I did something I thought I’d never ever do yesterday: I went to a bullfight.
Being a fruity, European liberal chap, I don’t approve of such things. Fox hunting, badger baiting, cock fights, bullfights: all the same thing in my book. And while I have no desire to go and see a dog fight or a fox hunt, there is something about bullfighting that piqued my curiosity. Maybe it’s because it’s a big event, rather than some sleazy, in-a-dirty-warehouse event.
I can’t really explain why I wanted to go, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. It still freaks me out that I did go. And it has been on my mind constantly since. Frankly, it’s fucked up.
Firstly, the stadium is pretty impressive. Plaza de toros México is the largest bullfighting stadium in the world. The cheap seats are up at the top, on the side which gets the full glare of the sun. That cost 55 pesos, roughly £2.50.
It’s all well and good up to this point, because I’m just drinking beer in the sunshine, enjoying the friendliness of the folks sat around, who all say hello when they take their seats. And on the, err, pitch(?) the matadors come out to a trumpety fanfare, and look quite wonderful in their fancy kits. I mean, who doesn’t like pink socks, right?
Then we get down to business. A bull is released into the arena, and a bunch of matadors hide behind little walls, each taking turns to come out and flap their pink things to attract the bull’s attention. When the bull gets close, they slink off behind the wall like pussies.
I’m not sure of the rhyme or reason behind who it is that comes out, but one of the matadors encroaches further and further into the ring, and it seems like this is his fight; the others are just there to help wear the bull down a bit. Once again, I find myself thinking that this is unfair. The bull gets very little chance to get in a proper fight, cos the moment he gets close, there’s suddenly all the other matadors running around trying to distract him.
Then some dude comes into the middle with these two pointy sticks and tempts the bull to charge him, before trying to ram the sticks into his neck. This is the point when my liberal conscience really kicks in. Blood is pissing out of the bull’s neck, and he’s still being goaded into fighting with a matador.
Then comes the real problem for my brain. I hate this. A bull being needlessly tortured and ground down, but I couldn’t help but be a little bit impressed at the gracefulness of the duel between the solo matador and the bull. It’s horrible and beautiful.
(In a couple of photo’s time, you’re going to see a dead bull, so stop scrolling now if you don’t want to see that.)
Slowly, the bull is being exhausted of all energy to keep fighting. He puts up a valiant effort to keep going, he’ll slip and get back up to give it another go, but eventually he succumbs to his injuries and tiredness. Then he falls and doesn’t get up. It’s a shocking moment. I’ve been wracking my brain to think of another time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mammal die before. It knocked the wind out of my sails. It was disgusting.
A couple of horses are pranced into the ring, and they swiftly drag the bull away while the matador absorbs the cheers of the crowd.
If the matador had done a particular good show, lots of hats and flowers are thrown into the ring. If the judges decide he’s been good, an ear of the bull is cut off and given to the victor.
We learned this from this guy below, Paco. He explained that the ear is the trophy for a good matador. The better the matador, the “better” the trophy. Some get ears, some get the tail. An exceptional performance gets you the feet, something that Paco said occurred rarely; every two or three years.
The one saving grace of being at the bullfight was the friendliness of Paco. He’s the same age as me, and has been going every week for twenty years. He took time and pleasure in explaining things to us. He was well aware that the man from Inglaterra comes from a country that frowns upon bullfighting and tried to explain or justify the spectacle by telling us that the breeders of the bulls work hard to breed a good fighter, just as horse breeders try to train horses to be fast or jump well. I’m not really buying that.
But he was a lovely fellow. Lending us his binoculars to look at specific things he was explaining, talking us through the bulls and matadors, and best of all letting us drink his booze and eat bits of the food that he and his friends bring along. It’s not allowed to bring food or drink, but each of his gang bring a small part of a picnic. One will have some chicken hidden in his sock, another will have a can of jalapeños, another some tortillas.
And the booze is superb. They have these leather flasks, the kind I’ve only ever seen in western movies. Each person’s flask is full of their preferred cocktail. The one Paco shared with us was red wine, mineral water, sangria, and rum. It was really very delicious, once I’d got the hang of squirting it into my mouth rather than all over my glasses and nose.
It was nice distraction from the action in the ring, and by the end, I was quite drunk.
Still, I won’t be going again. I’m glad I’ve seen a bullfight. I still think it should be stopped. But, the friendliness of Paco and his pals made for a pleasant afternoon, despite the horrors going on down below.