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My First and Last Fight

SPAIN | Saturday, 6 September 2014 | Views [922]

The way her nose crinkled in barely disguised disapproval when I told her of my plans came as a bit of a shock. I knew the younger generation in Spain was by no means a fan of bullfights, but I did not think it would be so frowned upon for me, a curious tourist, to attend. Little did I know that it is tourists such as me that are often a driving force behind the bullfights the young Spaniards take such an aversion to.

Making my way to my seat perched high about the arena was a simple enough task. I had chosen to it as high as possible so that I did not have to be too close to the “action.” I did not know much, if anything, about bullfights, but the bits and pieces I had put together made me hesitant to sit any closer. Unfortunately, I was seated between a hulking odorous woman with hefty binoculars slung around her neck and a gentleman who looked like he walked out of The Godfather chain-smoked cigars and attempting to converse with me in heated Basque, despite my pleas of “English, por favor,” and “I don’t understand.” Despite the haze of smoke burning my eyes, repeated attacks from the dangling binoculars, and constant scent wafting my direction, I was determined to make the most of my location. 

The bullfight started with pomp and fanfare, and I will admit I enjoyed it from the start. The costumes of the banderillos and picadores, the beautiful capotes (capes) and the pomp and circumstance associated with the introduction of all the key players. I even enjoyed watching the main men, the matadors de toros, “dancing” with the bull in the beginning stages of the fight. I was beginning to think it wasn’t all as bad as I had been led to believe. But once the picadores reappeared, the appeal was quickly shattered.

I had an extremely difficult time willing myself to stay in my seat for the remainder of the “performance.” Watching the injury and eventual death of the six bulls in the arena that day was one of the more trying tasks of my life thus far. Surrounded by individuals bearing binoculars trying to get a closer look, ears ringing with shouts of “Ole!” and other Spanish cheers, I took refuge in furiously scribbling notes on the rituals of the sport, much to the delight of cigar-smoking friend, who continuously encouraged me with “List!” and a plethora of Basque and hand-gestures.

The highlight of my time at the arena? The moment when the 6th and final bull was about to be released into arena and the crowd went silent. Not as a result of the bull, but because a plainclothes man bearing a faded red flag and a makeshift spear had leapt over the outer wall and into the arena. A banderillo was quick to step in, but was immediately placed in a one-handed choke by the renegade. Security jumped into the situation and chased the man a short ways, but just as they nabbed him, the bull charged into the arena and headed straight for them. You could hear the crowd gasp in unison, as the security guards vaulted themselves and the intruder over the edge just as the bull reached them.  Once everyone was safe, the silence was broken by cries and jeers the likes of which I had never heard, as the people were audibly and visibly appalled at the audacity of the imposter. After all, he not only endangered his own life, but the lives of several others with his bravado. The renegade’s career as a matador is over, but interestingly enough, the famous El Cordobés got his start in bullfighting in such a manner. 

In reflecting on my experience, I can understand some of the attraction of the bullfights. The tradition is steeped in history and many of the attendees are from an older generation. The footwork of the toreros is spectacular, much like watching a dancer on stage. And the killing of the bulls does not bother some, for it is viewed as apart of the show.

But for me, that will be my first and last bullfight. I grew up in a hunting family where the killing and eating of animals was normal. But my stomach still has not developed the strength or the taste for sports such as bullfighting. Still, according to the receptionist at my accommodation, tourism is a main factor in why bullfighting survives despite the lack of support. And with the disapproval or at minimum lack of interest of the younger generations of Spaniards, I must wonder how much longer the tradition will survive. 

Tags: arena, bilbao, bulls, matador, spain


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