Traveling and living in Spain for a couple of years, I experienced many things new and different to me. Some were funny and some weren't.
US Military Stationed in Spain
When I was 22 I went with my husband to the Air Base at Torrejon, Spain. We lived there for 2 years and saw many interesting things. It was an incredible experience for me, a girl from California. My husband could speak more Spanish than I but I learned along the way.
Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor.
— Ernest Hemingway
I didn’t realize back then what a controversial subject bullfighting was. But if you are in Spain and don’t see a bullfight have you actually visited Spain? Not back then apparently. We bought tickets and went all the way to Madrid (a 30-minute drive for us) to see the bullfights. For one, I had no idea it was an all-afternoon event. Then I had no idea that we would be sitting on stone benches like a huge coliseum. If I had known, I would have brought a pillow. There were vendors there renting pillows but my husband was too cheap to rent one.
The First Matador
The first matador came out and was very impressive in his red and black garb and bright magenta capote (cape). Apparently, bulls are colorblind and it is the motion of the cape, not the color that prompts the bull to charge. They only used red in years gone by to hide the blood that splattered on it.
The matador promenaded around the ring and bowed and then they released the bull. A mighty and magnificent animal. The matador played with him for a while waving his cape and sidestepping each charge. The crowd yelled “Ole” and I joined in. Then the matador retrieved a couple of fluffy decorated poles with barbs on the end called banderilleros. As the bull charged the matador sidestepped him and plunged the barbed poles into his shoulders just above his heart. Then he did it again with two more barbed poles. It made the bull bleed visibly and I was so worried for the bull. My husband kept telling me that the bull wasn’t killed for nothing. Before the fight, a restaurant had already purchased the bull and would be later serving the steaks from this animal. Still, I don’t think I could eat something I looked in the eye earlier.
I'm an animal rights activist because I believe we won't have a planet if we continue to behave toward other species the way we do.
— James Cromwell
Toying With The Animal
Now the matador played with the bull some more this time with a smaller red cape called a muleta and you could see he was tired but hurt and mad. Then the matador retrieved a sword. He walked around showing the sword to the audience for approval. This whole time his back was to the bull and I kind of wished the bull would charge him, but he didn’t. Turning his back on the bull is part of the taunting. Then the matador inched up to the bull and kissed him on the forehead, all the while the bull is heaving and bleeding. Then the matador played the cape dodging game a few more times, and finally as the bull passed he plunged the sword down between his shoulder blades and into his heart. The bull looked stunned and then dropped dead. The crowd cheered and I was sorry. All this took about 45 minutes. I thought, “Oh God, finally, it’s over.” But my husband said it wasn’t over yet. Two horsemen came out and attaching a rope to the bull’s tail, they dragged him in a huge circle around the stadium for all to see and cheer his bravery before dragging him out. Then two horsemen came in pulling a sort of long rake and trotted around the ring smoothing out the dirt and sawdust for the next event.
Gruesome. Don't watch if you are squeamish.
The Second Matador
Now a new matador came out wearing green and gold. He bowed like the first and then enter the bull. “Oh no,” I thought, “not again.” Sure enough, he did everything the first man did and ended it the same way.
The Third Bull
The third matador entered and I was tired of this. You’ve seen one execution; you’ve seen them all. But this one was different. This bull was either stronger or the matador was less experienced, I don’t know which. First, he had trouble sticking the decorated banderilleros poles into the bull’s back. They kept falling back out. He tried again and out one fell again. Then when it came time for the sword, the matador plunged it into the bull and the bull didn’t die. He ran around a while and the sword actually wiggled out and fell in the dust. Now the crowd was cheering for the bull. Me too. “Viva el Toro.” I guess this was humiliating for the matador but that bull was awesome. The matador tried again plunging the sword all the way to the hilt and again he missed the heart and the bull didn’t die. “Viva el Toro.” I wanted the bull to live. I didn’t care what restaurant already purchased it. I was getting pretty excited that the bull would be pardoned until my husband pointed out that the bull had lost a lot of blood by now and if the matador had not killed him he would be disgraced. Now I’m pretty upset. I’m thinking the matador IS disgraced already. The crowd was still cheering for the bull and I wondered why. Because the bull had entertained them? Finally, the matador succeeded the third try with the sword and I had enough. I wanted to go. My husband said there were three more bulls coming. Not for me. I saw enough. Three hours of this was plenty for a lifetime.
Actually, I’m glad I went to one for the experience. But I’m also glad they have banned them now in many parts of the world including the USA and even Catalonia, Spain since 2012. Apparently, the Spanish Parliament is working to overturn the ban citing that it is a “traditional sport,” but the battle continues in parliament and not in the bullring. It was sort of an inhumane practice. Even if it was colorful and traditional, it wasn’t really sporting. The bull had no chance at all. The motions and the cape mesmerized him. He never saw the barbed poles or the sword coming.
In the Central Valley of California, bullfighting was outlawed in 1957 but the Portuguese still do a sort of bloodless sport of fighting bulls using poles with Velcro tips to attach to the bull’s shoulders during their holidays in May through October.
I’ve seen a few rodeos in the US in my day with the bull riders and the rodeo clowns that run out to distract the bull while a thrown rider escapes to safety. These rodeo clowns are bullfighters in a way taunting the bull and escaping by dodging and jumping into a barrel. It’s all very dangerous and people have been known to be killed. Is this cruelty to animals or not? Is it sport?
Perhaps if the bull had taken Ferdinand’s stance and just sat down to smell the flowers he’d have been okay. And then again perhaps not. It seemed that he was doomed before he entered the ring. It all makes me glad I am a vegan now.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on bullfights. Are you sorry they are gone from many parts of the world? Did you see one before? What are your thoughts on animal rights? Leave me a comment below.