Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bull Fight

It is bull fighting season in Madrid. It only occurs for a couple weeks each year and spring is the season. I had apprehensions about going, because they do not only fight the bull, they slaughter it for sport. My love of animals made me nervous about being upset, uncomfortable, or disgusted, but over the last couple of months I have learned to enjoy things simply for the cultural experience. It's not always pleasant or easy to be away from home, eat weird foods, or walk around places(volcanoes, cities, lava fields, islands) for a long time, but it is often worth it just to get a different perspective on life. With this attitude, we headed off to the bull fight at Las Ventas.
Plaza de Toros
From the outside, this place is magnificent. As you come out of the metro, the area opens up into a swarm of people and vendors underneath a Colosseum-type structure. Of course, the Spanish flag flies high in the sky.
Inside is just as beautiful(minus the view of the pole). Most of the people appeared to be regulars, but there was also a share of tourists looking confused like us.
Las Ventas
The whole sport of bullfighting is surprisingly confusing. After all, it is a sport which involves skill and style, not just slaughtering. I was surprised that it took a couple rounds of bulls for us to figure out what was going on. Intuition plus influence from the noise of the crowd gave us a pretty good idea of how things work. This is how I understand it(may be completely wrong):
There are several guys in the ring. The matador is the main guy, but he has many assistants to help him out. When they first release the bull, all the men have large pink capes. The matador is the first one to start tiring the bull out by making it charge his cape repeatedly. Whenever the matador gets tired or has the bull make several repeated passes that are close to his body (the closer, the better), one of his helpers steps in and tires the bull for a little while.
The matador lost his cape...oh no!
When the trumpets sound, the next round starts and two armored horses are ridden into the ring. They have blinders on and a man with a sharp lance riding them. The bull is encouraged to charge the horses and the man jabs the back of the bulls neck with the lance. Another trumpet will sound and the horses will leave the ring.
...but he got it back
Next up is the banderillas. Banderillas are sticks with sharp ends that the helpers try to stick in the back of the bulls neck. The whole point of the stabbing is to weaken the bulls muscles in order to have it's head hang lower for the rest of the fight. There are 3 rounds of banderillas (6 total sticks) that stay in the neck for the rest of the fight(unless they fall out). To get the banderilas into the neck, the bull has to charge one of the helpers and at the last second, the man moves to the side and turns to the side of the bull and sticks them in. Sometimes they can only get one of the two in and the crowd is not happy.

Matador in the last stage with the red cape
The last stage is when the matador is alone in the ring with the bull and really puts on a show in order to gain points. He trades in the pink cape for a smaller red one and a weapon. Sometimes he will hold the cape behind him, do repeated passes, or even slap the bull as it runs by him. When the bull is extremely tired, the matador will draw his sword and have the bull charge at him. The matador then inserts the sword into the back of the neck, through the bulls body, often hitting his spinal cord, heart, and lungs. This is the most difficult and most crucial part of the bullfight. A correctly placed sword will kill the bull and the animal will only take a few more steps before falling to its knees and then its side. An incorrectly placed sword will make the bull gush from the mouth with blood. Sometimes, they aren't able to insert the sword all the way and it falls out. The first matador we saw that evening was not a good one and the bull bled from the mouth for a few minutes until they were able to approach it and then stab it in the back of the neck(spinal cord) with a smaller dagger, killing it instantly. To get to this point though, the matador has to get very close meaning the bull has to bleed for a while and become weak. The crowd HATES this. The entire stadium will be silent or make gasping sounds. When the bull dies, there is no clapping, but everyone stands up in honor of the bull.
There are 3 matadors per evening and they each fight 2 bulls. The first matador did a bad job with both of his bulls, especially the second one where he failed to insert the sword several times. That was a brutal and extended death. The second matador had an amazing first performance. All of the banderillas went in and stayed in the entire time, the matador did awesome tricks and put on a show, and the sword was entirely inserted on the first try and the bull immediately died. His second performance was just decent. The third matador had decent performances both times, but really put on a show for the last bull that the crowd loved. He was named the winner of the evening and given a sparkly jacket.
Visible banderillas
Overall, it was not as brutal as I thought it was going to be and with each bull I focused more on the sport and less on the injury of the bull. That sounds bad, doesn't it? Either way, it was a fun cultural experience and I'm glad that I gave it a chance. Not many people get to experience a bull fight and I feel fortunate that I got to watch.

Las Ventas at sunset

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