I know. Bullfighting is not cool – even in Spain.
Nevertheless, it was one of my top To-Dos during my recent trip to Spain.
Back in ’75 I attended my first bullfight in Mexico City. I have no photos but I recall it being sold out. People seemed to cheer for or against the bull depending on where they sat. It had the feel of a college football game.
This time I was with my wife in Madrid and the vibe was very different. Bullfighting is frowned upon in much of Spain. The sparse crowd was telling as this was the final event of the season.
In order to understand Spanish history and a Spanish way of thinking, one must understand bullfighting. My explanation isn’t anything I read or was told. It’s just what I was thinking as I watched 8 matches that began shortly after 5 pm and ended around 7:30 pm on Friday, October 12, 2018.
In writing this post I deliberately refrained from researching this topic. I wanted to share my thoughts in an as unvarnished way as I could. That’s why you won’t find precise words for objects or methods used in the bullfight. These are my observations and things I learned at the event.
To say it’s all a ritual is an understatement. Each match looks to be the same but the subtleties are not to be missed. A match begins when 3 matadors (aka toreros) walk out into the bullring. Shortly after, a raving lunatic bull comes charging out. A type of knife has already been inserted in the the back of his cabeza. This could be the reason why the bull is angry and feels the need to charge into everything he can.
The 3 toreros tease the bull. When they get a chance, they stick him with colorful knives I called jabbers. These are placed near the original knife at the top of the spine. The bull gets angrier and eventually finds the horse and jockey which have somewhat unnoticeably snuck into the arena. The horse is protected with a type of padding that makes it impossible for the horns to penetrate. The bull takes a few shots and occasionally jostles the horse and the jockey but they are never in serious jeopardy.
After this initial engagement – which lasts about 5 – 10 minutes – the matador appears. All attention focuses on him and his colorful getup as the toreros, horse, and jockey slip away. We won’t see the toreros again unless the matador gets in a little trouble and calls them for assistance – something he’d rather not do.
Now the pas de deux between matador and bull begins. Each will dance around the other with the matador waving his red cape and concealing a long knife. It is all about machismo as the matador bravely turns his back on the bull – all done for show.
The matador teases the bull in every way he can. I can hear him yell at the bull.
This is an entertainment for the crowd.
The matador eventually gets his chance to use his knife and stabs the bull in the location of the other knives and jabbers. If the bull staggers and falls but gets back up, the crowd will love it more than anything. They’re here for a good fight even though they know it’s rigged.
Sooner or later – usually sooner – the bull succumbs. If there has been suspense, if the bull has put up a good challenge, all will be satisfied.
When it’s over, chains are wrapped around the bull and he is unceremoniously dragged off to who knows where.
End Of An Era
Bullfighting is dying in Spain.
It’s something most are not proud of. Many cities have banned it. Mention bullfighting to a millennial and you’re going to get a disapproving look.
While in Barcelona – the Catalan region of Spain which has a very strong separatist movement – I asked a local why bullfighting was banned in Barcelona.
“It’s too Spanish” was the reply.