner of the country... Among other information, Lyon gives some rules for running with the bulls at Pamplona (Rule 1: Don’t).

Finally there is Andalusia, the region most closely associated in many foreign minds with Spain because of its flamenco, horses, and bulls. A quick tour of the Alhambra in Granada, the Mosque at Córdoba, and, of course, Seville and its two emblematic celebrations: Holy Week and the April Fair, with its rivers of sherry and all-night dancing. The talk also includes a few words on the most Spanish of spectacles, the bullfight.

Throughout, Lyon presents the varied food and drink of these different regions — the cider and cheese of Asturias, the pigs of Extremadura, the caution that should be exercised when drinking sherry, the witchcraft involved in creating home-brew in Galicia. He even explains how to prepare that most brilliant culinary creation, the Spanish potato omelet. And he recommends that his talk should be quickly followed by a visit to a restaurant.

Lecture 2 Andalusia

In the Warm South

Southern Spain —Andalusia, or ‘Al Andalus’ of the Arabs, who lived here for close to 800 years— has long provided popular images of Spain: flamenco, horses, and brave bulls.

Lyon begins with a quick tour: the Alhambra in Granada; the mosque at Córdoba, where Christians, Moors and Jews lived together in harmony; Almería, where the ‘spaghetti westerns’ were shot and which now produces much of Europe’s fruit and vegetables under plastic; Huelva, with its delicious smoked “Ibérico” ham that is now popular all over the world; and Cádiz, whose wineries produce its sherry.

Above all, there is Seville: Spain’s most Italian city, its Naples — so exquisite, an Arab poet wrote, that if someone wanted to find bird’s milk, this would be the place. It was the setting for operas by Bizet, Beethoven, Rossini and Mozart; Velázquez was a native, and Cervantes portrayed its rakish side. We see the Cathedral and the magnificent Moorish Giralda tower, the symbol of the city.

Lyon also examines the equine culture here, and the raising of the bulls — Sevilla specializes in both.

Most importantly, he presents Sevilla’s two emblematic celebrations: the stunning Holy Week, with its processions and religious fervor, followed almost immediately by the April Fair, Spain’s premier spring fiesta, with its drinking and dancing and daily bullfights in the fabled Maestranza ring.

This leads to an examination (with amusing examples and opinions pro and con) of the southern concept of ‘duende’, the dark, mysterious quality said to lurk in flamenco and bullfighting and whose most approximate equivalent in English might be “soul”.

Lecture 3 Bullfighting

Death in the Afternoon

Ernest Hemingway claimed the bullfight was "the only thing that has come down to us intact from the earliest times.” The poet and playwright García Lorca called it "the last serious thing."

This talk starts with a brief history of the bulls: first painted in the caves by primitive hunters, later worshipped in many different cultures, and finally —the great Spanish contribution— played on foot and from horseback. We see how the modern fighting bull was virtually invented by the first 18th-century breeders and how it has developed over the years, and meet the key matadors who created something that many aficionados consider a sublime art, albeit a fleeting one.

Equally interesting is the cultural and political analysis of the fiesta, “with roots so deep and extensive that there is no social or artistic activity where traces of it cannot be found,” as one authority put it. Toreo has always reflected the society around it, and we see how the establishment has always used bullfighting for its own purposes, and how the Church first tried to ban it and then adopted it. Here too are some of the great artists —Goya, Picasso, Botero— who have found inspiration in the bulls.

And at a time when bullfights are just one more urban entertainment —held in covered, air-conditioned rings, and under increasing attack from animal rights activists— what might the future hold?

NOTE: To better know this fascinating world, it is also possible to visit a bull ranch and watch the fighting of some small cows by a professional torero. Likewise Lyon is available to accompany small groups to the rings in Madrid or Sevilla for a formal bullfight.

Contact William Lyon

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