100 Things: See a bullfight

One of the things that I wanted to do really badly when I was in Spain was to see a bullfight. I’m one of those people that if you’re going to see a country you should see all of it and so when Jon and I talked about going to Spain we knew we wanted to cover a huge range of things. One of them was to see a bullfight in person. I saw one on tv when I was in Spain 20 years ago. (Holy Schnikes, I was there 2 decades ago! Ok, moving on.) But I feel when you see something on tv it’s different compared to what you would see in person. So I agreed to it.

Our traveling companions, Dave & Ashley were half into it, actually Dave was into it and Ashley wasn’t. So the decision was made to buy 3 tickets for “el sombre” (shade seating) for Sunday at 7pm during the bullfighting extravaganza in Madrid. (Apparently we were there during the bullfighting competition of the year, where everyone travels to Madrid to compete, so there was an event every night.)

Here’s the arena when we got there.

Spainish Bullring

Bullfights. Ole!

It’s a beautiful building and really amazing inside too. See?

The bullring interior.

The seating is really tight and the seats are on marble slabs, however you can pay 2 euros and sit on a nice cushion during the matches. We decided not to and ended up shifting on our butts to relieve some of the pain we were having on our arse. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) there was an American couple sitting next to us too, I think they were from California (based on the dude wearing Rainbow flip flops) and they left after the first round, (I have a feeling it was because the match was a little intense) which gave us more wiggle room to get comfortable.

So for those of you that don’t know the rules let me try to explain and if I’m getting this wrong please let me know. There are two versions, that I’m aware of, of bullfights. One is on horseback and the other is on foot, the method that most people are familiar with. On average 3 to 4 matadors compete during a bullfight, with 2 fights per matador. The first matador is the most experienced, followed by the second and the third most experienced. At the match we saw, there were 3 competitors; a dude who definitely did well according to the crowd, another who was having a rough go of it for sure and then a kid who was about 25 years old from Colombia (HEY!!). They are each given a go once and then after everyone had a turn then they go another round.

Matadors coming on in

Once the bull enters the ring, there are three parts.  First, the matador gets a feel for the bull having him do a past or two to see his method and get an understanding of the bull’s traits.

Getting to know the bull.

Next comes the men on horseback who spear the bull which weakens him enough to lose a lot of blood and get him angry at the same time. The bull starts ramming into the side of the horse, which is thankfully blindfolded and padded all around. It’s a little intense and the man in front of us was yelling at the rider, trying to give him pointers which was a little weird. It’s sort of like listening to a person yelling at an umpire during a baseball game, they think they know more, however with American sports your dealing with objects, not an animal willing to kill you if it had the chance.

Next, we have the banderilleros who plant decorated spikes in the back of the bull. They’re sort of like the matador’s assistant, maybe they’re like matadors in training or retiring matadors but they are there to cover not only that matador’s back but each others. Here’s one going after the bull.

Approaching the bull

Banderillero approaching the bull.

After three rounds of trying to get the spears in between the shoulder blades of the bull, then comes out the matador ready to take on the bull. The goal is to have the bull pass close to you without having him hit or charge you. After a few rounds he will be exhausted and that’s when the matador will  kill him with a sword. I’ve decided not to put any photos up of the final kill, but here’s a photo of one of the final passes of the bull. It’s a little bloody so you are warned.

The bull’s final pass.

At the end, the matador kills the bull by plunging his sword into his back. If the crowd believed the matador did a great job he is allowed to keep an ear of the bull, if it was an amazing job he is allowed to keep both ears. And if it  was something for the history books then he is carried out of the arena on the people’s shoulders.

I know that many people out there are opposed to bullfighting, while other see it as a part of the culture. Taking away bullfighting in Spain is taking away a part of tradition. I noticed a few seats away from us were some Colombian visitors as well, who were taking notes on the types of bulls and how the matadors were handling them, goes to show that bullfighting goes beyond one nation.

I’m glad that I saw it and I’m upset at the same time. The first time watching a bull die was extremely hard and was a bit gruesome for me, I started to tear up but refused to cry in public. By the end, it was a little easier to stomach and I was more focused on which matador was going to allow the bull get super close to him. However, I know it’s part of something traditional that I can see how other people appreciate it (no one gets up during the bullfight, everyone waits until after the killing to get a beverage, go to the bathroom or speak to their neighbor; it’s a respected sport). But, I don’t think I’ll be signing up for another one anytime soon; knowing that I got one thing off my list is good enough for me.

1 down, 99 more to go.

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