Bullfighting at the Maestranza, Sevilla


A slender, fragile figure richly adorned in silver and gold stood awaiting his fate, watched by 10,000 Sevillanos. They waited silently and alertly for the arrival of the entertainment. A minute passed. Suddenly, a massive blur of black roared into the stadium, bounding across the ground, its body flexing athletically despite its solidity. My hand was covering my mouth as it accelerated, weighing over 90 stone it drove towards the figure at approaching 30 miles per hour. Its truly monstrous and the precariousness of the manís life is unquestionable.

The man in the centre of the ring remained stationary with a calmness that defied belief. As the creature moved within metres of striking, the figure whisked his cape with the elegance of a ballerina and the movement caused the mass to swerve. Powering straight through thin air, its aggression unsatisfied, it turned and attacked again. And again. Each time jutting through nothing but empty space, inches from making contact. My friend, an experienced aficionado, looked at me and laughed, told me to stop flinching and that I was embarrassing myself.

The fight continued for twenty minutes, the bull gradually weakened by the numerous blades of the Matadorís team. At the conclusion, the animal, its back now soaked in blood, wearily approached in one last effort. With one hand, the man elegantly shaped his cape, causing the bull to contort its body so closely to the manís that some of the blood trickling down the bullís side was painted vividly down the leg of his pure white trousers. He used his other hand to plunge the sword directly between the immense shoulder blades. The crowd erupted. It was a fatal blow and the bull stumbled, made a few limp steps and then collapsed, exhausted and drained of life. The animal was dragged ceremoniously out of sight, smearing its blood in a stripe across the sand. With the atmosphere buzzing, the crowd awaited the next fight.

The spectacle continued. The next bullfighter received the bull, porta gayola, on his knees. Masterfully swirling his cape and leaping to his feet, the bull passed and then circled the Matador so closely that it was drawn into the fight like water into a plughole, its energy gradually being sapped away before the delivery of the decisive blow caused the beast to sink to its knees. The sustained aggression and bravery of the bull was applauded and admired by all and the nobility of the ending and the art of the Matador was unquestionable to the crowd who bayed for the ear of the bull to be awarded. The President of the association gladly obliged.

This isnít a sport in a traditional sense, there are no teams to support. And when the fight is this engrossing, it is clear to see why bullfighting is considered an artform. The talent, bravery and artistry of the Matador was undeniable.

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You need to decide for yourself whether the price you place on the death of an animal for art is equivalent to the price you place on the taste of an animal every time you eat meat.

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In subsequent fights, my attention waned. In honesty, I reached a state of boredom. The next Matador was, absurdly, too good at avoiding the bull, he was giving it too wide a berth. What had earlier been a cyclone of fury, two bodies entwined around each other, fates inexorably connected, had become a carousel. This wasnít a fight. Victory of the man was certain.

Areas of the crowd booed. Before, the manís perilous proximity to death was very real, but now he might as well have been sat in the upper reaches of the stadium, he would have been in equal danger. If the poor display of the bullfighter had dissipated my enthusiasm, the next fight had an even more pronounced effect on my mood.

The next bull came out at a trot. It caught the movement of the cape, dashed towards it, ran through, jutting its horns somewhat. It turned after maybe ten metres and came back, this time running straight through the cape and through the other side, jogging around the circumference of the ring as it surveyed the Maestranza. It was looking for a way out. Multiple times the bull ran through the cape half-heartedly, but again away from the Matador. This was a bad bull and the aficionados were making their voices heard in not disquiet tones.

Tested at the age of two for aggression, size and speed, the Iberian Bull is either put forward to fight and trained for the next two years waiting for this day, or it simply lives until the meat is most valuable like any other farmed animal. It had been decided that this bull was a fighter and it quite blatantly wasnít. You could see the anger coursing through the body of the first few bulls, but this animal seemed, relatively, serene. I felt a deep sadness. I also felt embarrassment for the bullfighter who was trying to do his best in an uncomfortable situation. He was practically having to run after the bull to encourage it into battle. Slowly, the bull lost so much blood that its breathing slowed and it died. There was no nobility in this ending. Parts of the crowd heckled, others like myself watched silently.

The Matadorís role as an artist had been diminished to that of, as his name translates into English, a killer. I donít believe that anyone in the crowd had come to see slaughter and it left me with a distinctly bitter taste.



D Graham

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