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Death in the Afternoon

Ever since I arrived in Spain six and a half years ago, I have wanted to do and see and experience everything that is quintessentially Andalucian, and especially part of life in Seville. Tapas, flamenco, Semana Santa, Feria, bullfighting. Yes, bullfighting. I figure that if there’s a custom that you don’t agree with, you should at least try it, so that you can say, ``Oh yes, I went to a bullfight once. It was xxxxxx and it made me feel xxxxxxxxxxxx.’ I most definitely do not agree with bullfighting. As a vegetarian anti-bloodsports pacificist, it repels and disgusts me. But I have always promised myself - my curious, journalistic self - that one day I will go to a ‘corrida’ – after all, Seville has one of the most important bullrings, both architecturally and in terms of the quality of the participants, in the world. Until then, I will just have to judge it from what I have glimpsed on TV. Anyway, I feel that it is more about the idea of the thing, than actually watching a bull have lances and spikes stuck into its back live in person, as the crowd cheers and claps in appreciation. Because to your average Spaniard, it is either something you think is wonderful, full of ‘art’, skill and courage, or it doesn’t bother you. This is borne out by various surveys – the latest, in 2006, found that 26 per cent of Spaniards were either very or quite interested (for which read pro), and a whopping 72 per cent weren’t at all interested (78 per cent of women and 81 per cent of young people). As for being against it, or even taking a stand, that is a rarity, although becoming less so - in the Canary Islands it has been banned (though some say this was to pander to the tourist trade, as there hadn’t been a major corrida there since 1986), while the Catalonian parliament will vote whether to end bullfighting in their region in mid-July. In Andalucia, Cadiz has the strongest anti-bullfighting movement, where they have even managed to delay the construction of a new bullring, while many major cities have seen demonstrations in recent years: Malaga, Cordoba, Granada, Almeria and even Sevilla. In fact, many Sevillanos I know, of my age or younger, are against it. A matador wants a clean kill, they say, so the bull doesn’t suffer. Yes, all well and good, but that’s not the point, reply we touchy-feely, sentimental, bunny-cuddling northern Europeans. He shouldn’t be killed at all. Leave him to eat flowers like Ferdinand. But if there were no corridas, there would be no bulls, they say. Yadayadayada. If 24,000 fewer bulls are bred so that 30 million people can’t watch them being publicly taunted, tortured and slaughtered every year, I won’t weep into my gazpacho. Bullfighting is not covered as a sport here – after all, the result is a given, the bull always dies – but as an art, in the culture section of newspapers; its reporters are ``critics``. As Hemingway, himself both an aficionado and practitioner, with two books, Fiesta and Death in the Afternoon on the subject, put it: ‘The bullfight is not a sport in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the word – that is, not an equal contest…between a bull and a man. Rather, it is a tragedy, which is played… by the bull and the man involved... in which there is…certain death for the animal.’’ Fiesta, art – words we would associate with positive concepts like celebration, creativity and beauty. The bullfighters themselves enjoy fame and glamour equal to big-name actors and singers – Jesulin de Ubrique, Enrique Ponce, Fran Rivera. As I said, I firmly believe that you either think it is acceptable or unacceptable. The standard in favour opinion was expressed beautifully in El Correo yesterday. Accompanied by a most attractive and appealing illustration of a severed heart pierced by banderillas (short, barbed, decorated spikes used to weaken the bull), a journalist expounded on how outrageous it was to suggest that anyone who goes to see a bullfight, and even more so the bullfighters themselves, takes pleasure in the animal’s suffering. So stabbing and driving a sword into a bull is, what, tickling him? Having a bit of fun? For I have often read that rarely is the bull killed ´cleanly`- in other words, with one strike of the sword, with as little mess, and further pain, as possible. Our journalist, who I am sure enjoys wide support in his views, uses the word ´suffering`, or derivatives thereof, nine times in his opinion piece. So this taurino, or bullfighting fan, is not denying that the animal does suffer. Just that he doesn’t enjoy it. So you’re all for killing animals, but you’re not a sadist. Well whoop-de-do. And what exactly do you do while the poor beast is staggering around the ring with lances and spikes hanging out of its back? Look away in horror? Protest loudly, saying, ‘I am not enjoying this. Honestly, I’m not. I think it’s shocking.`? Let me quote you some particularly interesting phrases: ´´Most Spaniards are aficionados of bullfighting´. Hmm. See above-mentioned survey. ‘I won’t bother to try and convince those of you who are against this type of event (I suppose that you’re also against hunting, fishing and any human activity which mistreats animals...)`. Right, so you agree it’s mistreatment. Now we’re getting somewhere. Not even an English bloodsports enthusiast, and I know plenty having grown up among them, would admit to mistreatment of animals. They all talk about ‘quick, clean kills’ too. He goes on to say that ‘it’s an impossible dialectical battle which is going nowhere. Those who are against it, always will be, and the same goes for those who are in favour.` OK, that’s probably true. It´ll be a generational change. The writer goes on to wax lyrical about bullfighters; specifically, matadors: ´´I don’t know any twentysomething young person who speaks with as much depth as a bullfighter.` and ``If only those who defend the animal... were capable of generating as tolerant, profound and calm a personality as those whose job it is to kill the bull.’’ What is this, Zen and the art of bullfighting? The Spaniards are hopelessly in awe of these men who put on their traje de luces and prance around in a ring sparring with a 500 kilo beast, who pull all the best-looking women, and who get stinking rich in the process. Let's face it, it's the ultimate macho wet-dream. I will leave it to the highly respected Spanish naturalist, Feliz Rodriguez de la Fuente, to have the last word: ´´The national fiesta (ie bullfighting) is the greatest apotheosis of human aggression.``
Blog published on 15 March 2010