Postcard of the Week: Bullfighting
Bullfighting in Spain is equally as popular as it is controversial, and so controversial in fact that it’s been banned from Catalonia since 2011. I witness my first bullfight in Castile and León when I was 12, and although we didn’t actually see the bull killed, it was certainly an experience that remained imprinted on my mind. That day we also saw the corrida (the Running of the Bulls), where the bulls chase men through the streets towards the bullring, which looked absolutely terrifying. At the most famous bull running event in Spain, in Pamplona, roughly between 200 and 300 people are injured every year, and 15 people have died since 1924. The bullfighting season runs from April to September and two of the most famous spots to witness it are La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid and La Maestranza in Seville.
Update August 2014:
Two years after publishing this Postcard of the Week I actually went to Las Ventas bullring in Madrid. In the summer months there’s a bullfight every Sunday night at 7pm and seeing as it’s an important historical element of Spain’s culture (I wouldn’t say it’s a pillar stone of Spain’s contemporary culture) I wanted to witness it for myself. We had tickets for the 4th or 5th row in the Sol y Sombra section of the ring, which cost €25 each. There are tickets as cheap as €5 but you’ll be stuck up in the heavens and barely see anything. Five or so bulls were brought out and killed during the course of 90 mins, and I have to say that I surprised myself with my complacent reaction. The first bull was gory and gruesome if I’m honest. I had clenched teeth, barely wanted to look, my whole body was tense and the bull eventually died and was dragged away to the sound of a fanfare. That first bull felt uncomfortable, and I wasn’t quite sure what to feel. But then as the second and third bulls came and went, I realised I was becoming de-sensitised to it. I had no emotional connection to the bulls, so seeing them die no longer tugged at the heart strings.
Apart from the first bull, which just shocked me, it really wasn’t all that gruesome. The bull doesn’t seem to be pain (at least it doesn’t express it) right up until the moment that it collapses onto the ground. What did impress me however was the spectacle of the sport and the way they honour tradition with their elaborate and colorful costumes, fanfares and the order of proceedings.
I know that there are a lot of people who feel very strongly against bullfighting, and they’ll probably shake their heads in disappointment that I went to watch one. I’m not condoning bullfighting and I honestly don’t know enough about it to join the debate. I’m certainly not going to enter that debate online, it’s just a recipe for disaster.