La prensa

French superstar Castella displays mystical bravery and determination to triumph

Author: Mark Schwarz
Created: 03 April, 2015
Updated: 13 September, 2023
4 min read

French superstar Sebastian Castella
French superstar Sebastian Castella

Tijuana, B.C. Mexico – 6 bulls of Los Encinos, very well presented but lacking raza (good breeding) and codicia (desire to pursue the capes), for Sebastian Castella (black with black embroidery), Alejandro Amaya (pink and gold), and Octavio Garcia, “El Payo”, (currant and gold).

Novel empresario Andres Lujan and Tijuana Monumental de Playas managing group Casa Toreros presented an excellent card for the unusually early opening of the border season to honor long time Tijuana resident and eminent taurine critic Valeriano Salceda, “Girlades”.

As befits the reputation and widely acknowledged “maestro”, the corrida offered an array of the fundamental essences that make toreo so compelling; the dramatic cornada of Tijuana product Alejandro Amaya, the indulto (pardoning) of the bull “Gasetillero”, a gift bull from the ranch of Fernando de la Mora, whose sweet disposition and tireless pursuit of the lures expertly offered by French superstar Castella, produced a long, delightfully picturesque faena; the continued dedication and solid craftsmanship of the resurgent “El Payo”, and enough details of ring craft and professionalism from the cuadrillas (scattered applause for a picador? In Tijuana?) to satisfy most of the 7,000 or so aficionados gathered to celebrate 50 plus years of dedication and taurine erudition of the 83 year-old radio and television veteran.

Perhaps the biggest draw was Castella, the widely regarded maestro who has become France’s greatest torero, due in large part to his icy, mystical bravery and determination to triumph at all costs. That combination cost him many cornadas early in his career, but his great valor is now supported by excellent technique which has in turn resulted in an ever greater elegance and plasticity in his work.

Indeed, several years ago, while the faena delivered with such ease and naturalness to “Gasetillero” might have been possible, it certainly would not have been expected. But after a period of creative stagnation, Castella has refined his technique and deepened his aesthetic presence.

Even though “Gasetillero” was an almost too-willing opponent, not every torero would have been able to expose or take advantage of that much bull for that long; the passes flowed from both right and left hands in long, sweeping arcs demonstrating total domination and complete abandon. When the crowd began to petition that the bull’s life be spared (in the all too common “indulto”, railed against in these same pages a scant month ago), it was only a matter of time before ring judge Fernando Galvan reluctantly acceded.

Unfortunately, Castella’s luck of the draw with the gift animal had been preceded by a first encounter with a lackluster opponent whose strength gave out early in the faena—an unfortunately common trait throughout the sextet from the normally reliable Los Encinos ranch—and the exasperating broken right horn of what promised to be a good—maybe great—fifth bull, which the public protested loudly but ring judge Galvan correctly did not return to the corrals. With both bulls, Castella demonstrated the professional engagement that has been a hallmark of his career; no crowd too small, plaza too remote, or bull too unwilling; his pact with the Fiesta and with the public is the same.

Surprisingly determined, too, was Amaya, whose bouts of apathy are well documented and which may have prevented his further advancement in the profession. His bulls were not great; the second, from which he received a surprisingly serious 3 trajectory cornada as he entered for the final sword thrust, was particularly exigent; possibly 5 years old, the most serious of a well presented set, “Pelotari” grew wiser as the faena continued.

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Alejandro attempted to work from both sides in good faith, but the effort was fruitless; after a prolonged search to “line-up” the bull for the thrust, during which the animal kept lowering its head as if suspecting the final attack, the goring occurred as “Pelotari” spun Amaya over his head and to the sand, inflicting the mostly dry, but very serious, wound as the matador fell. An ear was cut in recognition of the solid effort and legitimate sacrifice.

Following the disastrous performance in the San Isidro fair of 2012, Octavio Garcia, “El Payo” was, for many, a torero whose career was a surprisingly early burn-out. It wasn’t so much that he had been bad; everyone has a bad performance now and again; it was that he didn’t seem to CARE that incensed Madrid, and with that, his summary dismissal from further serious consideration.

That torero seems almost a parody of the determined, knowledgeable, inspired matador that Garcia has shown in every Tijuana performance since then, during which he has only had one really good bull. No matter; it’s as if every afternoon is a new opportunity to show the real “Payo”, and this Sunday was no exception. No concessions to the gallery, no shrugging of the shoulders or adolescent fits; simply hard-nosed dedication to the reconstruction of one of the more inspiring careers in recent history. A well-deserved ear was cut following a classical faena and excellent sword to “Narrador”, run in 3rd place.

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