We went to a bull fight on Tuesday with the program. I had never seen a bull fight, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it. It’s not like rodeos at home where the bull just bucks for eight seconds. They actually get killed. The seating was very crowded. I barely had room for my butt, and my knees were invading the space of the people in front of me. It was a very uncomfortable position to be perched in for three hours.
This bull fight was a benefit for Down’s syndrome, so there were six toreros and six bulls. Usually there are three toreros with six bulls, two for every man. Toreros get paid for their work, but this time they were donating their time, and the bulls were donated as well. We had some pretty famous bull fighters: El Fandi, David Fandila, is from Granada, was an Olympic skier, and is known for theatrical performances. Cayetano does the more classic style off bull fighting. Oh, and he used to be an Armani model.
Bull fights start with a procession of all the toreros and their helpers around the arena. After the procession they let the first
bull out into the ring. Bull fights are divided into thirds. The first third is called tercio de varas (lances). First, the torero performs a series of passes with a cape to observe the bull’s behavior and see how they charge. Next, two picadores, lancers on horseback, come into the ring. The horse is surrounded by a protective padding, so when the bull charges, he doesn’t get disemboweled. The picadores make the bull charge them, so the rider can stab the muscles in the back of the bull’s neck to make it bleed.
The next stage is the tercio de banderillas which are sharp, barbed sticks. Three banderilleros, on foot, will plunge two banderillas into the bull’s shoulders to further anger and weaken it. El Fandi did this part himself, and it was very impressive. After, the bull charged him, he placed his hand on the bull’s forehead, and ran backwards all the way around the arena with the bull an arm’s length away. The last part is the tercio de muerte. This is when the torero comes back into the ring with a cape and fake sword. He attracts the bull with the cape in several maneuvers to
wear the bull down and have a beautiful display called faena. They try to get the bull as close to their body as possible. After ten minutes of this, the torero switches out his fake sword for a real one. He has to maneuver the bull into a good position to stab it between the shoulder blades into the heart.
Everything after the first maneuvers with the torero was not enjoyable for me. I was actually impressed with the first part, but after that, after lances and barbed sticks made the bull bleed so much, I didn’t like it. Six bulls came into that ring, and six bulls were dragged out by its horns by a pair of mules.
We had an assignment in our Granada Seminar class to write an essay on one of our cultural experiences, and I chose bull fighting. Here’s the English version. Maybe it will help explain what bull fighting is supposed to represent, and my opinion:
It started out with hunting. In the hunt, deer flee, birds fly away, but the bull stands its ground. Hunting bulls became the ultimate feat of strength and fortitude. The victory is simple: man’s intellect
and agility versus the bull’s strength and speed. Man went to the bull in nature to bring back a prize: the origin of bull fighting, the honor of the fight.
* * * * *
I sat in my seats with the ring below. People were happily finding their seats. Two older men were discussing one of the toreros skills. I started to get excited. I imagined a glorious, dangerous dance between the torero and the bull, guided by that red cape. I could see the dark Spanish bull kicking up the bright yellow sand as it charged at the torero, who whipped the cape in a flourish of color. I did see a glimpse of this in the first tercio.
The torero was alone with the bull. They began their dance around each other. It was equal. It showed the intelligence of man to manipulate the bull in movement. In that moment I saw the glorious struggle between man and beast. Then, the torero surrendered that power when he gave the bull over to the picadores and banderilleros, weakening the bull for an easier kill.
Of course the torero can stand arrogantly in front
of the bull. The bull is too exhausted to charge. I saw more courage in the bull. Despite loss of blood the bull still charged. He fought more than the torero. The bull charged instinctively with his life blood running from his body. The man had to use other men to break down the bull. That is why I appreciated El Fandi’s skill over the others. He alone faced the bull when it came through the door. He tired the bull. It was the man against the bull.
Before, man went into nature to bring back his trophy. The private honor has been traded for a spectacle. The torero now gets glory from the audience in how he baits and taunts the bull. The bull is brought into man’s domain and is contained. The ring is circular so the bull cannot hide, yet the torero has helpers distracting the bull so he can get away. He can jump over the wall out of harm’s way. Clearly, this isn’t the same as in nature where man and bull were on an equal footing.
The bull fight made me so disappointed in the rationale for obtaining prestige. The power and
dominion of man, apparently, is to not only kill something, but taunt and torture it first. That is what I saw in the bull fight: the lack of honor. The bull fight is supposed to represent the lucha between man and beast.
I did see honor in the tercio de varas, but not in the relationship with the bull. It was the relationship with their horses. Now, horses are flight animals. Horses flee when they feel danger. Even blindfolded, a horse’s instincts would tell it to run when something rams into its side. These horses actually leaned into the bull. Even with the armor they felt the force of the bull’s horns but trusted their riders enough to do their bidding and lean into pressure without sight. What a contrast: the brutality toward a bull versus the cooperation and trust between man and his horse.
As much as I was impressed by the command over the horses, the tercio lacked artistry. The picadores ground their lances into the bull’s back and attempted to stay on the horse. Anyone can grind into flesh. That is not artistry. The art of bull fighting is in the faena which shows the
true brilliance of the torero. The closeness of the bull and the fluidity of his movements is the mastery of his art. But the first moments and the last with the bull were different. There was still style and skill in the tercio de muerte, but it was greatly diminished. I saw less brilliance in his manipulation of the bull because the bull’s energy was compromised. By the third act, the vitality of the bull is gone.
Ernest Hemingway, in his book Death in the Afternoon
, wrote about the magnificence of bull fighting. “The chances are that the first bullfight any spectator attends may not be a good one artistically.” I did see artistry—in the beginning. At the end, all I saw was an exhausted, bleeding bull defeated by many men, and the torero standing with his sword. The torero in the first act won my passion. I could appreciate his artistry, but acts two and three aroused much more passion against this spectacle.
Thursday was Dia de las Cruces, Day of the Cross. It’s pretty self-explanatory, a day to celebrate the cross. Crosses are set up all over the city with displays of flowers, ceramics,
fruit, and decorative pottery. People dress up in Gitano costume and walk around to the crosses where there is socializing, food, and music. Fatima planned for our group to go for tapas and see some crosses. The streets were so crowded and most of the tapas bars and cafeterias were full. She had planned on taking us to one bar that had really good pizza tapas, but it was full, so we stood around for ten minutes waiting for a seat. After the pizza, we went in search of the crosses. Fatima had a list of over twenty different crosses, but we only saw five. It was a cool part of Granada’s culture to see.
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