It’s dangerous out there.

There are some things that we just have no concept of in the States. Bullfighting is one of them. Yea, we’ve got rodeos and calf-roping, barrel racing, and even the moments of organized chaos where a calf/goat/pig/other unfortunate animal has a ribbon tied to it’s tail, and then hundreds of children corral the animal in the attempt to pull the ribbon off the tail. Little ashamed to say, I always fell down in the dirt or got tripped 😦

But anyway, back to the bulls. This is an entirely different animal. As a matter of fact, I live next to the bull ring. To buy groceries, meet friends, or go to the bus, I have to pass it. I’ve never been to a bullfight, 1) I don’t think I could stomach it and 2)  It’s expensive. I’m interested to hear/see what goes on in the summer with bullfights. Kind of like a sport, it has it’s own season. The season is now through the end of summer. What I do know, is from a few observations: Most Spaniards are very proud of this (except in Catalunya where it has been outlawed) and call it a sport, It’s about a 3-4 hour event always held in the afternoon, and  it costs more if you want to sit in the shade. I know this by observing that there are only two ticket windows respectively labeled, “shade” and “sun”. Sometimes it’s not that difficult to live in a foreign culture 😉

Since I’m an ex-pat, many people ask me what I think about bullfighting. Without wanting to disrespect the culture or the person, I usually make a democratic reply saying I don’t know much about it (Which is true. Are there rules? I don’t know. Is there a time limit? Maybe. Is there a uniform? Possibly.), but also that it would probably be hard for me to watch. At this point, it doesn’t matter who the person is or where they’re from in Spain* (except Catalunya), the person begins to explain the beauty and art of bullfighting. I’m kind of wondering if people were taught bullfighting apologetics when they were in school or something because they all say the same thing.

(*Of course, I’m exaggerating a little, no one can make a generalization for 24 million people. )

Here’s my summary of the reasons -that people tell me – why it’s so great and, and, and just so Spanish!

The bulls are bred and born into a lifestyle of lujo (luxury). They are given land to roam freely on for years. They are given the best food. (I don’t know what the best bull food is, but that’s what they tell me.) They are bathed, pampered, and for at least 5-10 years. Then one day, they’re taken to a bull ring. And the majestic dance between human and animal is performed on a dance floor of red dirt. Both the man and the bull are given the opportunity to kill and to live. It’s much better this way for the bull to die with honor, fighting, than in some slaughterhouse.

I really can’t think of anything we have in the USA that can be compared to this, a popular event, where you pay to see someone or something die while sitting in the sun, sweating.  Here’s an article I ran across this morning…

Spanish Matador Survives Goring by Robert Mackey (link to original article)

Over the weekend, doctors in Mexico struggled to save the life of Spain’s most celebrated matador, José Tomás Román Martín, after a bull tore a six-inch gash in his left thigh on Saturday in the Mexican city of Aguascalientes. The bullfighter, who is known to fans and the media simply by his double-barreled first name, José Tomás, needed 17 pints of blood and three hours of emergency surgery after being gored by an 1,100-pound bull named Navegante  on Saturday afternoon.

According to a report in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on Monday, the matador’s manager, Salvador Boix, said that he was communicating with doctors and was now “out of danger” after the 15th goring of his career. The injury on Saturday was considered the worst of his career, so much so that as doctors attended to José Tomás at the bullring they appealed to fans in the arena to donate blood, The Associated Press reported.

As my colleague Michael Kimmelman explained last year, the number of bullfights plummeted across Spain in 2009,

But José Tomás still draws enormous crowds. For aficionados, he is the last best hope for toreo, as bullfighting is called. Reclusive, a matador of unearthly fearlessness and calm, steeped in history and mystery, he retired in 2002, at 27 and the height of his fame, only to return unexpectedly five years later in Barcelona for what turned out to be the first sellout in 20 years at the 19,000-seat Plaza Monumental.

In a longer article on José Tomás and the place of bullfighting in the modern world, Mr. Kimmelman wrote in 2008:

Aficionados will rightly tell you that toreo is not a sport; in Spanish newspapers, it is never featured on the sports pages. Sport implies a fair fight between willing opponents. Except in the unusual case that a bull is spared for having shown exceptional bravery in the ring, all the bulls die. Even in Portugal, where bulls aren’t killed in the ring, they are killed afterward, a hypocrisy that spares the spectator but not the animal. Every lidia — an individual bullfight between a bull and a matador — is a ritual orchestrated to injure and then exhaust the animal so that it can be more easily killed. Whatever that is (and opponents call it torture), it’s not sporting. […]

If you’re not Spanish, or not from someplace else where bullfighting is part of the culture, like Mexico or the south of France, you will either approach it with curiosity or you will have decided it is beyond consideration — like dog- or cockfighting, although the crucial difference in bullfighting’s case is that at least humans put themselves, and not just the animals, at mortal risk. A newcomer with an open mind who goes to a bullfight can come away feeling that it is both artful and repulsive, a paradox that again seems to sum up Spain’s attitude.

“The only way I can explain it is to say it is like watching a tiger, going toward it and being able to touch it,” the matador Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez told me not long ago. “Sometimes with a bull you have to tell it what you want, other times ask it, and the magic is that each bull is different.” Then, anticipating the criticism of outsiders, he added: “Often I feel sad for the bulls, and I wish I didn’t have to do this” — now he was talking about killing the animal — “when the bull gives you so much, and all you feel is grateful.”


Join the Conversation


  1. Tienes razón. Not all Spaniards are for bullfighting. I realize I made a generalization for about 24 million people…but at the same time, I think bullfighting is very connected to the culture socially and historically. I also think due to the fact that I have lived in Andalucía for a good amount of time (una de las comunidades mas orgullosas del torero) I speak with a bias. I now live in Catalunya and have even found a few people here that enjoy it. I wasn’t trying to speak for the whole, maybe give a broad generalization.
    Por cierto, gracias por el comentario!

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