Sketches of Spain: My Money Is On The Bull

In my last blog I mentioned that I bought tickets to see the bullfights, complete with Hamletlike equivocation. While writing that post I thought I could have included the bull on my ramblings about being outside but no, the bull-he stands alone. Besides by now you might have realised that everything has a backstory with me.

I had switched hotels half way through my trip, switched is a euphemism for I had only booked for two nights in the vain hope that I might decamp to Bilbao and try to squeeze in its famous Guggenheim on this trip. But after a full day in Madrid I realised I could not do this town justice with two days so I scrambled around and got new digs on Saturday morning. As luck would have it while taking the scenic route by bus away from that hotel I passed what I thought was a football arena. Nope, not at all. This was and is the Plaza de Toros and it is huge.

The House of the Premiere League

The House of the Premiere League

But it was so quiet and somewhere in my head I thought I had read there was no more bullfighting in Spain. Methinks that would be akin to abolishing dancehall in Jamaica or fish and chips in England. Not. Going. To. Happen. Yet there were no advertisements about it and I can’t say my Lonely Planet Guide talked it up much. Not to worry at 11 a.m. there are lines at all counters and elderly Spanish gentlemen stylishly dressed are sitting in the shade of some guy named Jose’s statue. Now allow me to make it clear, I do not eat meat and I abhor violence but between Ernest Hemingway, that classic Tyrone Power technicolour Blood and Sand ( see the 1941 trailer here- God I loved those Sunday matinees) and author Frank Yerby there was really no way I was going to be staying five minutes walking away from the bullfights and not see it. And yes I want the closest possible seat too. Son o sombra? Sun please. Thanks. Gates are at 17:00 hrs and corridas at 18:00. Enough time for me to go to El Rastro and back.

After I lug my takings from the market back to the hotel, I get my flask of Appleton V/X, wished I had bought a hat or sunglasses when I had the chance then hasten to the arena. I cannot believe how excited I am. To see this cruelty and remember I don’t even eat meat. Though to concede on grounds of absolute hypocrisy I do like leather goods too much (the Free Woman is leather).

Not Excited About This Bullfighting Thing At All

Not excited About The Bullfighting Thing At All

It is good to be early, to see Madrid come out for a Sunday evening, the very old and the very young are here. Most of the women are stylishly dressed and some as they are helped to the stone seats of the arena are looking down the barrel of the very near hundreds. These seats do not have back supports but the experienced have their own patterned cushions which they remove from bags before making themselves comfortable. I buy my can of coke, cup with lots of ice, pour myself a drink in honour of my absent brothers in Jamaica who would also relish this experience and settled myself on my newly rented cushion.

This world is so masculine I can taste the testosterone in the air. When the band starts playing and the players file out it is clear this is not the arena for gender politics. But yet when the games begin one can see there is a division of sorts. Yes the matadors, picadors and their other helpers are all men but when the bull enters the ring there is really only one alpha male there. The rest are dancers, coquettes who tease, call and retreat, wave their pink capes as a senorita would with her fan. The matadors’ backs are so straight that they bend, their chests puffed forward and they coo or command Toro and toss their hair to show disapproval. The gold braiding on white, green or pink backgrounds can only be worn by matadors. But in their tight pantalons, tiny slippers and mincing gaits I think the bull knows who’s the daddy. A native madrilèno explains it all to me and I am grateful. What is important is to have a brave bull and an elegant fighter and even though today’s contests features the second division with a half full stadium Madrid will still come out because magic can happen at anytime.

Atavism versus Avatar

Atavism versus Avatar

There were six fights or corridas that evening, three matadors with two bulls each. Of the six only one was worthy of me, the crowd and the bull, this matador fought well enough to have been given that bull’s ear. Senor Madrileno said I was lucky to have seen an ear at my first fight. The others and even that same matador in his second fight was considered muy mal or as one of my other guides advised he should have been given to the lions so poor was his technique. Fit only for the village fights one of my guides scoffed as he explained that whistles are not a good thing.

And I got it. I got that this bull who has lived for four or five years in the lap of bovine luxury, bred for the exclusive purpose of dying on this stage must have a death which is worthy of it. He must not end his life hacking up his lungs because of poor sword play by a nervous fighter. Since you must kill him; be quick and be clean. I saw too much of the former but the one view of the elegant fighter, with beautiful passes to warrant the oles and the ear was enough to make me answer in the affirmative the question most asked of me that evening. Le gustan?

No, not liked. I loved it.

2 Responses to “Sketches of Spain: My Money Is On The Bull”
  1. David D. says:

    Glad to know you are enjoying life, but cant support bullfighting at all. If the bulls had swords too, then maybe, but…… Its no more fair (or romantic) than a gunman stalking a child around the community, then shooting one leg at a time before killing it……….. Sorry. Line drawn there. Spain needs to get over itself and join the civilized world. No living thing should be killed for the entertainment of others.

    • I will tell you this. I went there wanting to hate it for some of the reasons you raised. It certainly isn’t fair and the bulls should have swords. But they don’t and I liked it anyway. Ahh the inconsistency of the human heart. And no it isn’t like shooting a child in a community. I come to grips with my hypocrisy too because I still don’t think they should be killed to make your steaks or my shoes either. But yet….

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