Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Bullfight

In July 2010 Catalonia joined the Canary islands in banning bullfighting. The ban has rekindled the arguments for and against bullfighting so I thought, that without taking sides, it might be a good idea to describe what bullfighting involves.

The season runs from March to October with events usually starting late afternoon, 6.30 or 7.00 pm. Bullfights have the reputation of being one of the few events that actually start on time in Spain.

The usual routine is to have six bulls and three bullfighters. Sometimes the posters say that the fight is a Novillada which means that the bulls are younger and the bullfighters less experienced. Often, a larger fiesta, lasting a number of days, will include at least one "rejones" session where the bulls are killed by men (no women to date) on horseback. The skill of the horse-riders, their control of the beasts, is legendary.

Except in Madrid bullfights are not particularly regular events even where there are permanent bullrings so if you're keen to experience some "Death in the Afternoon" and you're not a permanent resident you may need to plan your visit carefully. Bullfights in temporary rings during a town's fiesta are very common though the bullfighters are usually less experienced or past their best.

The Corrida starts with everybody involved in the bullfight entering the ring and presenting themselves to the crowd and to the President of the bullfight. Two people on horseback then, symbolically, ask the President for the keys to doors behind which the bulls are kept.

When the door is opened the first bull enters the ring. Each bout is divided into three parts separated by horn blasts. In the first part the bullfighter uses a purple and yellow cloak and does the fancy footwork stuff. Next a couple of chaps, the picadors, on heavily padded and usually old horses do all sorts of damage to the bull with long lances. I understand that the horses have their vocal chords severed so that they do not make too much noise as they are buffeted by the bulls. Not all bullfights have picadors

The second part has three chaps with a couple of sharp pointed sticks dodging around the ring trying to push the sticks, called banderillas, into the bull's shoulder muscles. If they get it right the bull won't be able to raise its head properly which makes it easier for the matador to kill it. If they get it wrong the bull takes a big chunk out of their body with its horns.

The third part has the matador, literally the killer, using a much smaller red cape to persuade the bull to charge whilst the matador tries to prove his or her skill by having the bull pass close but without making contact. When the matador thinks the time is right he or she jumps up as the bull charges and drives a sword down between the bull's shoulder blades. If the blow is strong and accurate the bull drops to the floor pierced through the heart. If it isn't it's a good opportunity for the bull to gore the matador. Wounds on the inner thigh, with the risk to the femoral artery, are relatively common. Should the blow be indecisive the matador has to have as many goes as it takes whilst the crowd grows restless and tends towards insults. If the bull won't go down a short knife is used to finish it off.

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