The feria of Abril in Sevilla marks the opening season of las corridas de toros, bull fights. During our 5 day stay in Sevilla for feria and to see the city, we decide our visit won’t be complete without witnessing an afternoon of killing.
The fight begins in thirty minutes and we don’t have tickets yet. We briskly walk to the plaza de toros and push past the crowd to get our tickets. Vendors sell ice-cold cans of beer and sodas, nuts and candy, souvenirs and posters of the headliner matadors and red and yellow cushions to comfort your bum. We snag two tickets in the highest and last row in the ring for 24,90 euros, the cheapest seats. I’m giddy with excitement, finally about to witness tradition and culture, deeply rooted within Spain.
Tickets in hand we find which door to enter, show our tickets to a young lad and climb up flights of stairs to find our seats. We sit on cement blocks that circle around the ring, with small painted numbers to mark our seat and sit amongst the crowd of friends, families with young children, fathers and sons, a mixture of tourists and Spaniards.
Before the fight begins, men in blue uniforms rake the dirt and lightly water it, putting on the final touches before the entertainment begins. We’re about to watch a traditional corrida de toro, three matadors who will each “fight” two bulls; six bulls will see their fate today.
The sound of the band playing marks the opening of the bull-fight. I’m full of awe and surprise having no background on the practicalities and traditions of this art, this sport. Each matador has three banderilleros, assistant bull fighters all dressed in beautiful traje de luces, suit of lights, and their classic pink capes ready for the charging bull. They gate opens, the bull enters and looks around curiously and then begins to charge towards the waving cape wait till the ultimate moment to hide behind the gate. The bull charges, horns crash against the gate. The bull moves towards the next assistant and repeats. The show is on.
A few minutes later a man on horseback, picador, a horse with blinders and a protective coat prances into the ring and is led towards the bull. El picador gets as close to the bull as possible to lance the bull, piercing muscle on the bull’s neck to weaken and draw the first blood. The bull jabs his horns into the protective coat of the horse, as the horse calmly takes steps to move away from the beast. La picadora carefully guides the horse away and lances a second time into the bull, fulfilling the requirement to lance twice. (Until 1930, horses didn’t have protective gear and more horses than bulls died). The bull painted red, blood oozing out.
I’m squeamish and full of commentary, flowing out of my mouth like a river. I walked into the plaza de toros prepared to witness tradition and death weave as one but my ignorance of the process makes me sympathize with the bull, who never signed up to partake in this spectacle. I thought this was a fight- man vs. bull.
The horseman prances out of the ring, his job complete. Three banderillas enter, each taking their turn to strategically plant two banderillas each at the bull. The matador enters and begins his dance with the bull, getting as close to the bull with careful, small steps as if dancing a ballet. I watch closely focusing on his steps and how he moves his cape, trying not to focus on the bleeding bull. The bull is weak but continues in this game, this fight that he had no idea was coming. The matador is ready to perform his final act and swaps his maroon cape for a red one and switches his lance, a symbol the time has come to finish the bull. I watch the matador’s foot steps, like a ballet gliding over the dirt, taking small steps towards the bull. He holds the lance within the cape and he seizes the moment when the bull faces him, only an arm length away, he places the lance over the bull’s head and quickly guides it into the heart, not always easy but always the objective. This is known as estocada.
The matador shows off his valiance by taking a few steps away from the bull and turning his back to him to look at the crowd. The bull is still standing and looking on. The matador waves his red cape a few more times and soon the falls to his knees, exhausted and breathing his last moments of life. The bull falls over, dead and the matador places a small knife into the neck of the bull to finish him off and avoid any further suffering. The crowd cheers and the conductor strikes up the band. Full of pomp and circumstance, a horse carriage comes into the ring to drag the dead bull out of the ring. Bull meat will be sold at market tomorrow, including Rabo de toro, bulls tail, a specialty in Cordoba and Sevilla.
I try to grasp what I’ve witnessed but I don’t like it. My sentiments are shared as families and couples get up and walk out of the plaza, too much to stomach. Bull fighting is controversial in Spain and though it’s a symbol of this land, not everyone shares the passion of bull fighting. Animal-rights-groups have long protested to ban this sport and it has been outlawed in Catalonia, no more bull fights in Barcelona. I talk to Spaniards, teachers at my high school and the reaction is mixed. Some love it and others say, I don’t want to see an animal be killed. One says, I don’t believe in banning the sport but I don’t have any interest in going to a fight.
We take advantage of having more space to get an even better view and I start talking to a Spanish guy, un afficionado, a fan and mention, I thought this was a fight but this is war! He chuckles as does his good looking Spanish son and I begin a conversation full of questions in Spanish. I decide then and there to try to respect the aficionados, this cultural tradition and put my ways of thinking aside.
He gives me some basic background, explaining the horseman is required to lance the bull twice, there are time limits for each part of the fight and the fight has to be fifteen minutes or less. When the third matador takes the ring and in his final act of piercing the bull’s heart and misses, the bull charges at him and catches him, tossing him into the air like a rag doll. I felt worry and fear. In this moment; I realized despite all the “help” this is a dangerous sport, a wild bull full of animal instincts and self-preservation.
The matador quickly rolled away from the bull and an assistant, quickly distracted the bull. He got up and tried again. I asked our Spanish “friends” if that was it for him. No, He has to finish the bull. I thought, How? I’m sure he’s filled with fear and anxiety. But the matador got right back up and tried again. Once again, he got caught by the bulls horns and down he went, rolling quickly away from the bulls horns as he could. On his third try, lanced the bull showing he could overcome his fear.
We witnessed 2 more matadors show off their skill and bravery and I try to watch through this spectacle through another lens, another perspective. Despite the controversy of bullfighting, each bull killed will be sold and eaten. Bulls are raised on open pasture for a minimum of four years and sometimes up to six years and are at least 1 ton before they enter a bull ring. Despite your sentiments about watching an animal die, I question if fifteen minutes of suffering is worse than factory farms, where animals are raised in small, dirty and usually unethical spaces. Factory farms in the USA are horrible but most people have no idea how or where there meat comes from. The meat industry wants to keep it this way. I’ve heard factory farms in England and in many places in Europe aren’t much better. In Spain, bull fights are not only entertainment, the bull also becomes lunch.