Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reflections on the Bull Fight

Saturday, May 7

Salima and I had decided we needed to take advantage of the short bullfighting season in Sevilla during Feria.  There are more during the summer, but the week of Feria is really the prime time.  We arrived at the Plaza de Toros and were greeted by scalpers.  I distrusted their sales pitch; even as an American who knows Spanish, I could not tell if I was being ripped off.  We ended up just buying seats at the box office, which were ultimately perfect.  The shaded seats sell for the most money.  We bought cheap sun seats and miraculously ended up in the shade, albeit in the last row.  Salima would probably say she was grateful for being far away.  What we would witness--the killing of six bulls before our eyes--would be much intense than expected. 

Bullfighting is a wonderful conversation topic in Spain.  Many youths now oppose it, but the older generation hangs on to the tradition in certain areas.  Madrid and Sevilla are the most famous bullfighting cities of present.  Barcelona has outlawed the "sport," having converted its bullring into a massive shopping center.  I remember raising the issue in conversation with Valeriano and his girlfriend, Mariola.  Mariola took off in opposition, talking at the speed of light (from my perspective, a challenge).  She was appalled by the treatment of the bulls, which are often drugged even before entering the ring.  Valeriano was not quite so fiery, understanding the preference by some for the tradition.  My host siblings, Ceci and Borja, also oppose it while Montse still sees some beauty in it. 

Mariola and Valeriano

Looking back on the fight, I was most surprised by the rigid routine of each fight.  Bullfighting today has departed from the Gladiator-in-the-Colosseum "sport" of its past in favor of a scripted play.  Each fight has three acts:  (1) In the first "tercio de varas," a group of six assistant bullfighters show off their cape work and get to know the personality of the bull; 

 The "tercio de varas" (Part 1) where the assistant bullfighters get to know the bull

(2) In the second "tercio de banderillas," a "picador" arrives on horseback to spear the bull between its shoulders.  Salima admitted to hating this part and was haunted by the trumpets signaling the picador's entrance.  Blood starts to visibly pour down the bull's back, which makes the animal less frenetic and more focused on what is in front of it.  The assistant bullfighters come back and run towards to the bull with two colorful spears, nearly getting gored themselves.  After eloquently sticking the spears in the bull's shoulders, they flee.  This to me was the most thrilling part of the fight.  

The "tercio de banderillas" (Part 2) where a "picador" on horseback stabs the bull

(3) In the third "tercio de muerte," the headliner arrives with his red cape to finish the job.  These men are the ones known throughout Spain, often making news in the gossip column (for their romances).  At this point the bull seems really dazed and confused, but still able to gore.  The control of the bullfighter is stunning.  The cape work slowly wears the bull down; it often stops out of breath.  The bullfighter unveils his sword and inserts it straight into the heart of the bull, which soon collapses thereafter.  Horses then parade the dead bull around the arena.  The whole routine is repeated six times for each event.

 The "tercio de muerte" (Part 3) where the lead bullfighter teases and kills the bull

Salima and I had been sitting next to peers from Iceland who had just arrived in Sevilla for their overseas study.  We tried to suggest that the horrors of the bullfight in no way reflected our experience in Spain.  They had shielded their eyes just as we did at times.  We went on to tell them what they had to look forward to about Sevilla, most notably the culture of wine and tapas. 

 With Salima and the River (and Torre de Oro on right)

Although I really enjoyed the bullfight and appreciated the tradition, I cannot say I am eager to return.  It had been beautiful for the first few fights, but by the sixth dead bull, I had had enough.  Salima and I continued on to Feria, where we took pictures, absorbed the party atmosphere, and of course, ate Churros con Chocolate.  So glad Salima and I did this. 

For pictures of the bullfight within the Feria album see
"Feria de Abril - 5-2 - 5-8" at

Reflections on Feria de Abril

May 2 - 8

I had been in Italy for the first part of Sevilla's biggest celebration of the year.  But, I returned on Thursday to enjoy at least three days of the festivities.  Immediately upon returning from the airport, I could sense the excitement.  Women strolled the city streets in their traditional "gitano" (gypsy) dresses, tightly fit and long, usually ruffled from the knees down.  Everyone's hair is up and topped off with a flower while hoop earnings hang from the ears.  Men wear less traditional outfits, preferring their best suit, no matter how hot it may be.  Arriving to Feria in style means taking a horse and buggy from the city center.  Clara, Nicole, and I saw several parties taking their carriages as we arrived from the airport. 

As I learned from a CIEE Spanish guide (Alejandro), Feria began as an annual livestock exchange held outside the old city center.  Farmers from around Southern Spain met for a week to do business and party.  Sevilla has since been the first in Southern Spain to revive the tradition (leaving the livestock behind), and today is the biggest and best.  In no other town do nearly all the women dress traditionally.  Like Semana Santa, Feria is a huge part of Sevilla's annual income.  Not only do nearly all Sevillanos participate, but the other Spaniards come as well. 

