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Travel Log: ¡Ole, Madrid!

November 6, 2009


Picture 18

Plaza de Toros Las Ventas

As the sun shone bright over the Madrileña post-noon sky and the breeze gently cradled the Spanish flags atop the arena, the gates opened wide and spectators filed in. The groundscrew drew two perfect white circles in the clay dirt while the shadows began to creep over the rim of the arena; the lethal dance would soon begin.

I looked around and took note of the variety of people in attendance. There were parents who were accompanied by there kids; couples making a date out of the event; some drunks who had found another excuse to gulp down a few more drinks. To my right were three older men who, it seemed, had an endless supply of cigars and a cloud of smoke to rival that of a locomotive. Two rows in front of me was an older lady, there alone, and quite possibly the most ardent spectator of us all.

I had seen a bullfight on TV once but didn’t –and really still don’t– understand how it worked. However, when in Spain do as the Spanish do, right? So why not attend a spectacle that’s so integral to Spanish society (It’s broadcast through Pay-Per-View!) and that is also very popular in Latin America?

Picture 19

Bullfighting and Spain are synonymous

The sound of horns filled the Plaza de Toros Las Ventas, one of the world’s most famous bullfighting theaters, and directed my attention away from the crowd and onto the arena below; the matadors, picadors and other bullfighters walked out and the multitude received them with a warm applause. Each matador, with their blinding suits and puffed-up chests, would fight two bulls.

Picture 20

The Three Matadors

I sat with a bag of roasted sunflower seeds and my Nikon pushed against my left eye, a ready photographer and an excited onlooker. I tried to understand the process of bullfighting as I kept my finger on the shutter, but that didn’t work so well –the understanding part, that is.

You see, it wasn’t until maybe the third or fourth bullfight that I started getting the gist of it, and the only reason why I began to semi-understand was due to a mixture of watching intently and listening, through the thick cloud of smoke, to the older gents, which in a way felt like listening to a conversation of theories between astrophysicists (not that I’ve ever done so, but I imagine it’d be difficult to understand most of it).

Out of the six bullfights I witnessed that day, it was the fifth one that really stuck with me. The protagonists were the smallest, but the most daring, of the three matadors and the biggest and strongest of the six bulls.

The bull stormed right through the gates and ran in a straight line across the arena and jammed his horns into one of the few wooden walls spread throughout. He pulled back and jammed his horns again into the wall as if the wall were the outer shell to a meaty and delicious treat within. Every wall around the arena was a victim of the bull’s sturdy horns.

When the picadors (mounted lancers) came out, it seemed like there was no other target for the bull. It forcefully drove its horns into the horse’s armor as the picador pushed the tip of his lance again and again into the bull’s back. Angered by the pain and with a dark red coat behind his neck, the bull dug his horns into the horse’s armored flanks and would have tipped it over had it not been for the bullfighters that, with their red capes, pulled it away from the horse and towards them.

Picture 21

The bull almost knocked the horse over

It was clear that what lay ahead of the matador would be a hard and interesting test. The bull rushed hard at the cape every time, and each time he missed. There were a couple of times when the bull’s horns passed close, his body grazing the matador’s torso, staining his suit with the blood and drawing nervous gasps from the crowd.

The fight was long and tough. The matador would hold out his cape, his sword underneath it, and shake it at the bull. The matador wanted to guide the bull with his cape, to control the bull; but the bull wouldn’t have it. He’d rush past the fighter in the direction he wanted, defiance in his eyes.

But with every drop of blood that escaped its body, so did its rage. And with every ounce of rage that the bull lost, the matador gained an ounce of control. Eventually the bull would rush towards the cape that dangled before him, hoping to drive his horns into something, only to find that that something was the hard ground the matador directed him to.

Picture 22

"Had he been a bit off, a huge horn would've gone right through his head"

When the moment was right, the matador did a final pass to show that the bull was now his subordinate. He knelt on the ground, held the cape up and did a pass that was as dangerous as it was spectacular. Had he been a bit off, a huge horn would’ve gone right through his head. Luckily for him, he stood up to the ecstatic applause from the crowd; unluckily for the bull, the matador had proved he was in complete control.

A few more passes and it was time.

Three bullfighters and the matador cornered the bull against the wall. The matador unveiled his shiny blade and, as he stood over the beast, they looked at each other, almost in respect, after the long battle they had waged.

Then the bull’s head went down. He bowed down. He knew there was nothing left, no future for him. He would not return to the stable he had emerged from hours earlier. The applause went to the matador, the tears to the bull.

Picture 23

The bull lowered his head, the matador raised his sword. And it was over.

A fight later, and as the sun began to fade in the horizon and the shadows engulfed the arena completely, the spectators filed out as orderly as they had gone in. On my way out of the arena, my eyes followed a pool of blood that came from within the grounds and up to the door of a butcher shop.

It’s pretty sad to see that at the end of the day, I returned to a nice hotel room, the matador took home all the glory, and the bull was sold in pieces. Besides all this, though, I can’t help but admit I was captivated by it all. From the arena to the people to the fights, it all captured my entire attention because to me it was more than just a bullfight. I felt like I had participated in a huge part of Spanish culture, which I think is what every traveler should aim for when visiting a foreign country.

Take a look at more of Fidencio’s photos from the afternoon he spent at Las Ventas by CLICKING HERE.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Vicky permalink
    November 6, 2009 12:41 PM

    I love you’re writing. It takes me completely out of my world and into yours. It’s an awesome experience.

    • November 6, 2009 2:38 PM

      Thanks. That’s really what I always try to achieve when I write, which I hadn’t done in a while until Travelverse, so I’m still a little rusty.

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