Jewish World Review July 11, 2003 / 11 Tamuz, 5763
A grand affair of hot colors and surprisingly
sedate audience participation
SEVILLE, Spain -- Ever since reading Papa Hemingway's "Death In
the Afternoon," I have wanted to attend a bullfight. In years past, I had
seen them on television, though I have been told that, as with hockey,
television does not capture the full drama of the corrida de toros. In
Spain, there seems to be a bullring in every major city, and Seville's is
particularly inviting, swept, as it is, by refreshing breezes. Fate
presented me with an opportune moment to put myself in Papa's place at
ringside, though I went cleanly shaven and completely sober.
Press credentials dangling from my neck, I betook myself to the
Plaza de Toros de Sevilla, right in the heart of town. There, a
well-mannered crowed was streaming in to watch Sunday evening's bullfights.
A ticket costs about the same as the entree at a good American steak house.
The yellow-plastered stadium, about three stories tall, is nearly the size
of the minor-league baseball park you find in a city the size of
Indianapolis. It features a live brass band, which struck me as extravagant,
given the fact that this evening only two dancers really matter, the bull
and the matador.
The spectacle begins with a modest parade into the ring and
across the albero, the dark orange surface of the ring composed of what
appeared to be a mixture of dirt and sand. Numbered in the parade are the
evening's three matadors and their aides, all dressed in ornate,
tight-fitting couture. Fat picadores ride in on padded horses. Then comes a
complement of three horses used to lug the deceased bull from the ring.
Their attendants are dressed in what appear to be butcher's coats.
The ring falls silent save for the solo of a lone trumpet that
will be heard throughout the evening to announce some momentous occurrence.
All of a sudden, into the empty ring stomps a black bull, the first of six
that will provide boeuf bourguinon this evening. He is understandably
irritable, his posh life on the beautiful Spanish countryside having been
interrupted for this inscrutable evening as the focal point of thousands of
The bullfight is a grand affair of hot colors and surprisingly
sedate audience participation. There are no soccer thugs here. The bullfight
is a central theme of Spanish history and tradition. Still not all outsiders
comprehend its full significance. To the denizens of computer civilization,
it might be perceived as a mere virtual butcher shop.
To the bull, it is a dreadful inconvenience. He has been living
the life of Saddam's sons, complete with the bovine equivalent of
pornography. Now he has to endure the importunities of the matador's gang of
banderilleros, picadores and cuadrillas. He speeds across the ring with
terrific acceleration, as the matador's colleagues goad him into frenzy --
then into a state of premature fillet mignon.
From ringside where I sit, I see the massive black bull in
profile, snorting and pawing the albero. As he accelerates toward a puny
banderillero wearing what appear to be ballet slippers, he looks to me like
a huge Mercedes S-class sedan bearing down on a tipsy jaywalker. The
banderillero does not have a chance; but, of course, it is the bull that has
Courage is a main element in the bullfight, and the Spaniards
tell me that the bull is brave. Possibly, but from what I see he is mainly
irascible and would have a lot better chance if he staggered around the ring
for a few minutes, pleading mad cow disease. We know how even the brave
Spaniards quail over mad cow disease. Instead, this bull suffers the
importunities of the matador's faculty of pests until into the ring pops the
matador himself, dressed in a costume that would have sold well at
To be a fine matador one has to be even braver than the bull.
One has to have a strong arm with the blade, good eye-hand coordination,
fast footwork and tight pants. The three young matadors I watched the other
night had only tight pants. One fell in front of his bull, and his prostrate
leg luckily fit precisely between the animal's grounded horns. Before the
beast could lunge again he was distracted by a cuadrilla, and soon the
horses were dragging him off to the butcher's block.
The bullfight was not the gory horror I had expected. In fact,
there were many non-Spaniards in the audience, a surprising number of whom
were Americans, many actually young women. Admiring it fully does seem to
take acculturation, probably acculturation in Spain where I am having a most
agreeable time, but Spain is not my home. I would caution that the
activities at the Plaza de Toros de Sevilla are not to be recommended to
vegetarians and probably not to Hindus. The bullfight is for meat-eaters
and, after watching one, even a meat-eater might have second thoughts.
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