Whist travelling round Andalucia I have observed, and fallen in love with many parts of Spain and it’s culture.
The bull fight is undoubtedly an important part of Southern Spain’s culture and still very popular. However the closest I had got to one was looking down onto Malaga’s huge bull ring and a few snatches of ‘Match of the Day’ for bull fights which are televised on Saturday’s.
I loved the balletic movements, the vibrancy, the colour but was repulsed by the blood. When the Canillas del Albadia feria delivered a bull fight right on my doorstep I leapt at the chance to experience this part of Andalucian life.
Whist travelling round Andalucia I have observed, and fallen in love with many parts of Spain and it’s culture. The bull fight is undoubtedly an important part of Southern Spain’s culture and still very popular. However the closest I had got to one was looking down onto Malaga’s huge bull ring and a few snatches of ‘Match of the Day’ for bull fights which are televised on Saturday’s. I loved the balletic movements, the vibrancy, the colour but was repulsed by the blood. When the Canillas del Albadia feria delivered a bull fight right on my doorstep I leapt at the chance to experience this part of Andalucian life.
As with anything that happens in the area the event was proceeded by unsubstantiated gossip – the bulls would be really little, they would be rent a bulls and not be hurt and someone was even heard to say that they would be running the bulls through Canillas Pampilona style! I set off to Canillas and started to search for the event – with my eyes peeled unless a running bull burst round a corner at any point. No signs anywhere directed people to where the fight was to be held. A rapidly increasing snake of cars wound it’s way round the village centre and, after running out of options, headed up to the top of the village. The higher you climbed the more chaotic the road got, cars and people everywhere. Further evidence that I was in the right place was provided by a passing red Peugeot which contained two matadors in full dress in the front seat. A huge round ring had been erected at the top of the village, big enough to seat at least 2,000 people. The smart ones had got there early and sat in the half of the ring in the shade, the rest of us sat in full sun and as I had forgotten to bring a hat, fan or water I began to think that this was not such a good idea after all.
The FIGHT OPENS
Of course being in Spain the event did not start on time however in very un-spanish like fashion it got going only 20 minutes after the stated time. About 13 men in the full colourful regalia walked into the ring in two lines headed by a matador on a horse. The crowd warm up started with the matador and horse performing some Spanish dressage – very impressive stuff.
The first bull obviously had a premonition that entering the ring was not a good idea as it took some considerable effort to get him into the ring. When he did run out he charged into the ring ramming the sides with his horns and looking very angry and very big. He was completely black with thick muscles, a huge back, enormous thighs and two very large, very sharp horns. Some of the performers started to leap out of slits in the side of the ring and to catch the bulls attention causing it to run from one side of the ring to another - a tactic to tire it out. At this stage the bull is too fit to be engaged safely so the performers had to keep running back through the slits in the side of the ring just before the bull rammed the ring behind them.
Two of the performers were dressed slightly differently to the others and these were revealed to be picadors. Their job is to get to brightly coloured sticks, tipped with hooks, into the bulls back which they did. The bull starts to bleed, a thick red curtain spreading across its black flank. Apparently the function of the hooks is not weaken the bull by blood loss but to interfere with the very strong neck muscles which reduce the power of the bulls charge and make it lower its head – making the fight safer and easier for the matador.
A single Matador then enters the ring to engage the bull in close combat. This stage of the fight is basically a stylised dance. There seem to be a number of steps which are all precisely performed by the matadors. Some appear in every fight and some are reserved for only the seriously brave or stupid – such as engaging the bull while on your knees. This particular move was surprisingly popular. Each fight was punctuated with the Matador simply turning his back on the bull and staring at the crowd to receive applause.
THE BULLS DEATH
The matador gets the bull to charge to his side. At the moment the bulls neck is level with the matadors body he plunges a sword straight down into the animal - the idea being to pierce its heart. Once the matador has run the bull through with the sword the animal quickly weakens and drops to it’s knees and then collapses. A different sort of performer then steps forward and rams a short knife into the top of the bulls head. 10 minutes from bursting in to the ring the first bull was dead - at least I hoped it was dead because the bulls ears were then sawn off and given to the matador.
THE LAP OF HONOUR
While the bulls body is dragged out of the ring by a cart horse, it’s tongue lolling out of it’s mouth, the matador walks around the ring holding the ears above his head and soaking up the applause from the audience. The audience throw bottles, fans, cigarettes and hats into the ring in the hope the matador will touch them and throw them back.
5 minutes later a second bull bursts into the ring. The matador this time is a real crowd pleaser he takes many more risks and gets trampled once, pinned to the ring sides and belted by the bulls head twice. Amazingly there is no blood and apparently no serious injury as every time the matador gets up he does another even crazier stunt. The crowd love it. On his lap of honour I see that he looks about 16. Apparently the matodores are trainees. In just under an hour three bulls have been dispatched. The grand finale is a fourth bull which has to face a matador on a horse.
I was surprised at my own reaction to the death of the bull. I knew it was coming, like my steak rare, I am not squeemish and the bulls end was not so terribly gory. However watching an animal that had a few minutes ago been savagely alive become nothing more than a carcass was profoundly shocking. I do not like the idea of death, that I might die, that those close to me might and frankly I prefer not to think about it. At the bull fight you are made to.
Reflecting on the experience my two most distinct memories are
1) of a white horse, eyes rolling in fear and legs trembling being made to face a bull and charge it head to head, and
2) a bull, chest heaving and exhausted peeing itself in fear of the people around it.
What is Art? I think it is an experience, a reaction, and unique to each person. I have decided that a bull fight constitutes Art. But I did not like it.
Jenny Napier, Competa