Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My First Bull Fight...¡Ole!

Mexicans--particularly older Mexican men--love bull fights. I have always found the idea of them really disturbing, but in honesty, the only bull fight I had ever seen was the one with Bugs Bunny slapping the bull to the music. So since I was in Durango, and there was one about to happen, I decided to go to it as sort of a new cultural experience, and so that I could decide completely how I felt about them.

Here is my experience:
**Warning: This will get bloody**
Arriving at the arena, there were a few people outside protesting the treatment of the bulls. There were people selling souvenirs, such as stuffed bulls and padded seat cushions for the hard cement seats in the stands.

The arena is fairly small, so any seat in the house is a pretty good one. We chose to sit farther back, as rain was in the forecast and we wanted to be under the covering.

A professional band of musicians showed up to provide the music during the event. There is also a separate area with the judges, a trumpet player and a drummer who would queue the different stages of the bull fights.

There are three matadors, each of whom will face two bulls.

They begin by getting some rings put down in the arena with chalk, and with a sort of opening ceremony, introducing the matadors.

When it is time to begin, the bull faces the matador in different phases.
1. A little guy runs out holding a sign with the bull's name and statistics while the drummer does a drum roll and the trumpet player blasts some little theme music.

2. The bull is released, and around six matadors are out in the arena with pink cloths, getting the bull to chase them. They would dodge behind these little wooden partitions around the edges of the arena. When the main matador is ready to begin, he looks at the judge and takes off his hat. He will also usually dedicate his performance to someone in particular, whether a local authority figure present, to the crowd, to a family member, etc.

3. At the sound of a trumpet, two men come out riding horses that are both blindfolded and padded on the sides, carrying spears. Whichever one the bull comes closest to will stab him in the top of his back, just past his neck, between his shoulders. Five of the six bulls would attack the horse as they was getting stabbed. But the heavy padding on the horse prevents the horse from getting extensive injuries, and the blindfolds keep the horse from knowing where to run.

4. The matadors get back out and get the bull to chase them. When the trumpet sounds again, one matador will take two sticks with small blades at the end covered with white and/or colored fabric and go to the middle of the arena. Eventually, he will rush at the bull and attempt to stab the bull in the same place near the top of his back with both sticks. Sometimes the men don't stab very accurately, or at all, and several of the bulls came very close to mauling the men doing this. The process of the sticks is repeated about 3 times. Over the course of the fight, the sticks soak up the bull's blood and cause him to weaken.

5. At the sound of the trumpet, this is when the main matador comes out to face the bull alone. He will have a red cloth instead of a pink one, and he also carries a sword. The majority of the bull fight is during this time where the matador will agitate the bull, who then tries to attack either him or the cloth. There is a lot of shouting, "¡Toro!" and gesturing. The main goal is to take lots of risks, hence providing the crowd with entertainment. During this time, the people would shout, and would request their favorite songs from the band to be played.

6. Finally, when the bull seems worn down, and no longer wanting to fight or be bothered, the matador will take the sword, approach the bull head on, and stab the sword down into the same place the bull has been cut. The bull will keep fighting for a few seconds, but quickly sits down. As soon as the bull sits, someone stabs the back of his neck, putting him quickly out of his misery.

7. Depending on how well he thinks the matador performed, the judge will give points. The points involve body parts that are cut off from the bull. A decent matador will get one ear. An excellent matador will get two ears. A truly outstanding performance will earn two ears and the tail. One matador got two ears, and through them to some little boys in the crowd who were glad to get them.

8. The bull's body is attached to a horse who pulls it out of the arena.

9. The matador walks around the arena greeting the crowd. People who think he did well will throw him their hat, which he promptly throws back. A lot of people bring little canteens full of wine to the bull fights. If you throw the matador your wine pouch, he will take a drink, then throw it back to you.

Here are some scattered thoughts on the matter, having been to a bull fight:

1. It is definitely barbaric. It is the closest thing I'll ever witness to the ancient Roman gladiator competitions, I think. The violent aspect of the entertainment bothered me.

2. While the bulls do suffer, I was glad that the worst of their suffering is only very brief. The initial cuts make it bleed, but do not do terrible harm to the bull. Only when it is stabbed with the sword does it seem to be in much pain, and they end its life as quickly as possible.

3. While I felt bad for the bulls dying for my entertainment, it made me wonder exactly how all the bulls and chickens die so that I can eat burgers and nuggets. Also, what about all the people who hunt? Some deer are shot, and run for great distances bleeding and this any worse than that? By my existence, it seems that I am causing some level of suffering for animals, but then again, suffering for entertainment seems different than suffering for my sustenance.

4. At the risk of some of you considering me a barbarian, I actually really enjoyed it. It does have a lot of entertainment value. The matadors are at a lot of risk, and are very skilled at what they do. Several of them almost got really hurt.

5. All of us gringos mispronounce the way we say, "ole." We tend to emphasize the "le" part, like Oil of Olay. But they all put the emphasis on "OOOle." Though it isn't the same word, they use the same emphases on the word ole that we use on the word Wally.

So, for better or for worse, that was my bull fight experience.

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