Bullfighting has a very glorified public image and many tourists that come to Spain to experience it for the sake of experiencing the culture — it is presented as a contest between the fearless matador, who brazenly jeopardizes his life as well as limbs to fight a mad and ferocious beast. The matador is always dressed in a traditional costume of brilliant colors: the bullfight is seen by many as the mysterious ritual between man and beast, which is and has been an essential part of Spanish culture and customs for as long as they can remember, I presume. For this reason, many tourists who visit Spain feel that seeing a bullfight is a necessary part of their holiday, just as tourists visiting Britain go to see the Tower of London to cast their sights amongst the beautiful crown jewels, the fortress and paintings of the infamous Tudors.
With that being said, picture this! My second day in Spain was going pretty well, places such as the Plaza de la Villa, whose history dates back as far as the 16th century, remained wonderful and beautiful even, given how much they had aged. I had completed my placement exam for my Spanish composition classes, a dreadful orientation, and although I bombed the placement exam I was still allowed to take the classes I initially planned. Of course not without warning from the program director, Álvaro, that because of my score it would not be an easy feat. With those things out of the way, all that´s left to do is to get my books, do some shopping and grab a bite to eat with Jorge, Caressa, Austin and Alec before returning to my homestay and preparing to leave for Segovia. Things were definitely looking up.
Walking out of a bookstore I welcomed a few rain drops on my arms while absent mindedly panicking. In haste we found the first decently priced restaurant with a decent menu and decided to have lunch while we waited out the rain. If only I can remember the name. I reckon it doesn’t seem important to some but a name is everything. This restaurant was given a name, a particular name, because the owner felt that when we dinned there and took in the atmosphere, that we would understand it. The waiter reminded me of a middle aged French chef without the hat and a thinner mustache. So in short, he looked like a middle aged Spaniard, for the lack of a better word.
The restaurant almost appeared to have an American feel to it until after we sat down and I overheard the Spanish patrons speaking. The Spanish language has this indescribable beauty to it. When I heard it for the first time, I said to my mom, “I have no idea what he just said but it was beautiful.” From that moment on I knew I had to be able to speak it one day. When they speak it evokes such a feeling, even when you don’t understand what they said you at least have an idea due to their facial expressions and their body language. Spaniards do not speak with solely their mouths.
We talked about almost everything under the sun until our food and our table displayed ham and cheese croquettes, Spanish styled tortillas, sautéed mushrooms, a chicken sandwich with a slice of and a fried egg—the works—and a huge hamburger, mine of course, that I had been craving since I got here. While eating our lunch our attention was brought to the television by some old men at the table beside us. They spoke with such conviction and passion we had no choice but to witness the reason for such a thing and then, there it was, the highly regarded bullfight. The restaurant was showing a bullfight while their patrons were dining. I was intrigued—note my previous notion that bullfighting was simply harmless.
I began to notice something dangling on the bulls back and when I inquired about I was told I was a spear. Confused, I asked why. Then I learned that the bull is stabbed in the neck to weaken the neck muscles, which leads to only the first draw of blood just after taunting the bull with a bright colored flag and it attempts to run down a horse. Are you still there? Please, I beg you, stay with me. According to our waiter and most internet sources, the manner in which the bull charges the horse provides important clues to the matador about which side the bull favors. If this is successful, the bull will hold its head and horns slightly lower during the following stages of the fight. This ultimately enables the matador to perform the killing thrust later in the performance. The encounter previously described often fundamentally changes the behavior of a bull; distracted and disengaging bulls will become more focused and stay on a single target instead of charging at everything that moves.
Taking it all in, I think, so that was the red stuff on its back. Blood. As I continue to sit with my mouth agape, my stomach begins to get a little queasy; I take a few deep breaths and close my eyes. Upon opening them, I see my half eaten burger, a burger that with great regret I did not request to be cooked well done. And there goes my appetite. I could not begin to fathom just what exactly had happened, but most importantly why were they showing this in a restaurant where people, like me most importantly, came to enjoy and savor a meal with friends—unbothered and uninterrupted? Are you done picturing this? Then let us proceed.
