My first bullfight

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Mar 20, 2006

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Flag of Spain  ,
Thursday, March 16, 2006


The matador approached the bull, his sword outstretched. With a lunge (his second try) he slipped his sword through the ribcage of the bull and into his heart. The bull looked dazed and confused. He took two steps, looked to his left, and then vomited blood. The crowd collectively gasped and Ashley covered her eyes. "Is it over," she asked? "No," I replied as the bull vomited once, twice more before finally toppling over. I guess what you read about instantaneous death for the bull isn't always the case.


I took Ashley to see the mascleta this morning. The Mr. Pirotecnic guy was particularly talented today, and decided to synchronize his firecracker explosions to the tune of Beethoven's 9th. It was pretty special.

I had gone to get bullfighting tickets for the two of us about a week earlier. The big fights were filling up fast. There were bullfights the entire week of Fallas. There would be another week in May but bullfights were more or less regulated to special occasions in Valencia. There was actually a strong anti-bullfighting sentiment in Spanish government and it seems likely that this venerable institution may not survive for too much longer. Once I reached the head of the line the guy looked at me expectantly. I politely asked for the cheapest ticket possible, and he gave me two in what I assume to be the nosebleed section.

Actually it turned out that, at least compared to a baseball stadium, we had great seats. They ring consisted of stone benches crammed tightly together. I'm not kidding, when you sat down your knees were poking the back of the person in front of you. There was absolutely no aisle room. Good thing we got there fairly early of we would have had to clamber over a bunch of Spaniards. Our "seats" consisted of a six inch space barely large enough for our buttocks painted with a number. Lets just hope there isn't a fire.

The trumpets called and everyone paraded onto the field in all their finery. Everyone I had talked to had told me not to go to a bullfight. But I had to see it for myself. I suppose I could try to justify it but that seems to be pointless. So I won't. I'll just tell you about this aspect of Spanish culture that I witnessed and how it made me feel.

So here's a brief lesson on Bullfighting. There are six bulls that are killed during the 2-3 hour spectacle (like a baseball game). There are three matadors (each gets two bulls). The youngest matador goes first. Each bullfight has three stages, and only the last one involves the matador.

The bull makes a grand entrance into the stadium. The circular arena has several barriers spaced around the outside that provide hiding places for the several men with capes (pink!)that support the matador. Imagine the bull as being a very large kitten. His attention span is three seconds and he'll bound after anything that moves. In fact, the short attention span is what the humans are counting on. With a pair of cape wavers on either side of the barrier, a quick flick will send the bull charging towards the barrier. If the timing is right a series of flicks can send the bull running around the outside of the arena.

As the bull is so distracted, the first group enters the ring. The picadores are men mounted on well-padded horses holding something that looks like a spear. There are two riders that position themselves on either side of the ring. The pink caped fellows then draw the bull out to the center of the ring and entice them to charge towards the horses. Once the bull has rammed himself into the horse (you can see the horse lean into the bull to avoid getting tipped over), the mounted picador slams his spear into the neck of the bull. I have to admit that I thought this would be a little more dramatic. I thought that the horse would dance around or something. But he just stands there. Once the bull has been gouged with the spear (they really grind it in), the cape-wavers then draw the bull away for another run. This is done twice before the picadores leave and the banderilleros enter.

The second stage involves the banderilleros, which are feathered sticks with sharp ends. The bull is again enticed to charge and directed towards the runner. This is pretty dramatic, as the banderillero is completely exposed. The bull and man run towards each other, the banderillero plants the banderillas in its neck, and at the last moment dives aside and out of the way. Two or three of these banderillas, which generally remain planted in the neck, are considered enough.

The two previous stages had the purpose of weakening the neck muscles of the bull, preventing him from using his main weapon- his horns. The bull is woozy and much more docile when the matador enters the ring. In fact, at some points the matador can lead the poor bull around his body in almost intimate closeness. It is a dangerous game, of course, and twice we saw a matador fall on his ass as the bull turned on him. In these cases, the pink wavers must quickly try to distract the bull from taking it out on the helpless matador. The matadors performed some truly amazing stunts, such as getting down on their knees to run a series of passes, or even placing their hand directly on the bulls nose. The matador is a macho creation, and he must face the bull without fear, even try to pretend that he controls it. It has been described as a dance with death. And its beautiful and terrible at the same time. Sometimes you don't know whether you're scared for the bull or the matador.

Once the matador is finished, he received the killing sword from an assistant. All that remains is to kill the bull. This is the most difficult part of the process. The idea is to lunge at the bull from the front, slipping the sword between the rib cage and down directly through the heart. Often the sword bends and bounces outwards, repelled by the ribs. No matador achieved this on the first try. The crowd rewards a quick death and begins to boo a death that takes too long. This can ruin the entire fight if not done properly. Death is supposed to be instantaneous, but didn't appear to be so. Often the bull had to be run around with the capes before falling. If the sword didn't pierce properly, sometimes one of the assistants would use an instrument which is slammed into the back of the head to kill the bull.

During the fight, we saw a bull tip one of the picadores horses, saw the matador go down twice in a row when he tried to kneel for a pass. Strangely enough, a couple bulls had to be pulled out of the ring when they couldn't stay upright. One bull charged and ran his horns into the ground so that he flipped completely over. Another would slip and couldn't get back up. I'm not sure whether this was inbreeding or what but the crowd would boo the bull out to be replaced by another.

All in all, quite an experience.

Afterwards we had a tapas dinner with Courtney which involved some really good sausages, meatballs, a plate of cheeses, some egg and vegetable dish, and lots of bread. It is fun. We also saw the first night of fireworks over the rio. The streets were packed with spectators but we were really close to the front and it was one of the most spectacular displays I've ever seen.
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