Saturday, August 1, 2009

DEATH: Violent, Occasionally Sublime, Always Guaranteed - 1

These are my impressions of my first visit to a bullfight in Spain.

I delayed writing this because I wanted to read Hemingway's "Death In The Afternoon" before I started and I'm glad I did. Whatever I have written here is as a candle next to the sun when compared to the book. I recommend that everyone reads the book. Irrespective of the subject, it's exquisite writing. And on the subject itself, it's like a seductive bible written by a questioning, amoral believer.

I went to my bullfight in Barcelona which perhaps was not the ideal choice. Catalonia is just barely Spain. All things Catalan are fundamentally at cross purposes with the rest of the country.

The very fact that the bull fight still survives in Catalonia is in itself a salute to the law of the land and it is also, as yet, a symbol of the overarching but tenuous string of federalism that still binds this frisky province to the rest of the nation. Catalans in general do not approve of bullfighting and for years now have been waging an intense political campaign to ban the "sport" in their state.

It was a glorious, sunny Sunday afternoon. Across the road from the venue, there was a small group of anti bullfight protesters holding placards, sullen and silent. Carefully watching over them were three beautiful, tough looking policewomen.

There was a steady stream of people, mostly Spaniards and the mandatory sprinkling of American and Japanese tourists, buying tickets at the counters and strolling into the building. The mood was rather business like.

The ticket prices were reduced, I was told at the hotel reception where I booked mine, because the bulls on that day were not as big as they ought to have been.

Now here's the essence of the Spanish bullfight:

Six magnificent bulls, each weighing on an average half a ton, which have never faced a man in a ring before, will be killed one after the other before the evening is done. No bull leaves the ring alive. And when you see these proud beasts prancing into the ring with their skin glistening, their muscles rippling and their head held high, you realize that the bull has no idea of its imminent death.

For everyone else, that - the bull's death - is a given. A guarantee. The end result is always the same. (Well, almost always, but I'll come to that later).

How these six deadly, glorious creatures meet their inevitable end, one after the other, in the course of the evening is the story. The spectacle.

The entire drama is governed by a very elaborate and strict set of rules. These rules define each stage of this unequal contest. These rules attempt to lend a sense of balance to what is essentially a carefully choreographed series of assassinations. As if six Caesars were first corralled and given some space before being attacked. And killed.

The truth is that even the most accomplished of bullfighters has absolutely no chance of survival with even the most cowardly or reluctant of bulls, if they were to meet one on one, both unaided, one armed with a sword and the other with two lethal horns, and if the rest of the steps that precede the final encounter between them were eliminated.

As I said, this really is not a "fight". It is an assassination.

(to be continued)

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