This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

El Toro: The Corridas are emptying

From Dec 2006

"Eh, toro, toro," as the matador said in countles Hollywood movies.
Well, no more.
What animal lovers,schoolchildren, and normal human beings failed to halt is now falling  prey, ironically, to market forces - it costs far too much to hold a corrida nowadays, and far too many people stay away.
Here's an article about the demise of the bullfight:

Bullfighting future in doubt
Madrid, Dec. 20: Bullfighting was facing an uncertain future in Spain yesterday with the announcement that the last bullring in Barcelona is to close after failing to draw enough spectators.
The rising cost of mounting a spectacle that a growing number of Spaniards view as a cruel and unnecessary part of their culture has forced the promoters of the Monumental Plaza de Toros to cut their losses and look for alternatives uses for the ring. The company which owns the bullring admitted that the falling number of spectators meant that it lost more than £16,000 each time it held a bullfight.
The closure next year of the last bullring in Catalonia’s capital city follows that of two others in recent years.
Promoters across Spain have seen their profits fall as it becomes ever-more expensive to stage the events. The Spanish Union of Fighting Bull Breeders estimates that it can cost more than £70,000 to stage a corrida with a big- name bullfighter.
There are 60 major venues used for bullfights in Spain but many are used more for other activities, such as rock concerts, than for corrida. The industry has been hardest hit in Catalonia, in part because of a growing animal rights movement that has sought to ban a sport it considers “a horrible cruelty”.
Two years ago, Barcelona declared itself “an anti-bullfighting city” following a series of public protests and a petition of more than 250,000 Catalan names. Another 38 Catalan municipalities have since followed suit and the Parliament has debated a bill to extend existing animal cruelty laws to include bullfighting.
“Historically, the people of Catalonia have been against cruelty to animals and we are at the forefront of a movement that is gradually growing across Spain,” said Manuel Cases, the director of the animal protection group ADDA.