I am a native of a country—the United States of America—who believes cockfighting and cruelty to pets are inhumane and result in harsh punishment that involve fines and prison time. A country that believes that animals should not be tormented, killed or mistreated for any reason, let alone in the name of entertainment. In Spain, national laws against cruelty to animals have abolished most archaic spectacles of animal cruelty, but specifically exempt bullfighting. Yet, the bull endures a brutal, slow, painful death. No argument of those who promote and/or participate in any part or aspect of bullfighting is valid until someone explains this hypocrisy to me. Until then, I think to myself, Spaniards are simply hypocrites.
My attention is then brought back to the beef hamburger sitting in front of me forever half eaten. An animal was killed so that I could it. My mind then shifts to the animal agricultural business where animals are raised and then slaughtered in the name of making money. Then to circus shows that involve confining enclosures, lack of regular veterinary care, abusive training methods and lack of oversight by regulating bodies, zoos, where captive animals are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, and as a result, they become bored and lonely. Even one of world´s most adored, SeaWorld, where orcas are capture and held captive, subject to shorter lifespans with horrible living conditions for not being in their natural habit and extremely unorthodox ways of procreation. All of this for the name of money and entertainment. But Spaniards are the hypocrites? My immediate rant is no longer valid.
One gets nowhere by one-sided thoughts or name-calling so let us delve a bit deeper. For those who believe that inhumane cultural event should be abolished perhaps they failed to think about the true significance of bullfighting and what it means to the Spaniards whose lives revolve around it. One of the main reasons bullfighting has been such a popular event throughout Spanish history has a lot to do with the Toreros and the ‘character’ they play, more than simply the fight itself. Much like in today’s society, where superheroes with magic powers pose as children’s role models; historically, these Toreros served as role models and superheroes. Not role models and superheroes that make it there sworn duty to the world and society to fight crime, dedicated to a moral goal of their choosing and protecting the public but role models and superheroes nonetheless.
However, in comparison to the original origin of bullfighting, the traditional spectacle now focuses more on the entertainment and violent aspects of the event. Mediterranean folklore depicts the bull as symbol of power, fertility, and even godhood, but in no country other than Spain has the blood sacrifice of the bull within the ring. This means that the culture in Spain focuses more on the gruesome death of an animal without any other motivational factors, contrary to the religious aspects that were originally present when bullfighting first began.
I would like to think the other countries, such as the U.S., when putting down an animal for any reason there is no crowd of thousands of people sitting on the edge of their seat, cheering and eagerly awaiting its death. But for the Spaniards who are enamored with bullfighting would counter by stating that the bull dies with dignity and glory for the reason that he refuses to go down without a good fight. There is claim that there is this awe inspiring relationship or connection with the bull and the matador. For the matador is but a puppet master stringing the bull along in whichever direction the matador chooses as the crowd eggs him on.
I believe there is very little dignity to leave this world in peace, for after the matador stabs the bull and has eventually fallen to the ground, his ears and tail are cut off (often when he is fully conscious), and his broken, bleeding body is dragged around the ring by mules, to which he is attached by an apparatus made of wood and chains. Not content with his suffering, which must be too horrible to describe by words, the crowds boo and jeer him. They sometimes may even throw empty beer cans at him. His body is then taken away to be skinned, and even then he may not be dead when this happens. Are you still there?
Now that we have gotten nowhere, I believe it does one very little justice to take such a stance on a subject after a very brief experience, a little research and taking into consideration someone else’s opinion which is sure to be as biased as your own. My opinion has been based on a bad experience which is not a healthy way to form an opinion but it still doesn’t make it any more right or wrong. So why not go see the real thing for yourself? After all, opinions can be changed.