Monday, October 7, 2013

When You Mess With The Bull...

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla
[Say that ten times fast...]
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do"--your typical travel motto, right?  Well when you're in Sevilla and you want to do as the Sevillanos do, one of the best things you can do is go to a bullfight.  It's not like the Flamenco dance shows or the city tours on double-decker buses.  Those kinds of things are tailored to the tourists, and personally I find that some of them can be a bit cheesy.  

I went to the bullfight with some classmates, and shortly after arriving, we realized that we had absolutely no idea what to expect.  We had this picture in our heads of what a bullfight "should" be like, and (SPOILER ALERT) we were fully aware that the bulls were going to die at the end.  Other than that, we were basically clueless.  We eventually recognized a pattern of events, but it wasn't until I did some research afterwards that I really understood the meaning behind what happened.  So, I'm going to combine my experience with a little supplemental background information to give you all an idea of what goes on during a bullfight. 

[Also, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents for giving me such an awesome camera.  All the photos you see on this post are ones that I took myself.  Thanks Mom and Dad!] 

The Players

Each bullfight has at least one Matador, and he is accompanied by two lancers on horseback, three flagmen, a sword servant, and several other assistants.  Bullfighting season begins in the spring, and normally the most experienced Matadors open the season, and as time goes on the Matadors are less experienced.  We had the good fortune to get tickets to one of the last bullfights in Sevilla.  It was a special festival, so there were two very experienced Matadors in this bullfight.

They are all dressed in custom-made suits that are hand-sewn and, consequently, very costly.  Some of the Matadors wear suits that are sewn with silver or even gold thread.  The type of suit worn denotes the role of each person in the bullfight.  The bullfight is split into three parts, and each man (yes, they're all men) has his specific job in each part.  

Part One: Tercio de Veras

The Tercio de Veras ("Lances Third") starts with the Matador observing the bull.  He waves his cape at the bull, causing it to charge so he can watch the bull's tendencies.  In case you were wondering, yes, the cape in the picture is pink.  Contrary to popular belief, bulls are not attracted to the color red--they are actually colorblind.  Rather, they are drawn to the movement and the sound of the fabric as the Matadors and his assistants wave their capes.  They switch to a red cape later, to avoid the blood stains being noticeable to the crowd.  Once the Matador has a chance to watch the bull and practice a few passes, a trumpet sounds the entrance of the Lancers.  
The Lancers ride in on horses that are covered in protective padding and blindfolded.  The bull is encouraged to charge at the horse so the Lancer can stab--I have yet to find a better word to use, so I apologize for the graphic description--the collection of muscle on the bull's neck.  We were all thoroughly impressed with the horses and how they were trained to just lean up against the bull as it pushes against them.  After the first loss of blood, the Lancers exit the arena.  This stage is meant to weaken the bull before continuing to run in the arena with just the Matador.

Part Two: Tercio de Banderillas

The "Flags Third" consists of three flagmen each attempting to plant two barbed sticks into the bull's shoulders.  Each set of flags is decorated with colors symbolizing the area where the bullfight is taking place.  In our case there were red and yellow for Spain, green and white for Andalucía, and red and white for Sevilla.  While the flagmen are placing the flags, the rest of the assistants run the bull around in the center of the ring.  At this point, the bull has lost a lot of blood, but is still very angry and makes strong charges at everyone in the ring.

Part Three: Tercio de Muerte

This is the "Death Third," where the Matador and the bull once again go head-to-head in the arena.  This time the Matador uses a red cape, and he also carries a sword.  He makes the bull pass by him back and forth several times.  They demonstrate their control and bravery by trying to get as close as he can to the bull.  The Matadors that we saw were experts; one would pet the bull as it ran past and even put his head on the bull's back at one point, and they both had blood staining the front of their suits when the fights were over.  The other objective of these passes is to maneuver the bull into a good position to drive the sword between its shoulder blades and through its heart.  The kill is meant to be swift, and if the Matador fails to properly insert the sword, the crowd will react.  This actually happened a couple of times during the fights we saw, and it was not pretty.  The Matador is given 15 minutes to complete the kill.   

In this photo of the Tercio de Muerte, you can see the banderillas
hanging from the bull's shoulders.  

After the bull has fallen, a rope is tied around its horns and it is carried out of the ring by mules.  This process repeats until six bulls have been killed.  During the bullfight that we went to, there were actually seven bulls, but the first one was sent away because it wasn't "fiesty" enough.  

Now, I know that everyone must be thinking about how cruel this is and how they shouldn't be killing these innocent animals.  Well, there is definitely a controversy surrounding this tradition.  In fact, bullfighting is now against the law in the Canary Islands and Catalonia (the region of Spain that includes Barcelona).  In southern Spain, it remains a long-standing tradition, and it is something the people look forward to.  We kept comparing it to a baseball game in the United States (complete with snack vendors walking through the crowds, rowdy fans, and the like).  All in all, I'm really glad I had the opportunity to experience this cultural marvel.     


No comments:

Post a Comment