Last year when I visited Spain I found myself in Seville at a special time of year for the locals. I found myself there during the bullfighting time. Many people told me this is a vulgar and awful practice. Many of the locals defended it saying that it is not a disgusting thing and that there is a lot of respect for the animal and that it isn’t cruel. Not being one to back down from things that are confronting, I weighed up whether I should or shouldn’t and decided that an informed decision was better than an uninformed decision and that I wanted to go and experience it for myself and make up my own mind.
Admitting this to people was a rather difficult thing. Some of my friends abused me for doing it because they felt I was supporting maltreatment of animals, others were not really understanding of why it is that I would want to go there to begin with. But as they say, when in Rome, and so I went. With reservation, but I went.
I found myself sitting in the ring next to a couple of people that spoke enough English to be able to explain some of the things that were going on to me. Between this and the information that I learned from the museums I visited up until that point I could figure out what was going on.
I could imagine that the whole affair resembled a similar scene to that of the Roman Gladiators. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance with brass bands playing loud music and horses parading around. Each matador gets to fight 2 bulls each over the space of the evening. There are generally 3 matadors per bullfight.
So the bull enters the ring. The matador waves the cape and assesses the bull for aggression. After that they get the guys on the horse to come out and they lance the bull in the neck while the bull locks its horns into the side of the horse. For the first bullfight I ever watched, the bull actually knocked the horse over and the bullfighters assistants had to go in and distract the bull to get the horse safely up.
After they have checked out the bull with the horses, the matador’s assistants go in to face the bull. They have these pom pom like sticks that are decorated in streamer type material with sharp ends on them called banderillas. The aim of these is to weaken the muscles around the bulls neck and to agitate it. After they have had a go sticking about four rounds of these things into the bulls neck, in which the bull is now bleeding enough to see, the final stage begins.
The matador enters the ring to face the bull alone with his cape and a sword. He hides the sword under the cape and uses the cape to assess how the bull is moving and the kinds of passes the bull makes. After a few passes, the matador drives the sword into the neck of the bull. If done correctly, the bull will usually sit down within the space of 30 seconds and the matador’s helpers will come out and sever the spinal cord so that the animal doesn’t suffer anymore.
The first bull I watched was excruciating. The matador missed where he was supposed to put the sword. It took three passes and three swords through the neck for the bull to go down and it made me cringe every time. This part of bullfighting is most awful. The thing that I did find utmost heartbreaking though was the utter confusion of the bull in the ring for the ten minutes it is there to fight for its death. Sometimes the bulls look around and don’t want to fight. Sometimes they are so confused about what is happening you can actually read the confusion on their faces. Sometimes they get angry and they just charge and charge and charge. Despite making the decision to go here, I cannot say that I really enjoyed it. However I did now feel that I could make an educated opinion on what I felt about bullfighting. And my decision was that it is in many ways barbaric and cruel. At the same time I cannot say that it is any better in abattoirs where they slaughter animals for food. The entire thing left a bad taste in my mouth.
One thing I will say is that despite killing them, the matadors seem to have a great love for the animals. Despite meeting a horrid death, these animals are kept in really good environments with good standards while they are alive. They are well cared for. And their deaths also do not go in vain. Every bull gets sent to the butcher and used for meat. Many of the restaurants in Seville have bull meat on the menu during the bullfighting season. In this sense I have respect for the process. However I don’t think I will be going again. I just don’t think I could stomach any more of it and call it entertainment. Best leave me to a chick flick or something less morbid. But if the movie boys could wear pants like those of the matadors, that would be great. Their butts look hot in those things!