A few years ago, I bought my mom bullfighting tickets for her birthday on a trip to Spain. I had read, “The Sun Also Rises” and thought it would be a great cultural experience. Hemingway made a bullfight sound like a dance that only a sophisticated intellectual could understand. Hemingway was good at that kind of crap. Surely, I was enlightened enough to see the art in a beautiful, strong creature be tortured and killed. The book never really gets down to the nitty-gritty of a Spanish bullfight. Well, allow me to pick up Hemingway’s slack.
The bullfight begins with a short ceremony where the cast and crew wave to the crowd. The arena floor is cleared except for a few scrawny, sequence clad men, the matador and the banderilleros. The virile bull enters and they taunt him with pink and yellow capes. He charges and they dart behind barriers. It reminded me of being a kid in Florida and my mom telling me not to throw rocks at the alligators in the canals behind our house. “No, duh”, I thought. Yet, as an adult I tried to see the brilliance in irritating a bull.
The horses come out next. The angry bull rams into the horses while the picador stabs him in the back of the neck. In Hemingway’s time, the horses were gored to death. Nowadays, the horses wear padding. This goes on until the bull has lost enough blood and is weak enough to go on to the next round. The goal is to weaken the bull just enough but not so much that the next rounds lack the sense of a dual. After the picador, the three banderilleros each attempt to stick two brightly colored flags in the bull’s neck. The flags, or banderillas, must stick. If they don’t stick, the crowd ‘boos’. Waves of angry energy push the bull to keep fighting, but exhaustion is inevitable. I begin to root for the bull.
After they are out of flags, the matador comes out in his glitterific get up. The bull circles him, multi-colored flags bobbing out of his neck like a bloody Rastafarian. Take the violence out of this dance and it would just as well mimic something you might see in South Beach. But the violence is ever-present. The meager crowd is hungry for it. They come to see how close man and tired beast with multiple stab wounds can get. I went to see how enlightened I could be. Not very. The bulls are amazing. They are graceful and strong even after being harassed and stabbed. The matador puts on a show and finishes the bull with a final stab. Horses carry the bull’s carcass off.
Then, comes the part we really can’t stomach; they start the whole thing over again. Each bullfight consists of three matadors who each get two turns, each with a complete outfit change. We left after four and took our righteous, animal loving selves across the street for a giant plate of ham. At least we wouldn’t have to pick any loose sequence out of our pork.