Tuesday, April 2, 2013



When you think Spain, chances are you think bullfighting, though it's also practiced in other parts of Europe and Latin America.  At its most basic, the "art" consists of baiting a bull, then killing it in the arena, known as a bullring.
Bull statue in Ronda.
Believe it or not, bullfighting is considered an art, not a sport.  The matadors, locally referred to as toreros, train from an early age, developing their own rhythm and style, for which they're known around the country, and sometimes the world.  As Hemingway wrote, "Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honour."

Bullring in Ronda.
It's a practice that dates back thousands of years (pre-Rome), but it's often compared to the more well-known gladiatorial competitions.  However, modern bullfighting, which involves fighting on foot (rather than mounted on a horse), staying within inches of the bull, and using the red cape, came about in the 18th century.

Nowadays there's a lot of controversy about bullfighting.  My host mother, Isabel, is very against it, for example.  When I asked her about it, she threw up her hands and said, "¡Qué barbaridad!"  The autonomous community of Catalonia (where Barcelona is located) actually banned bullfighting, and animal rights activists are trying to get the rest of Spain to follow suit.

Honestly, it seems that nowadays bullfighting is more for tourists than for Spaniards.  People come from all over the world and pay darn good dinero to see it.  Don't get me wrong:  there are indeed Spaniards who are bullfighting fanatics (the kind who get season tickets), but not nearly as many as there used to be.  But Spain is all about cultural tradition, so I highly doubt it's going to get the boot.


Confession:  Hemingway is a historical crush
of mine.  For his writing, for his adventurous
spirit, for his love of Spain.  (All right, his looks,
You know who liked bullfights?  Ernest Hemingway, whose novel The Sun Also Rises is all about bullfights in Pamplona, complete with a twisted love triangle (rectangle?  pentagon?) involving a matador.  He goes into great detail describing the bulls, the bullfights, and the style of Pedro Romero, the matador remembered for his ridiculously tight pants.  (Though really all matadors have tight pants, but his are notable since they help to contrast him with protagonist Jake Barnes.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read all about it here--or better yet, read the book because it's great).

In both Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and Esteban Echeverrías The Slaughterhouse (El Matadero, in Spanish), bulls are stand-ins for the human characters.  Symbols, if you will, usually of immense honor and courage.

Symbols are always fun to write.  They're like secret codes:  you know them, and your readers have to figure them out.  Though since I don't generally write literary fiction, most of the time I don't realize I included a symbol until I go back and revise.  Then I'm like, "Hey.  That works.  Good job, subconscious."

What's your opinion on bullfighting?  Approve or disapprove? Have you seen a bullfight?  Read The Sun Also Rises?  Thoughts on symbols?

And because I can, how about a Spanish song?  B is for "Bulería," by David Bisbal, who happens to have very bouncy hair :)  There may or may not be a bullring in this video.

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