Bullfighting: Catch it while you can

The author’s first-hand experience, bullfighting in action

If you ever go to Spain, go to a bullfight. Such a captivating spectacle and sensorially evocative experience simply cannot be missed – after all, it may not be around for long.

Those of you with animal-rights sensibilities may be sitting nervously but don’t worry, I’m not about to embark on a pro-bullfighting rant. I sit on the fence myself, and urge you all, whatever your stance, to give it a go. Go to a corrida, but leave your opinions at the door.

I’ve never quite been sure of how I feel about the ‘art form’ that sees thousands of bulls put to the sword each year. My squeamishness and my soft spot for animals have always competed with my interest in Spanish culture. I strolled up to the spectacular Las Ventas bullring ring in Madrid with the intention of settling this dispute and making my mind up. But upon leaving, I was still none the wiser. All I knew was that I had spent the last couple of hours totally captivated and felt as if I had been transported back in time.

The experience is very rich. The trumpeters accompanying the corrida, the vibrant colours of the suits donned by the matadors, the flags, the white handkerchiefs shaken vigorously from the lively crowd, and, of course, the bull itself, all combine to produce a cauldron of Spanishness. It was like I was surrounded by everything that traditional and stereotypical Spanish national identity should evoke.

What is more, you can´t take your eyes off it. With each critical blow from the matadors, I wanted to feel sorry for the bull, I wanted to turn my head away in disgust, but I couldn’t. I was transfixed. You can dispute whether it should be considered an art, but there is no doubting the power of the ceremony. Each stage must be executed to a tee, else the crowd will voice their discontent. It is ritual-like and grips you, not allowing a pause for thought. Only when you leave the bullring can you reflect and work out how you felt about what you just witnessed.

With bullfighting currently marred in controversy in Spain, the tug of war between animal rights campaigners and fiercely protective traditionalists is ongoing and increasingly intense. There is a pressure to choose sides, but I would urge you not to. Go and experience it for yourself with an open mind, a blank canvas. Let the power of the spectacle captivate you. Blurring the divide between sport, art and cruelty, it is an unrivalled experience – and a worthwhile one, even if it only confirms your previous leanings. Leave your opinion at the door, and collect it again on your way out, if you wish.

Lately it looks as though the sands are shifting in favour of those in opposition to bullfighting; the activity has been banned in Catalonia, and also from television screens during watershed hours. The ever more vocal animal-rights protesters and growing indifference among the Spanish youth seem to confirm the very real danger that bullfighting is on the road to extinction.

Whether this is ultimately a good or a bad thing is obviously open to debate, but it should provide some incentive to grab such a unique and powerful taste of Spanish culture – before it’s too late.

If you ever go to Spain, go to a bullfight. Such a captivating spectacle and sensorially evocative experience simply cannot be missed – after all, it may not be around for long.

Those of you with animal-rights sensibilities may be sitting nervously but don’t worry, I’m not about to embark on a pro-bullfighting rant. I sit on the fence myself, and urge you all, whatever your stance, to give it a go. Go to a corrida, but leave your opinions at the door.

I’ve never quite been sure of how I feel about the ‘art form’ that sees thousands of bulls put to the sword each year. My squeamishness and my soft spot for animals have always competed with my interest in Spanish culture. I strolled up to the spectacular Las Ventas bullring ring in Madrid with the intention of settling this dispute and making my mind up. But upon leaving, I was still none the wiser. All I knew was that I had spent the last couple of hours totally captivated and felt as if I had been transported back in time.

The experience is very rich. The trumpeters accompanying the corrida, the vibrant colours of the suits donned by the matadors, the flags, the white handkerchiefs shaken vigorously from the lively crowd, and, of course, the bull itself, all combine to produce a cauldron of Spanishness. It was like I was surrounded by everything that traditional and stereotypical Spanish national identity should evoke.

What is more, you can´t take your eyes off it. With each critical blow from the matadors, I wanted to feel sorry for the bull, I wanted to turn my head away in disgust, but I couldn’t. I was transfixed. You can dispute whether it should be considered an art, but there is no doubting the power of the ceremony. Each stage must be executed to a tee, else the crowd will voice their discontent. It is ritual-like and grips you, not allowing a pause for thought. Only when you leave the bullring can you reflect and work out how you felt about what you just witnessed.

With bullfighting currently marred in controversy in Spain, the tug of war between animal rights campaigners and fiercely protective traditionalists is ongoing and increasingly intense. There is a pressure to choose sides, but I would urge you not to. Go and experience it for yourself with an open mind, a blank canvas. Let the power of the spectacle captivate you. Blurring the divide between sport, art and cruelty, it is an unrivalled experience – and a worthwhile one, even if it only confirms your previous leanings. Leave your opinion at the door, and collect it again on your way out, if you wish.

Lately it looks as though the sands are shifting in favour of those in opposition to bullfighting; the activity has been banned in Catalonia, and also from television screens during watershed hours. The ever more vocal animal-rights protesters and growing indifference among the Spanish youth seem to confirm the very real danger that bullfighting is on the road to extinction.

Whether this is ultimately a good or a bad thing is obviously open to debate, but it should provide some incentive to grab such a unique and powerful taste of Spanish culture – before it’s too late.

Leave a Reply