15 September, 2012
Death in the Afternoon
When Hemingway romanticised the bull fights and bull fighters of Spain many years ago they were, I am sure, not as scripted as the fight I saw in the small Plaza de Toros of Torrimalimos. I had read Hemingway's account many years ago and thought I understood the ritual but as the afternoon wore on I realised that today the authorities have ensured that the script is followed.
The arena in Torrimamilinos is quite small, it was only half full and the event has held on a Thursday afternoon. We had taken a bus to the town and walked up the hill to the venue arriving early to purchase our tickets “Sombra” in the shade. We joined a good crowed at a local pub to have a few beers before the event.
After a parade of carrages around the ring and the traditional sounding of the trumpet fan fare the bull enters. He runs out of the dark tunnel into the bright light of the arean and is attracted to a scarlet cape in the far corner held by a toreador, he charges over only to see the cape disappear behind a sturdy wooden barrier, then an other cape appears opposite and he charges towards that, but that too disappears, then a third when at last the matador with the same colour cape appears and does some rather nice passes with the bull who at this time is fresh with no wounds. The crowd love this section and ole and call out. This is what I came to see.
But the script prescribes that the cape again appears from behind a barrier and the bull's attention is held as two well padded and blindfolded horses plod into the arena. One stand in front of the judges box and a man on foot attracted the bull's attention. The matador flashes a cape and the bull again charges then he sees the horse but he is only a few meters away so he charges the horse and tries to lift it off its feet but during this session the picador stabs him in the top of his neck with a long lance and inflects a massive wound in the top of his neck. The dark red blood flows down his side read for a skilled matador to brush against.
Now the real brave blokes come into the arena with two long barbed sticks. The stand with arms raised and call the bull, he rushes towards them but they scamper off to one side and as the bull passes stick the ??? into his neck. Brave men. They disappear behind the screen as the bulls attention is taken by the capes.
Now is the time of the matador who is supposed to spend time judging the bull and his charge, and if he charges straight or tosses left or right. The matador has now changed to a heavy red cape which is held out with a sword. The bull charges at the red movement with is head low but to no avail, it is always in front of him. Charge and turn. Charge and turn. No Matador or movement in front of him. At times he stops just to get his breath. The top of his neck is just a mass of blood as the initial jab bleeds and the ??? swing from side to side. I understand that they are used to lower the bulls head so that the matador can get a clear sword strike behind the shoulder right into the heart.
The next ritual is for the matador with the sword drawn get the bull to charge closer and closer to his body and to turn at the end but not to fall. The closer and the better the turn and the crowed roar their approval. Finally when the bull is exhausted and his head has dropped the matador stand ready with a new sword outstretched towards the bull, cape lowered and the bull charges with head down. A good matador will insert the sword with one swift movement right up to the hilt and the bull will turn, look at the matador and fall over dead. That occurred once of the six bulls that entered the ring. On more than one occasion the sword hit bone and sprang away. On another the matador missed and the bull got his cape while a particularly brave bull was given a reprieve by the judge, first a orange then a green handkerchief over the front of the judges box and the matador backs off and the bull runs out of the arena.
As soon as the bull falls over the assistances run in and cleanly kill the bull with a sharp knife to a spot behind the head. The two mules then come in and the butcher drags the bull out of the ring to be slaughtered.
The ritual occurred six times during our afternoon, scripted almost to the minute. The matador had very little to work with and in my opinion the bulls moved quite slowly with little initiative. I must say the bull that got the reprieve did charge more than the others and did not look down but held his head up high. It was never an even contest but the script ensures that it does not get out of hand. The crowed in the arena was quite thin and I would say not very well educated so we did not get the response that I would have expected.
I doubt that I would go again but bull fighting is so much part of the Spanish national tradition I could not miss the event.