Yesterday marked my first proper immersion into the world of bullfighting. I’ve seen fights online and I’ve seen the bull runs before but I haven’t ever experienced anything like the corrida before.
It began with a debate/discussion prior to the fight. Topics discussed included the state of bullfighting nowadays (relevant to myself), the physical state of the bulls in the day’s fight, and the anticipated fight of local matador Javier Marin, who will turn professional on his fight this Saturday. It was lively, and at times the discussion got quite heated, as the liberal sprinklings of swear words indicated. But that passion and love for the bulls wasn’t just evident in words. It was time for the fight.
Arriving at our seats just before the commencement of the corrida, I took in my surroundings. There are distinct groupings in the bullring. There are the serious aficionados who assess and criticise every move, every gesture, and every bold flourish. Then there are the casual fans, who are interested but not as dedicated or as intimately involved. This is where I found myself, along with a surprising number of tourists. Then there are the peña sections. Peñas are like clubs or groups that people assign themselves to. They’re basically about socialising. And how they did socialise at the fight. Music, wine, costumes. Most of the time they weren’t aware there was a fight happening before their eyes. There was even a fight in the stands (it was a scuffle, like stags locking horns) during the corrida. There was a fight at the bullfight. It seems strange to say.
I’m not going to dwell on the details of the fights, because they were too intricate and wide-ranging to explain in a few hundred words. However, I will give you a brief taster. The first fighter was Juan Jose Padilla. The man is a legend in bullfighting circles and even outside said circles. He calls himself “The Pirate”. A quick search on Google will reveal why but I do suggest you aren’t eating when you do so. He struggled somewhat with his first bull due to a previous injury it had, but was extremely brave with his second. At one point he was on his knees, in front of the bull, with his back to it. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The second fighter was another veteran of the bullfighting scene; Manuel Jesús Cid Salas, or as he’s commonly known “El Cid”. My friend explained that he was a very different fighter to Padilla, since he is more classical in his approach. What he showed was a display of mastery and control, culminating in a mesmerising performance. The public shouted for him to be awarded more than he was. A number of gents took this protest right to the umpire’s box and in his face. Passion.
The third fighter was much younger. Daniel Luque was markedly different from the other two in that he revelled in taking risks. One moment that stands out was when he threw his cape and sword away after controlling the bull continuously for close to five minutes. Throwing his equipment away (whether by accident or on purpose) meant that he was totally exposed. He had no protection. He had no tools to control or direct the bull. It was topped by him reaching over and holding the bull by it’s right horn for what seemed an eternity. In reality it was a couple of seconds, but it only takes one for a bull to gore.
Behind this ceremony and spectacle there was an inevitability; the death of six animals. This was what is being outlawed by the Balearic Islands. They’ve decided to adopt blood-free bullfights, why poses the question “is that really a bullfight?” Or at least, it did at the discussion prior to the corrida I saw. This is the crux of the matter; animals are killed as part of a show. It is a show. I don’t think pro or anti- bull supporters can deny that. Neither can they deny that a bull is being killed. Where they depart are the reasons for that. I don’t wish to comment either way. It’s something that Spain is figuring out for itself. What I can comment on are the upcoming interviews I have. I think they’ll prove to be enlightening.