Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Olé ! Islero the Bull gets his Revenge....

On a day in August 1947, in the town of Linares in southern Spain, a great bullfighting spectacle is about to take place. In the red corner: the bulls from the famous ganaderia of Don Eduardo Miura. Facing up t0 them in the blue corner, their bloodthirsty matador adversaries: Manuel Laureano Rodriguez Sandez, known as MANOLETE; Luis Miguel DOMINGUIN; and GITANILLO de Triana (Rafael Vega).

Manolete and Dominguin are two of the most celebrated matadors of their age. Manolete is 30 years old, but with a sad countenance that makes him looks ten years older. Dominguin is 21, and is at the height of his glittering career. Gitanillo is less celebrated, though he has a growing list of bulls' deaths on his conscience.

The first paso is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dressed for the kill, our three heroic matadors salute the 10,500 spectators baying for blood. The bulls, meanwhile, the true stars of the 'spectacle', knowing they are about to die, send farewell tweets to their followers on Twitter, and then smoke a final cigarette. But it is Islero the Bull who is particularly miffed, as he only present at the specific request of Manolete. Already Islero is plotting his revenge.

The contest begins. Gitanillo is the first to draw blood, killing his bull in just 15 minutes. Olé! Manolete is next to enter the arena, and in two passes sends a second victim to the Great Bull Graveyard in the Sky. Then the young Dominguin makes it 3 to the Matadors, Zero to the Bulls. Olé! And then the star of the corrida makes his entrance: ISLERO, 500 kilos of angry beast! A fearful adversary, the more so as his blood is boiling at the massacre of his innocent comrades. His threatening horns want just one thing: REVENGE!

Facing Islero is Manolete. The two adversaries size each other up. Islero brushes against Manolete, makes him shiver. Manolete realises that he is up against a fearsome foe. Time to call in the picadors to soften him up. 

The picadors on their horses stab Islero's neck with their lances. Islero feigns fatigue, and the picadors, thinking their job is done, leave the arena. Now the real contest can begin.

The adversaries continue to spar with one another. Islero makes several charges, testing Manolete's defences. To please the spectators, Manolete takes great risks, indulges in his speciality, the manoletina, in which he holds his muleta in his left hand behind his back. Then, suddenly, Islero lowers his head and charges at Manolete. But Manolete is on his toes and responds by pushing his sword into Islero's neck.

'Is that your best shot?' says Islero, tauntingly, in imitation of Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4.0, his favourite movie. Then Islero raises his body, stamps his hooves in an Ali shuffle, and then charges once more at Manolete and this time plunges his horns into his enemy's groin.

The crowd rise to their feet in stunned silence as their hero flies through the air, then falls to the ground, blood streaming from the wound. Bulls around the world, watching the spectacle of satellite TV, let out a collective and spontaneous 'Olé!' But Islero, too, is greviously wounded. Standing above Manolete, about to give up the ghost, he utters his last defiant words: 'Don't you ever fuck with me and the brothers ever again!' But the crowd's only concern is for Manolete. Talk about sore losers!

Manolete is rushed to the infirmary. He is given a blood transfusion - but it is the wrong blood group! Doctors arrive from Madrid, but can do nothing to save him. He dies at 5 a.m. the following morning. His last words are: 'My mother is not going to like this.'

Thursday, 22 August 2013

22 August 1911 - theft of the Mona Lisa. Chief suspects: Guillaume Apollinaire and his accomplice Pablo Picasso...

On 22 August 1911, the painter Louis Béroud made his habitual visit to the Louvre art museum in Paris and headed straight to the gallery housing the Mona Lisa, as he wished to make a copy of the world's most famous painting. But when he arrived, his artist's eyes, trained to see things in fine detail, noticed that the painting was missing.

But Louis was unconcerned, and even joked with the guard: 'Who knows where women ever get to? When they're not with their lovers they're with their photographers.' Ha ha ha! However, when, hours later, the lady with the enigmatic smile had not returned, Louis despatched the guard to consult the museum photographer in case he had taken it. The photographer's reply? 'Negative.'

Panic ensued! They've stolen the Mona Lisa! Nom de Dieu! The head of museum security and sixty officers searched the building with a fine tooth comb. Nothing doing! The only clue, a lonely fingerprint on the glass recently installed to safeguard the work from....theft!

The fingerprint is compared with the museum's 257 employees, but there is no match. The museum director resigns and the conspiracy theories commence. The far right sees the spectre of a Jewish plot. The German emperor Wilhelm II is a suspect, at least for one newspaper. A reward of 25,000 francs for the painting's recovery is offered by the Society of Friends of the Louvre. A newspaper doubles the amount. Then someone suggests that the only way to solve the crime is to send for Patricia Cornwell, until it is pointed out that she would not be born until 1956.

But the theft is also good for business, as more 'art lovers' visit the art gallery to look at the empty space than ever came to look at the painting!

Then, suddenly, out of the blue, like a clap of thunder, on 7 September, the police make a breakthrough (or so they think). They arrest the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, sling him in the slammer (or slam him in the slinger), and search his rooms. 

Marie Laurencin and Apollinaire
Painting by Douanier Rousseau (1909)
It seems that years earlier the poet had been the recipient of stolen goods, namely primitive statuettes, allegedly levitated from the Louvre by his secretary at the time Géry Pieret. Present on the day the stash was handed over was Pablo Picasso. Then Pieret disappeared, only to resurface after the theft of the Mona Lisa, when, on 28 August, he visited the offices of the publication Paris-Journal with a statuette that he claimed to have stolen from the Louvre in 1904. The next day Paris-Journal published its article, and Guillaume and Pablo were thrown into a wet panic.

What should they do with the statuette bought from Pieret and obviously stolen from the Louvre? The two men consult. Perhaps inspired by Guillaume's most celebrated poem - Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine / Under the Mirabeau Bridge flows the Seine - they decide to throw it into the river! 

But Guillaume has cold feet. So instead, under cover of darkness, they deposit the statuette at the doors of Paris-Journal, and then make a run for it. 

After his arrest and detention on 7 September, an investigating magistrate decided that Apollinaire was not behind the theft of the Mona Lisa, and on 12 September he was released without charge.

It was not until December 1913 that the true culprit identified himself as one Vincenzo Peruggia, who, while posing under the name of Vincenzo Leonard, tried to sell the painting to an art dealer in Florence. But the art dealer had him arrested and the painting was returned to the Louvre where it resides to this day, as haughty and enigmatic as ever!