But shouldn't we mourn the passing of what is generally held to be a symbol of Spain, a part of the framework of the culture of the Spanish (and Spanish origin) people and nations?
Despite all the (pardon the pun) bullshit spun by Ernest Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon, and more than a few stories) and later by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins (Or I'll Dress You In Mourning) bullfighting has never been other than a brutally cruel, senseless murder of almost defenceless animals.
In order to understand the statement, let's take a look at a typical bullfight.
(Extracts from the bullfighting article on Wikipedia):
In a traditional corrida, three toreros, also called matadores or, in French, toreadores, each fight two out of a total of six bulls, each of which is at least four years old and weighs up to about 600 kg (with a minimum weight limit of 460 kg for the bullrings of the first degree).
Each matador has six assistants — two picadores ("lancers") mounted on horseback, three banderilleros, and a mozo de espada ("sword servant"). Collectively they comprise a cuadrilla or team of bullfighters. However, the whole crew includes also an ayuda (aide to sword servant) and subalternos (subordinates) including at least two peones (pages, singular peón). The apoderado acts as a manager for the cuadrilla negotiating their tours.
(Remember that each of the three matadors will have the entire above team. There are also a lot of what would be called "stagehands" in theatre. Rather a lot of personnel to kill six bovines.)
To continue:
(T)he bull enters the ring to be tested for ferocity by the matador and banderilleros with the magenta and gold capote, or dress cape...In the first stage, the tercio de varas("Lances third"), the behavior of the bull is observed by the matador by the way the bull behaves in the arena and how he attacks the capes, when banderilleros play with the bull with their capes.
After this the matador will himself pass the bull around with the cape (it is not red, incidentally. Bulls are colour blind, so it the common theory that they are infuriated by red is incorrect.) All harmless so far, and if it stopped at this level, why, I'd want to watch too. But hold on.
Then two picadores enter the arena, armed with lances or varas. Each is mounted on a heavily padded and blindfolded horse of unusually large stature. The bull is encouraged to attack the horse which is protected by its padding and generally treats the attack with stoic patience. The way the bull charges the horse provides further important clues to the matador on its bravery and persistence. The picador stabs a mound of muscle on the bull's neck, leading to the animal's first loss of blood. If the picador does his job well, the bull will hold its head and horns lower during the following stages of the fight. This makes him slightly less dangerous while enabling the matador to perform the elegant passes of modern bullfighting. More importantly, this tempering of the bull's strength allows the human to take on substantially more risk.
Actually, the horse is only stoical because it has not the slightest way of seeing the bull or knowing what is going on. In the past the horses were not padded and usually lasted one fight before dying of the goring they received. Note that this "pic"-ing is for the purpose of making the bull easier to fight - so much for the "valour" of the corrida.
In the next stage, the tercio de banderillas ("banderillas third"), the three banderilleros each attempt to plant two barbed sticks (banderillas, literally "little flags" as they are decorated with paper in the local colors) on the bull's flanks. These further weaken the enormous ridges of neck and shoulder muscle, which set fighting bulls apart from ordinary cattle, through loss of blood.
Whenever one reads of the corrida in the descriptions of journalists, they always gush about how "balletic" the placement of the banderillas is. In fact, as even the Lapierre Collins duo pointed out, it's an act of gratuitous cruelty that has little to do with
the last chance to correct or fine-tune the charging tendencies of the bull.
Anyway, sounds logical, doesn't it? You breed an animal with large shoulder muscles for fighting, and then try and cripple those muscles by blood letting and stabbing. Great logic.
Now we go to the terminal phase. By now the bull, hurt and tired, will probably have marked a territory, called querencia, out for itself in the ring and it will not want to leave that area. In this phase, the tercio de muerte ("death third")
the matador re-enters the ring alone with a small red cape or muleta in one hand and a sword in the other. Having dedicated the bull to an individual or the whole audience, he uses his cape to attract the bull in a series of passes, both demonstrating his control over it and risking his life by getting especially close to it. The red colour of the cape is a matter of tradition, as bulls are actually colour blind: they attack moving objects.
Well, about that "risking his life", I have a couple of observations to make. First, the bull is a stranger to fighting. Only such bulls are used that, apart from a test at young calfhood for suitability for fighting prowess, have never fought before - and any bull that survives the corrida is murdered quietly, and legally (I read that it was a pope who began that practice) to make sure it would never fight again. So, a bull suddenly finds itself in a place full of pain and blood, run ragged for a cause it cannot understand, not knowing what is its enemy. It would not exactly be all that much of a danger.
Secondly, a common practice is to shave off the tips of the horns. Although this produces an artificially sharpened point, it also destroys the bull's acute sense of its horns and the space around them. A fighting bull is very dependent on that sense for its use of its horns. If they are shaved, it takes several days before that sense returns. Therefore, the bull is even crippled further for the fight.
Thirdly, whereas the actual third phase is supposed top be sing a heavy sword and a heavy muleta, cheating using a wooden sword (except at the death) and light muleta is usual, thus improving odds further for the matador. 
The faena ("work") is the entire performance with the muleta, which is usually broken down into a series of "tandas" or "series". A typical tanda might consist of three to five basic passes and then a finishing touch, or "remate," such as a "pase de pecho," or "pase de desprecio." The faena ends with a final series of passes in which the matador with a muleta attempts to manoeuvre the bull into a position to stab it between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or heart.
The act of thrusting the sword (estoca or estoque) is called an estocada. A clumsy estocada that fails to give a "quick and clean death" will often raise loud protests from the crowd and may ruin the whole performance. If estocada is not successful, the matador must then perform a descabello and cut the bull's spinal cord with a second sword called verdugo, to kill it instantly and spare the animal pain. Although the matador's final blow is usually fatal, it may take the bull some time to die. A coup de grâce is therefore administered by a peón named a puntillero, using a dagger to further pierce the spinal cord. The matador must kill the bull in fifteen minutes after the first muleta pass, at most.
Which means, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again, hack, stab, do what it takes, but finish the animal. If the bull is not killed within fifteen minutes, it is led off to the corral and murdered there at leisure. Only in very exceptional circumstances might an extremely brave bull be spared - but it is never fought again.
So much for the "spectacle" of the Spanish bullfight.
Is there an alternative? Funnily enough, there is. Both the Portuguese and French have developed forms which are different. The Portuguse form is if anything more cowardly than the Spanish, because the bull is not openly killed in the ring (and there is none of the risk of the matador) but quietly assassinated later in the corral; and the animal's horns are not just shaved, but the tips are chopped off.
In the French form, though, there is no blood and no death. The "matador's" aim is to try and pluck a rosette off the bull's horns within a specified time. Skill and courage. No pain, and the bull can fight for years, and not infrequently carry its rossette undefeated. Now that is a bullfight I could appreciate.
As for the rest, I'll back the bull every time.

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