July 17, 2011

Who´s the Hero?

I haven´t blogged in the last few days, and still plan to send my updates about Sevilla, a beautiful city, but tonight in Madrid I experienced a Spanish culture for which I´m not proud. We went to a bullfight.

When we first started planning our trip to Spain, it was understood we would attend a bullfight. Unfortunately, we were unable to get to San Fermin for the famous running of the bulls, so we decided to catch a bullfight in Spain´s capital city. I´ve read about the bullfights in fiction, in the news and online, so I had an idea of what to expect, and to tell you the truth, I had a feeling I wasn´t going to like it. I was curious more than anything, and thought it was important to partake in a rich Spanish tradition. My conclusion: it´s a gruesome sport that pairs innocent animal with cowardly matador.

We arrived at the Plaza de Toros in Madrid just before 8:30 p.m. The marquee indicated it was a night of Novillatas, or young matadors. Because of this promotion, tickets were only 5E per person. We took our seats on a long concrete bench and before long, the brass band welcomed about 12 young matadors, horses and older matadors. They walked proudly into the ring and bowed at an official in the Spanish box, near our seats. And then, they released the bull.

Full of power, the beast ran full force into the ring where about 6 matadors holding pink sheets taunted it and teased it. When the bull ran towards them, they hid behind a wooden door to protect themselves. What would protect the bull?

A few minutes go by and then the sound of trumpets welcomes horses with spears who strike the bull, causing it to bleed excessively. It still has fight in him, and as he goes barrelling at the matadors, another strike. They torture it and it gets weaker and weaker. Blood is spilling over its back and I can´t watch. Scanning the crowd, I notice there are all kinds at the fight: older men and their wives, many tourists, and even children.

When the bull looks noticably tired, only then, does the official matador appear with a red sheet. He´s a novillata, and from our seats, he looks no older than 20. And so he dances with this injured bull. The toro still moves swiftly, but he is waning. He´s dying. This dance goes on for minutes, but it feels like forever. I´m reminded of how we think of the matador - a strong, heroic figure, always praised for battling a wild animal. Only, from my angle, he´s not battling at all. The bull barely has a fight in him; the matador is playing with a dying animal. It´s far from heroic.

The bull gets slower as the dance progresses and finally the matador spears the bull with his sword. The thousands in the audience erupt with cheers and chants. Ole, ole, ole. Out come the remaining matadors and they corner the bull with their pink sheets until he has nothing left in him but to sit down. The matador jumps and waves and pumps his hands into the air. The crowd is going crazy. I feel like I´m in a bubble. They´re cheering on a young person who is making a career out of torturing - and eventually killing - an innocent animal. It´s surreal, and it´s not yet over. Within seconds, someone comes with a sharp dagger and with one blow to the head, the bull tips over. My stomach is turning and I´m ashamed to have paid to watch this. A final send off to the bull? The same horses come in and drag it - yes, drag it - around the ring before exciting. The crowd waves white: tissues, towels, t-shirts.

And so I question: who is the hero in the bullfight? The young matador who puts himself in the ring with a weak, injured bull, or the bull itself, who is fighting for his life, but doesn´t stand a chance?

It´s time for the next ¨match¨, only, I can´t bear to watch it twice more. And so we leave. Tonight in Madrid, three bulls died. Three bulls die every Sunday. This happens in all major cities in the country, except in the region of Catalonia, where bullfighting is outlawed. Somehow, they got a clue.

I appreciate culture, and I appreciate history. But at some point, history needs to change. Turn the bullrings into museums, teach the history, but save the torture of innocent animals. I apologize for the vivid description above, but if I had known entirely what to expect, I may not have gone to the bullring tonight.

J

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