 Painting of the Feria Campus when it was a livestock exchange (with the Catedral in the background)
(Photo from

The campus of the Feria is located across the river from the old city center.  It acts as a little town during the week-long celebration with is dusty streets named after famous bullfighters.  Nearly 4,000 tents or "casetas" are built on the campus.  The choice of red and white stripes or green and white stripes are fittingly representative of Sevilla's two soccer teams.  Each one is owned by a group, whether it be a business, organization, church, etc.  The group members make a contract with a bar in town to build a separate bar within the tent and sell food and drinks to the groups' invitees.  An invitation is required to enter the caseta, although four public casetas exist on the campus.  An invitation does not come with the right to food, only the right to purchase food (which can be substantially more expensive than what you can get in town) and party for as long as you want.  What most cannot help but purchase are jars of Feria's festive drink of choice called "Rebujito."  It is a mix of 7UP and dry sherry ("manzanilla") and it is only enjoyed the week of Feria.  The week begins with a fish fry dinner ("pescaito frito") of the caseta members and an illumination of the campus at midnight on Monday.  

It had been a goal of mine to become close with Spaniards.  One of the reasons was the chance to enter a private tent at Feria.  My dream came true the day I returned from Italy.  My friends Juan and Virginia, with whom I had spent several occasions practicing English, invited me to join them at Feria.  I brought Clara along too and together we entered a dream world.  We got stuffed on a bus with other eager Sevillanos and arrived direct to the front gate ("Portada") of the campus.  Its bright lights, imposing size, and unique design were stunning.  As it turns out, Sevilla takes the Portada quite seriously.  Each year a contest determines the architect that will design the gate.  This year's design disgusted many locals who had preferred traditional designs of years past imitating famous Sevilla structures.  The 2011 Portada celebrated some anniversary of Columbus passing through Sevilla.  It did not matter to me, although the controversy made for good conversation. 

With Juan as our guide we entered the miniature city.  It seemed that the whole town had descended on this place.  Other places in Sevilla seemed like a ghost town in comparison.  Bars ditched their permanent locations and sent their entire staffs to their corresponding casetas at the Feria.  The dream world overwhelmed us: the lights lining each sidewalk, the colors of the dresses, and cheers, laughter, and music blaring from each caseta.  Looking down you saw empty bottles of sherry and 7UP strewn about; looking up you saw everyone with a little cup of the "Rebujito" mixture in hand.  We peered into the casetas, each one filled with locals dancing flamenco (the local version being the "Sevilliana").  The emotional and passionate flamenco music that fuels the dance came from all directions.  Girls of all ages showed off their dresses, which here mean more to them than wedding dresses.

First we entered Juan's caseta.  It was packed, but we fought our way to the bar and ordered a tortilla (potato omelet) and bocadillos de solomillo (pork on sliced baguette).  To wash it down, we ordered our first jar of Rebujito.  Clara and I were wide-eyed at the taste and looked forward to many more that night.  We absorbed the scene as we ate.  We left to meet up with Virginia and her friends who would take us to their tent.  Inside, more Rebujito was enjoyed.  Two Spanish children who knew Viriginia offered to teach Clara and me the Sevilliana. I stumbled through the basic steps, as I laughed and took it all in.  The Spaniards always love seeing uptight Americans take it easy and embrace the Spanish culture.  At 4:00 AM I was finally back at the apartment where I collapsed.  I am grateful that Juan and Virginia provided us a unique night. 

 Learning the "Sevilliana" from Spanish children in Virginia's caseta

Although I had arrived at the apartment "late" at 4:00 AM, it was child's play compared to Ceci's (my host sister) schedule.  Obsessed with Feria, she left the house at 3:00 PM every day and did not return home until 7:00 AM the next day.  She would sleep until 2:00 PM, eat, and head back to Feria and return again 15 hours later.  Not surprisingly, she had a cold by the end of the week and had to spend the last two days bedridden.  No regrets, though.  Marta, her closest friend and frequent visitor at our apartment, had designed and made her dress by hand.  It turned out to be one of the most unique dresses I had seen all week.  Ceci had restricted herself to a diet the whole semester.  It was clear that she lives for this one week.

 Ceci with her "gitano" dress made by her friend Marta

I returned to Feria the next night with Nicole and Lara.  This time we had no invitations but entered the public caseta to order our jar of Rebujito.  We continued to stroll and take pictures.  Montse had encouraged me to bring my camera, saying that the Spanish girls loved being photographed by foreigners ("guiris").  We crossed over into the adjacent section of campus containing the rides.  Like all state fairs in the United States, this area contained the bumper cars, prize stands, and Ferris wheels.  We mounted the tallest Ferris wheel and enjoyed a view of the whole campus at night.  We then succumbed to a midnight snack of Churros con Chocolate, the Spanish answer to elephant ears.  The prizes here?  Legs of jamón, of course.  I could not believe it.  What was also extraordinary was the sight of the Spanish youth, dressed at their best, getting on the rides.  You would not find anyone in a suit at the Indiana State Fair.  

 Nicole and Lara with cups of "Rebujito" (7UP and Dry Sherry)

I had another night of Feria on Saturday with Salima to say goodbye to the dream.  On Sunday, the event culminated in fireworks, which I watched from the rooftop of my apartment building.  To see pictures of Feria, click "Feria de Abril - 5-2 - 5-8" at