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

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