September 26, 2005

The Bullfight and After

The Sevilla bullring holds about 10,000 people, compared to Mexico´s 45,000, but Sevilla´s is the most prestigious in Spain along with Madrid´s. We sat in a shadowed section a little to the left of the mayor´s box, in the upper deck. The seats are uncomfortable concrete slabs -- lower down they´re uncomfortable brick slabs. Outside, vendors sell seat cushions and bottles of half-frozen water. The stadium was about three quarters full, about equally with tourists and locals. Everyone seemed interested and quietly upbeat, glad to be at the ritual, I didn´t sense any bloodthirtiness. To the contrary, the spectators get angry at the matador whne he doesn´t achieve a quick, painless kill. The corrida consists of six bulls, two for each of six matadors. The weights of the bulls lastnight were 511-618 kg., and you could immediately tell the differences in size and personality from bull to bull as each one ran into the ring for its death performance. Some were confused, others angry, others relatively placid. You could immediately tell the differences among the matadors too, in their smoothness, the control with which they guided the bulls, and their closeness to the bull and the steadiness of their feet. One matador, apparently the headline, was clearly better than the others, but unfortunately he drew the lighter bulls by lot, and the weakest matador drew the heaviest, toughest bull. That one had to work hard for the kill, making five or six stabs, with the bull getting up and pawing in between. It would have been something to see the headliner deal with that bull.

The picaros and bandilleros also showed their skills, and though it was clear they made their share of mistakes, it was also clear how much bravery it takes to enter the ring at such close range to a horned animal weighing over half a ton. Some of the most admirable work was done by the assistants -- I´m guessing they´re novice matadors -- who drew the bull away from the bandilleros after the latter had placed their spikes into the bulls´ backs. It was lifesaving work, equivalent to what rodeo clowns do in distracting the bull from the fallen rider.

The specactle was rich in sights and sounds, and the danger in the ring made me atentive every second, but afterward, I said to myself, "Okay, I´ve done that. I don´t have to do it again." A feeling of dry bitterness in the mouth, like after seeing a movie that´s full of exciting special effects but ultimately empty. People say there´s religious symbolism of sacrifice in the bullfight, but even if that´s true of the ceremony´s origins, I don´t see what it has to do with the performance today. It was a communal recreation like going to a baseball game, except that in baseball no one gets killed.

We´re heading out of Sevilla this morning after four busy days, feeling that we finally are coming to know the city a bit. After much trial and error we can now get to some of the places we want to without a map.

It´s on toValencia, which will be a brier stopover rather than a major sightsee. In two or three days we should be back in Barcelona to explore that city in more depth before the end of the trip.