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Aja' toro! An appreciation for the life of Juan Pedro Domecq Solis, breeder of fighting bulls, bringing artistry to death. Dead at 69, April 18, 2011.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author's note: To add an extra dimension to this article, go to any search engine to find Rita Hayworth singing "Verde luna" from the 1941 version of "Blood and Sand" with Tyrone Power. It is the story of a torero and the woman who mesmerizes, then deserts him. He dispatches bulls with consummate skill and artistry; she does the same thing to him. The result is the same: death in the afternoon. Ole'!

Death was fiery and quick for Juan Pedro Domecq Solis,a head-on collision with a truck, both vehicles going at breakneck speed, the better to reach eternity faster.  And so the man known to aficionados of the corrida known simply as "Juan Pedro" died... the 7th member of his family to die in traffic accidents, including his son, Fernando, and a nephew.  The man who presided over an industry of death was now dead...  Sadly, we shall never know whether that death lived up to his exacting standards... the standards on view any Sunday during bullfighting season.

Sunday at Seville's Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza (finished in 1765).

You are in Seville, Spain now; it is any Sunday from Easter through October. You are making your way, along with thousands of the faithful, to the epicenter of bullfighting,the most majestic,historic, prestigious site for these ancient rites. You can see the elaborate architecture blocks away... the very stones which for centuries have witnessed the artistry and skill of generations of toreros... as well as young bodies, dead in the sawdust in their own blood.

This is the realm of Juan Pedro Domecq Solis... the man whose job was to produce the bulls that delivered what you came for: a good kill, an exciting kill, a kill that brought you to your feet, waving your white handkerchief, over and over again before death descended on the bull... or the torero. Either way the body dragged out to make way for the next fight, the next thrill, the next kill.

A dynasty of breeders.

Juan Pedro Domecq Solis was born in Seville on April 10, 1942 and grew up in Jerez de la Frontera, 15 miles northwest of Cadiz. He studied Engineering for a year in Seville before moving in 1959 to Madrid, where, in 1966, he completed his studies in Agriculture at the Escuela Especial de Ingenieros Agro'nomos. In 1972 he moved to Barcelona to study business management at the Institute of Higher Business Studies.

By then he had already taken over the management of the other notable aspect of his family's farming business -- vines. "We are a family that began making sherry in the 18th century," he said. "But we always had a second passion, the breeding and selection of livestock."

The Veragua "iron" (or brand, associated with the family's estate) is every bit as old as the Domecq family's history in sherry. In 1755, in Seville, Gregorio Va'zquez created a mixed herd of bulls. This herd was acquired by Juan Pedro Domecq y Nunez de Villavicencio in 1930. It was his son, Juan Pedro Domecq y Diez, who revolutionized bull fighting by breeding animals that "struggled until death." Until then bulls were bred for their power and aggression when faced with the mounted picadors of the first act of the fight, whose lances wound the bull in the neck, weakening it.

But the Domecqs were visionaries; they didn't just breed bulls... they were artists, creating with their bulls moments of grandeur, beauty, courage -- and death. This meant breeding just the right bulls for the toreros, the bulls which would "understand" their roles and work to exult the torero and entrance the crowd. Breeding just the right bulls was absolutely essential to achieving the results they had so clearly in mind. These results included the awe-inspiring close passes and the daredevilry that form the modern bullfight.

The Domecqs, dreamers, perfectionists, artists considered themselves the people who, above all others, maintained, preserved, and enhanced a great tradition of immemorial Spain. They wanted perfection... and they were prepared to be diligent, focused and, above all else, patient to get it... one bull at a time.

Domecq Solis takes charge.

After Juan Pedro Domecq y Diez's death in 1975, Domecq Solis inherited a small fraction of the herd -- 84 cows and four bulls.  -- "Ojalado", "Desgranado", "Garabato", and "Rancherito". From these four bulls he meticulously drew out the traits established by his father. He developed a genetic database of his herd in partnership with the veterinary faculty at the Complutense University in Madrid. He was determined that his animals should be fit enough to last the 20 minutes of any fight, the 20 minutes the torero needed to show the courage, boldness, evanescent beauty and transient artistry of his craft. Towards this end, he ran his bulls daily to build up their endurance. Slowly, the definitive "toro artista" emerged...

Traditionalists were, of course, outraged; they wanted what they had always wanted, bulls that show "courage" in death. But Domecq Solis understood that to live and thrive, this ancient blood sport had to keep and expand its audience. This meant breeding bulls that would act their appointed role: to showcase the torero and give him every opportunity to dominate the arena, the bull, and the audience. It is no wonder that when toreros saw the "V" brand on the bull racing towards them, they smiled; fate had handed them just the right bull, a Domecq bull, the bull that would -- with its broader shoulders and slender waist -- make them a star...  perhaps even immortal.  For such an end every particle of who they were and what they could do was required.   "Death in the Afternoon" by Ernest Hemingway (1932).

In his definitive book on bull fighting this is what that ultimate aficionado wrote:

" The chances are that the first bullfight any spectator attends may not be a good one artistically; for that to happen there must be good bullfighters and good bulls; artistic bullfighters and poor bulls do not make interesting fights, for the bullfighter who has ability to do extraordinary things with the bull which are capable of producing the intensest degree of emotion in the spectator but will not attempt them with a bull which cannot depend on to charge..."

Juan Pedro Domecq Solis and his family (including his son and heir Juan Pedro Domecq Moreno) have created the essential bulls about which Papa Hemingway was writing. Their vision and the genes of their bulls now dominate a sport very much under attack and perhaps fated for oblivion. But till that day dawns, toreros will continue to excite a crowd with their moves of danger and grace -- but only because the bulls, Domecq bulls, cooperate and embrace their fate, to the gratification of the audience, shouting ole' at every breathtaking pass.

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