Friday, September 19, 2014

Corrida de Toros 2014

Many of you have always been fascinated with the television coverage of the “Running of the Bulls” that takes place during a fiesta week in Pamplona every year. There are courageous folk who run in the streets, trying to avoid the horns of nasty bulls. It is a dangerous practice, to be sure.

But that same activity also takes place in many other towns and villages in Spain. Usually during the fiesta week, the side streets are barricaded to keep the bulls moving from start to finish. Most often, young bulls are used, and they are accompanied by young cows. This activity is not as dangerous as the one in Pamplona, but still gets the blood stirring.

There are large areas in Spain where you will find empty bull rings. Bullfighting has been banned along the Mediterranean Coast, from the French border as far south as Valencia. Ernest Hemmingway loved the fights, and wrote extensively about the bulls, the fighters, and the mystique of the institution. Several of his books have been made into movies, and, for a better understanding of the subject, they are recommended.

By no means would I consider myself an authority on the subject. I attended one bullfight, more than forty years ago. I was mesmerized from start to finish. I did read extensively on the topic, and I enjoy visiting the sites. A week ago, on Sunday, there were bullfights in several rings in southern Spain. Unfortunately, our schedule did not permit a visit to the ring. There was also a fight in the village of Mijas, in a tiny bull ring that might seat 2 000 people. There are some bull rings that will comfortably hold 100 000 patrons.

The bullfighters working in Mijas come from southern Spain. That is the case with most of the matadors. A majority of the bulls also come from the southern areas of Spain, and are carefully selected before they enter the ring. Christian Guerrero, Lazaro Escalona, and Juan C. Benitez fought the bulls last Sunday. The surname Benitez is famous in the circles of bullfighting, as “El Cordobes” was a Benitez. He was the most famous matador in Spain for many years, and retired virtually healthy.  

That is not always the case, as many matadors, also called toreros, have been killed in the ring. They must work carefully, and quickly, as no bull fight can last longer than 15 minutes. After that period of time, the bull becomes extremely dangerous. There is a large entourage that accompanies the bullfighter: banderilleros, responsible for placing the colourful banderillas on the flanks of the bull, picadors, those on horseback who prepare the bull to charge in a consistent manner, and a host of others.

The entire team parades into the ring before the entrance of the bull. The actual event is broken into three stages, known as tercios. To begin the fight, the torero works the bull with his cape to judge the charge of the bull. The final act is performed only by the matador, using his red cloth, the muleta. In fact, bulls are colourblind, and respond to the movement of the cape, not the colour.

The bullfight has been an institution in Spain for more than two hundred years, and you will also find bull rings in many Spanish-speaking countries, southern France and in Africa. It is not for everyone, but it is a spectacular event, and it captures the imagination of many aficionados every Sunday during the summer throughout most of the country.  


James Hurst

September, 2014.

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