Sunday, April 29, 2012

Carnaval in Ciudad Rodrigo

I forget whether this was ever published or not. It was one of a series of three articles about the town in which we were then living. This was the last of the series.

A couple of months ago we set off for Ciudad Rodrigo in Salamanca. This month we have a look at what the locals do in Carnaval.

Carnaval, the celebrations that lead up to Lent are important all over Spain but they’re huge here. There are cultural events, processions, dances, all night boozing and what not but the focus of the celebrations is bulls – fighting bulls.

First the Town Square is turned into a giant bull ring by building the most ramshackle looking stands around it. I’m told the woodwork is put together to a carefully constructed plan but it didn’t look that way to me. Whilst that work goes on sturdy iron railings are put up to channel the bulls through one of the city gates and in to the old town. Shopkeepers and anyone with property along the route not protected by the official railings builds some sort of defence against the bulls and the crazed humans who run alongside them.

The whole event is controlled by the sound of the bells on the Town Hall – one signal to say the bulls are loose, another to say they’re into the town or the square and one that says “run for your life”. The bulls, guided in by six bigger but more docile steers, are let loose a few hundred metres outside the city walls – lads, of both sexes and all ages run in front of, alongside, behind or away from the bull. They goad them with umbrellas, copies of newspapers or anything else to hand. Usually one or two of the lads trip and the bulls get their own back. There are fleets of Red Cross ambulances to cover the event and I found it vaguely satisfying that they set up a mobile operating theatre – just in case. Once the bulls are in the square the lads continue to run around; jumping over bulls is good, having a home made cape seemed quite voguish too. The crowd looks on from the stands and eventually the animals are guided from the arena. This is not generally a festival of killing but there are a couple of professional bullfights during the week as well as the two bull runs each day.

On the Sunday it’s a bit different. This time the bulls are led into the city by men on horseback. The riders carry long pointed sticks that they say are used to keep the bulls in order. I never saw them used in anger and I reckon that it’s the presence of the horses that guides the bulls. The lances, and the flat caps, are just to make the men look dashing – a sort of country squire cum Don Quijote. The only real difference is that the horsemen escort the bulls in from the countryside but, once the beasts are inside the railed off streets, the dash to the town square is just as before.

Last year I was tricked into being on the dangerous side of the fence as those bulls passed. The instructions about diving under or over the fence, if pressed, were spinning in my head as the slavering beasts passed by. If you fancy giving yourself a bit of a fright you still have time to plan your trip for this year.

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