Madrid, Spain – August 14, 2011
To my readers, please note some of the photographs in this blog may not be suitable for all viewers.
Today, I went to my first, and probably the only bullfight.
Looking forward to my experience on that Sunday, I decided to spend most of the day at or near the bullring. After pouring some coffee down my throat, I left the house to catch the light rail. At Colonia Jardin, the end of the light rail line, I switched to the Metro. I rode the Metro to the Ventas station. Stepping out of the Metro carriage, it is obvious one is near the bullring. On the wall is a striking metal art piece of a bull and matador. Emerging from the Ventas station, one is directly in front of the venue, Las Ventas.
The plaza around Las Ventas has several pieces of artwork, each featuring a tribute to either bullfighting as a whole or a particularly famous matador. All the while I walked around, people went to the ticket office to purchase tickets for that afternoon’s bullfight or another in the future.
After taking several photographs, I found a sidewalk café that overlooked the plaza. I sat there to enjoy a coffee and pastry. I found it interesting to watch the area come to life. More and more people arrived only to be greeted by more and more vendors offering bullfighting souvenirs.
Finished with my coffee, I decided to continue my walk around Las Ventas. I ended up at the backside of the arena at the Puerta de Cuadrillas (Gangs’ Gate). The term “cuadrillas,” refers to the bullfighters’ assistants, picadors, and banderilleros. I walked through the gate. As soon as I did, the unmistakable stable odor greeted my nose. I encountered some of the “gang” exercising horses. In the same area, I spotted another metal sculpture and two workers changing the bullfight poster, ripping off the existing sign and replacing it with one for a future event. It was all I could do to refrain from asking for one of the posters.
Leading up to the spectacle, I was able to tour the bullfighting museum and the bullring, Las Ventas. That all made my experience much more enjoyable because it gave me some background about the event and how it unfolds.
Shortly after completing the tour, I checked my pocket for my ticket. One would think I might have done that at home. As it turns out, that would have been the smart move — my ticket was still safely at home on the counter! Cursing and kicking myself in the arse, I went back to the Metro. I went all the way back home, grabbed the ticket, and returned to Las Ventas. Luckily, I had plenty of time.
Finished with my impromptu tour of the Madrid Metro system, I took a few more photographs and then entered the arena to take my seat. When I purchased my ticket the previous week, I made sure to buy a sombra (shade) seat. My place happened to be just above the gate used to drag the dead bull from the ring.
I sat quietly at my spot and watched events unfold before me. Several workers prepared the arena, not unlike what one might see before a baseball game; watering down the sand, smoothing the sand, and chalking the various lines. That all takes a lot of work because of the size of the arena, some 61 meters (200 feet) in diameter. That is two-thirds of an American football field.
Behind me, to my right, I saw the royal box. That is where the royal family and guests watch bullfights. The box remained empty for this particular event.
On my left, also behind me, I saw the brass band, entertaining the crowd throughout the afternoon and evening.
There were not a lot of people in attendance. The bullring holds around 22,000 people. I estimate there were only about 7,000 or 8,000 there. I think that is partly because it was a Novillada. That is a “beginners” bullfight. The bulls are younger and smaller. The bullfighters are not as experienced or well known as some others. At this event, the bullfighters were Miguel Gimenez, Felix de Castro (from Valladolid, his first time at Las Ventas), and Adrian de Torres.
The bullfight begins with a parade of the various people involved, the gang. Many people walked into the bullring; several rode in on horses. Many of the horses wore protective blankets, obviously to protect them from the horns of the bull. Ultimately, the three matadors walked into the bullring. They approached the empty royal box and bowed as the announcer introduced them. The three-mule removal team also participated in the cavalcade.
The bullring cleared except for a few of the gang and one matador. That is when the first bull entered the bullring.
It was not quite as bloody as I thought it might be; however, there was plenty of blood. On average, it took 30 minutes from the time the bull entered the ring until the three-mule removal team drug the dead beast from the bullring.
More activity prior to the start.
At each bullfight, including this Novillada, there are three matadors and six bulls. That means each matador fights two bulls in succession. I watched the first bullfight with the inquisitive nature that comes with things not previously experienced. In addition to the bullfighter, there are banderilleros in the ring. Their job is to stab the bull in the shoulders with the banderilleras. These banderilleras, in combination with the activity induced by the bullfighter, work to wear down the bull’s stamina.
When it appears it is time to put down the bull; the matador receives a sword that he conceals in his cape. At just the right moment, the matador plunges the sword into the beast from the shoulders down. The target is the heart. The inexperience of the first matador was evident. The sword strike did not kill the bull; however, the beast ultimately went down on his belly and legs and sat there. The matador approached the bull with his right fist clenched. The matador got very close to the beast and suddenly hit the bull with his right hand. The motion was from above the matador’s head, straight down onto the bull. The bull immediately collapsed. I thought, WOW! What a strong matador! Then I saw the puntilla (dagger) in his right hand. It became apparent the puntilla severed the spinal cord, finally killing the bull.
Once the bull was dead, the three-mule removal team entered the arena, tied onto the beast, and drug it from the arena…directly under me.
Before attending the bullfight, some of my coworkers reminded me that workers butcher the bull after the bullfight. They suggested I go across the street after the bullfight to enjoy some rabo del torro (bull tail). I opted not to do that.
I made it through the third bull and decided I had had enough. I departed and headed for home.
Regardless, I am glad that I at least experienced that part of Spanish culture.