Monday, June 16, 2008

Man Vs. Beast...Plaza de Los Toros...Bullfighting Time!


Bullfighting in Spain goes wayback and whether or not you are a fan of it or not, it's an impressive spectacle. The sight of an angry 600kg-horned beast barreling down full-speed at guy dressed in a sparkling singlet and matching jacket will grab your attention. "Ole," the crowd shouts as the beast sends his horns through the matador's outstretched pink cape.
Below is a tale of our time at a Madrid bullfighting match.
So we hopped off the subway at the Las Ventas stop and climbed the metro stairs to a brown-bricked circular
plaza with people buying/selling food and fans preparing for the match. The quantity of people outside the stadium matches the sight similar to ESPN gameday, except there are no drunk frat boys with letters painted on their chest and no Lee Corso wearing a mascott on his head. Just a calm buzz about the match and people lining up to get in.

Jamie and I picked up a few bocadillo sandwiches and thought about eating them prior to entrance. I asked around and everybody said bringing food into the arena is common practice. Now, being from the States, Jamie and I are accustomed to over-zealous insecurity guards at events like the College World Series where they actually hire Douglas County Sheriffs, Omaha Police Officers, and Delta Security (cop wannabes) to pat down little kids and ensure they dont bring in their own bag of sunflower seeds. Forget about the 31 shootings Omaha had in 31 days last year, our priorities are geared more towards searching fans who want to bring in a 99-cent bag of Cornnuts rather than preventing/solving crimes. but that's my point of view.

Getting back to the story, the Las Ventas event, folks let you bring in anything...I mean anything! 2 liter bottles, cans of beer, hard liquor, full meals...a guy even brought in a whole pig's leg! Why can't we do that in America. Let's focus on the event, instead of profit. So we ate our dinner and drank a Coke inside the stadium where we watch the stands fill up from our 14th row seats. Typically, the cheaper seats in a bullfighting event are situated in the sunny section. We were in those seats and the sun warmed us in the Spring weather.

The stadium is full and it is game time. The drums pound, the horns sound, the gates to the ring open to begin the opening ceremonies. Four bullfighters walk into the stadium on their steeds followed by the junior toreros. To me, the junior toreros are the rodeo clown equivalent that protect the main bullfighter by distracting the bull and maintaining its level of anger while the main bullfighter changes horses. Instead of barrels, these toreros duck for cover behind recessed panels that allow them to duck and cover when the bull gets a little too close. The participants do their song and dance and everybody saw how well-trained these horses were. According to rider command, the animals marched forwards, backwards, and sideways in a variety of cadences and trots. Pretty cool, actually. When that finished, the real fun began. Man vs. Beast. The fight begins with a single horse mounted bullfighter waiting in the ring. The main door opens and a horned beast charges at full speed. It's looking for something to take out its aggression on. The bullfighter sees the 600kg animal coming and starts to move. Because of it's ability to quickly turn and easily accelerate, the horse has the advantage in the fight. It's all about angles in this fight. The bull gets close enough to feel the horse's tail, but the bullfighter steers the horse enough to be a safe distance.

For a long time I always thought bullfights were just a guy in spandex and a bull plowing through a red cape. Well, that's not exactly how things happen. Bulls die in the match. The bull's death takes about 15 or 20 minutes and it's pretty bloody. The end of the bull begins with the bull chasing the horse for a bit. The bullfighter is then handed a long barbed shaft. With shaft, the bullfighter charges the bull and jabs it into the bull's neck, staining the black coat deep red. The bullfighter jams two more long barbs into the bull's neck and is then handed three smaller, dagger-sized barbs. With the smaller daggers, the bullfighter gets almost parallel with the bull and crosses over his body to jab the barb into the animal's neck. This is a pretty complicated move considering all the moving parts going on. The bull is tired. It's not as quick as it once was and from our seats you witness how heavily the animal is breathing. At that time, the bullfighter gets off of his horse, grabs a pink cape, another barb, and approaches the bull. The bull aims its horns at the cape but only plows through the air. This goes on for a few more minutes and the bullfighter successfully plants a few more barbs into the beast's neck. The bull is near the end when the red cape appears. The junior bullfighters appear from their recessed doors and begin to waive their pink capes on the sides of the beast to ensure the bull is sufficiently exhausted and blinded. You too would prolly go blind if someone stabbed you in the neck a dozen times. The fights ends when the bullfighter takes a long sword known as a muleta and thrusts it between the shoulder blades and into the heart of the beast. The bull stiffens for an instance and then goes limp. Maintenance then comes in to drag the bull out of the ring. A harness is fastened around the bull's head and horns for three mules to drag the animal away.

steak anyone?

Without a doubt, bullfighting is cruelty to animals, especially when the bullfighter misses with the muleta and has to retry a few times. the crowd was not pleased when that happened.

Jamie and I saw around eight matches that evening and the scariest event occurred on the second fight. You know how I mentioned man vs. beast and how the bull usually dies? Well, in this match the bull at least got a few good shots in and really hurt the bullfighter. While the bullfighter is putting barbs into the bull's neck, he will perform some elaborate tricks on the horse while the bull is chasing it. One of those tricks included a pirouette where the bull slowly follows the horse and then the horse does a 360 degree turn right in front of the horned-beast. This trick worked well when the bullfighter would turn into the ring, or the open area. Well, we witnessed the horse turning into the wall and towards the bull. The bull was waiting for him and dug its horns into the horse and knocking the rider down. It only lasted a few seconds, but the crowd went silent, the white horse we bloodied, and the bullfighter's head was injured. They got him out of there, but talk about bloody. yaowza

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