Thursday, September 10, 2009

La Corrida Goyesca

The bullring is sold out and the crowd is dense but civilised as they funnel through the several puertos, climb the stairs to the alto seats on the upper tier of the bullring, and thread through the rows of wooden benches. I find the number of my sol seat on one of the benches in the direct sun and throw down the little square cushion I bought outside for €2. It's 38°C, smells of cigarillos, and the bullfight will go for four hours.

In the Corrida Goyesca, there are three matadors, or toreros, who will each fight two bulls, and a 500kg Spanish fighting bull is a very angry beast. At the start of each fight, one is released into the ring through a wooden gate and it is immediately clear how dangerous these animals are. It charges the matador’s cuadrilla, the team of assistants, who goad it with muletas (capes) and then slide out of the ring behind a wooden partition. It is very much like a Roman arena.

The corrida is highly ritualised, divided into three tercios, stages. Starting with the tercio de varas, the bull attacks a blindfolded horse on whose back rides a lance-bearing picadore who spears the bull in the shoulder muscle.  This  weakens it from loss of blood. The bull attempts to lift the horse with its horns, weakening its neck muscles so that when it comes time for the matador the bull will hold his horns low. The horse, draped with a padded coat for protection from the bull’s horns, seems to accept this all with surprising equanimity.

The second stage sees three banderilleros on foot take turns to deftly thrust two banderillas, barbed and decorated sticks, into the bull’s shoulders. This both fires up the animal and weakens it from further loss of blood in preparation for the final stage.

In el tercio de muerte – the third of death – the matador and the bull go to head-to-head. The torero makes ballet-like movements with his red cape and sword as the bull passes, sometimes holding the bull’s flank with his hand as they pirouette. Though significantly weakened, the fierce bull is still capable of delivering a lethal cornada, or horn wound, and there was one dangerous moment in one of the fights when the torero lost his footing and slipped to the ground. The cuadrilla quickly moved in to distract the toro, and he was able to regain his footing and resume the fight.

Finally, the matador raises his sword, takes aim at the bull, then takes a running leap towards the horns and thrusts the sword down between the bull’s shoulder blades into its heart in an action called estocada. The torero is in the most danger at this point. With a proper delivery, the sword is buried to the hilt.

The noble animal musters all its dying strength to keep from collapsing but, if somewhat prolonged, it is inevitable. When it finally does, a péon moves in with a dagger and strikes into the spinal cord, killing the bull. The crowd cheers and waves white handkerchiefs, which is a call for the bull’s ears to be cut off and awarded to the torero, who will then walk around the ring to accolades. The bull is chained to a team of mules and dragged out of the ring.

It is barbaric. It could be argued that the actual death is relatively quick, and that we kill cattle regularly for eating. The complaint by animal rights activists, however, is that the animal is severely distressed prior to being killed, and therein lies the cruelty. A cow slaughtered for meat is oblivious until an instant death when the rod is fired through its head.

But legitimate charges of cruelty aside, the cultural spectacle is compelling.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I feel exhausted just from reading this...