Monday, August 01, 2016

Lost in Spain: episode 1

EPISODE 1: Todo completo

I hauled my pack up to the window of the Córdoba train station and asked for a ticket to Ronda. At last, my goal was in sight: the Feria de Pedro Romero.

“Todo completo,” said the rail clerk. “All the trains are full.”

My heart sank. “When is the next available train?”

“Mañana.”

Tomorrow?! How had I forgotten to book ahead? The festival peaks tomorrow! I already learned this lesson before, though never with consequences worse than an extra night in Paris. Now, after months of meticulous planning, weeks of scheduling each step of my journey, and daily discipline to hit every milestone so I could get to the festival on time, it was all at risk. I kicked myself. You stupid, stupid fool.

The Feria de Pedro Romero, founded in 1954 by the famous matador Antonio Ordóñez, is held in Ronda in the first week of September. Named in honour of Ronda's great eighteenth-century toreador and father of modern bullfighting, the fair climaxes on the anniversary of Romero's 200th birthday with the Corrida de la Goyesca: a bullfight performed in the traditional 18th-century costume of Goya's paintings, held in Spain's oldest and most revered bullring. Since staring up, as a five-year-old, at the graceful sweeps of a painted matador stroking the bull with red caresses on a 1960s bullfight bill on the wall of my dad's garage, I have wanted to see a bullfight. If you were to see only one, it would be the Goyesca.

Like flamenco, bullfighting is embedded in the fiery culture of Andalucía. It is a bloody, controversial tradition. Many Spaniards regard it as little more than a cruel remnant of machismo with little place in a civilised modern society, and public support has haemorrhaged in recent years. In 2010 it was put to a parliamentary vote in Catalonia and outlawed when its cultural apologists lost.

Yet it remains popular here in its conservative homeland. By the time of the feria's 50th anniversary in 2004—a celebration at which some celebrities arrived by helicopter—the Goyesca was so fashionable that tickets had become all but impossible to get. Each year they are sold only at the plaza de toros on a few set days prior to the fight before remaining tickets are apportioned to local resellers, who are free to then charge whatever they want. In those pre-financial crisis years, tickets commanded prices up to €2,000.

I had to arrive today for even a chance at a ticket. I lugged my backpack into the estación de autocares across the road and scanned the sales windows of the numerous bus companies: Alsina Graells went to Granada, Bacoma ran to Baeza, Empresa Carrera headed to Cabra and Secorbus served Madrid. There was no route to Ronda.

Rubbing the tightened cords of my brow in disbelief, I wracked my brain for options. Ronda is just a small town. There is no airport. Hitch-hike? Unreliable. It could take days. It dawned on me that the only way out of my predicament was through the nose: when planning this leg of the trip I'd abandoned the idea of a rental car as beyond my budget. Now it was my only option.

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