La Lidia: Plaza de Toros De Sevilla, Andalucia

16 Sep

Yes, I have participated in animal torture. As a vegetarian for more than two decades who buys free range eggs and petitions against live animal export it may seem odd I’ve willingly been to a bull fight but I wanted to see firsthand what it’s all about and to observe the bull fighters’ moves closely. So much male Flamenco choreography is based on the strong, sustained postures of the matador facing down the bull.

As a 34 degree Celsius Sunday afternoon became a beautiful 25 degree full moon evening in Seville I watched six bulls killed more or less quickly, each taking between 20 and 25 minutes from the time they entered the ring. Only one was a clean kill, rewarded by the ear being sliced off and handed to the matador who kissed it and paraded the full circle of the arena to accept the adulation of the crowd. The rest had to be worried to their knees and then stabbed in the top of the skull with a short knife. I rooted for the bulls along with two young Aussie backpacking women sitting next to me but it was never a fair fight.

I don’t know the finer points of La Lidia but I do know what I witnessed along with the beer drinking, brass band and whip cracking. The bulls suffer, that is obvious to everyone. That the matadores, picadores and cabelleros are brave is also beyond dispute, but the true bravery award goes to the two blindfolded horses that stand in the outer ring and have to withstand the wrath of the bull charging against their padded sides and belly while the rider tries to weaken the bull by lancing him along his spine. The horses barely flinched. They seemed change the horses each bout but at the very least they must be very badly bruised.

The three young matadores at the September 11, 2011 Programa Plaza De Toros, were Gomez Del Pilar (23), Damian Castaño (21) and Emilio Huertas (22). They were all magnificently costumed and splendid at running backwards in ballet pumps. Gomez had superb lunges, leg and hip extensions in his cape work, but it was Damian who seemed to take the most risks. He moved and sounded like a demented Mr Bean. When he killed the fifth bull with his sword the crowd went crazy waving their white handkerchiefs and shouting ‘Oreja!’ (ear!). See the video clip.

In some provinces children are not permitted to attend bull fights but this is Andalucia and I had a five-year-old boy next to me and two similarly aged girls sitting behind me with their Spanish parents and grandparents. Smoking is also banned in bars and restaurants but at the bull ring Spaniards can still puff on fat Cuban cigars while they enjoy their blood sport.

I think it highly unlikely bull-fighting will be banned in Andalucia in the current economic climate even though I’ve seen outraged letters to the editor in the newspapers. With Spain’s economy on the skids they’re not about to end an industry employing thousands of people – everyone from the staff at the concession stands to the men who clean the blood off the capes between bulls, to the specialist ‘sand men’ in blue jumpsuits watering the ring beforehand, raking it between bouts and shoveling out the blood if there is an especially gory patch. The Red Cross even gets in on the act renting cushions for a 1.5 euro donation.

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