Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My First Corrida de Toros

My knowledge of bullfighting probably started with Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises which I read when I was about 17 or 18. That was a long time ago and since then I have read countless other descriptions of La Corrida de Toros, literally “the running of the bulls” in Spanish. Most recently I reread travel writer Paul Theroux’s juvenile criticism of the spectacle in his book The Pillars of Hercules in which he cheered for the bull to gore the torero.

I was downtown on my bike last week checking on how to get a bus to the airport when I rode past the ticket windows in front of the Plaza de Toros next to Valencia’s train station. In conjunction with the Fallas celebration going on here the bull fighting season opens earlier here than other parts of Spain. After all these years of reading about it and avoiding the spectacle, I decided that it was time to see for myself what goes on inside the ring.

The girl at the ticket counter seemed to know less about bullfighting than this dumb foreigner so I just picked midlevel seats in the sun. Seats in the sun are cheaper than in the shade but in early March a little sunshine is always welcome. The Plaza de Toros in Valencia is a beautiful neoclassical brick structure that was inaugurated in 1851. Walking around the upper outside gallery really gives you an idea of the history of this structure.

It had been raining all day after more than a solid week of sunshine so I was prepared to sit in the rain for my first Corrida. The rain finally stopped about two hours before it was to start. I had a glass of wine in a bar across the street. It looked like something out of a Hemingway short story and may very well be. There were black and white photographs of matadors on the wall and old carteles, or posters, of bullfights held long ago. When I came outside again there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Bullfights are very popular with tourists in Spain but as I entered the Plaza it seemed like it was almost all locals on this particular afternoon.

For 1€ you can rent a pad to give you a bit of comfort as the seats as just a slab of concrete. The rows are very narrow and we were lucky enough that there was no one sitting in front of us. We were instructed that tradition dictates that you bring your own sandwiches to eat during the breaks. I was also told that a lot of the men smoke puros, or Cuban cigars. Any excuse to smoke a great cigar is fine with me. I have to say, if there is a better place to smoke a cigar than a bullfight in Spain on a sunny day, I haven’t found it yet.

I went to my tobacco shop and picked up a couple of smaller cigars called panatelas. I like these because there aren’t so toxic as the bigger ones that I used to smoke. They generally last about 20 minutes to a half an hour and they don’t leave your mouth feeling as if someone took a dump in it while you weren’t looking. When I walked into the stadium I immediately began to suffer from cigar envy. A bunch of guys sitting next to me were all smoking Cohiba’s that looked almost long enough to double as walking sticks. If I go to another Corrida I will bring a bigger cigar.

I wasn’t sure what I would think about bullfighting. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be violently opposed to it as the ninny Paul Theroux who saw it as incredibly cruel and barbaric. I am smart enough to understand that not every culture on earth is exactly like the one in which I was brought up. Theroux’s criticism of the Corrida just seemed to be coming from someone who knows nothing of Spanish culture and has no desire to do anything to alleviate that ignorance. This is an odd attitude for someone who writes about travel.

I didn’t find it to be cruel or excessively bloody. Only some sort of hardcore PETA vegan animal rights kook could find the Corrida to be cruel. People of that ilk have always seemed like incredible bores to me. They also seem incredibly misguided and inconsistent. I definitely would never go to a bullfight with a PETA-vegan-douche bag—they almost always complain about people smoking. I doubt that I wouldn’t go anywhere with Paul Theroux, either. He never seems to enjoy himself.

Although this was my first Corrida, I have read enough about it that I knew what was going on, step-by-step. I knew what sort of thing represented a good Corrida. I knew that each Corrida is divided into three parts, or tercios: The picadors on horseback, the banderilleros who put the banderillas into the bull’s neck, and the matador who perform a series of maneuvers with his cape and then kills the bull with his sword.

Even I could see that the fourth Corrida on this day was rather exceptional. The bull was strong and fierce and everyone did their job well. When it came to the kill the matador plunge his sword deep and the bull dropped immediately. People waved white handkerchiefs and seat cushions to signal for a trophy for the matador. He was awarded an ear for his efforts, the only prize awarded at this Corrida.

As I mentioned, I have been reading about the bullfights since I was in high school yet this was the first time that I actually went to one. I would certainly go again if for no other reason than to smoke a great cigar. I had heard so much about bullfights being overrun by tourists but on this day it was a quintessentially Spanish ritual (except the cigar from Cuba).

I picked up the newspaper account of what had transpired at my first bullfight. As with anything else, this world has its own vocabulary, most of which I already knew. I will leave you with a few vocabulary words that you may find useful if you ever decide to go.

Bullfighting terms

• Corrida.........A Bullfighting show
• Tauromaquia.....Bullfighting
• Plaza de Toros..Bullring
• Lidiar..........To fight
• Puerta grande...The main door to the arena
• Gradas Highest..Seats at the back of the ring (cheapest seats)
• Barreras........Front seats
• Sol/Sombra......Sun/Shade - the choice as to where you sit
• Muleta..........A small red cloth stretched over a stick (Palo)
• Capote..........The red cape
• Paseillo........The parade of fighters at the beginning
• Corrida.........A Bullfighting show
• Estoque.........Sword
• Espada..........The matador's sword also called the ESTOQUE
• Matador/Diestro.The top bullfighter, the one who kills the bull
• Novilladas......Beginners fights held separately
• Rejoneador......Horse-mounted fighter
• Toril...........Enclosure for the bulls
• Picador.........Fighter to weaken the bull
• Banderillas.....Barbed darts on colored shafts placed into the bull's shoulders
• Puntilla........A dagger that is stabbed into the base of the bull's skull
• Puerta grande...The main door to the arena

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you can't say something nice, say it here.