Sunday, October 25, 2009

Understanding the Bullfight

I am trying to understand the bullfight. Erika and her family are very disapproving of the practice; Erika informed me that the bulls are kept in a dark pen for several days so that when exposed to the bright sunshine in the ring, they can hardly see. They are weakened before they enter the ring, then are stabbed by the picadors' lances, by the banderilleros bandilleras; they are tortured and ritually killed in an uneven fight, one bull against several toreadors.

Bullfighting is a very old sport. It was part of religious ceremonies of prehistoric Iberian tribes, and the Romans and Greeks transformed it into a spectacle. During the Middle Ages, knights on horses fought the bulls. In the eighteenth century bullfighting on foot was reinvented by the poorer population in Spain.

Part of Erika's disapproval about the bullfight is its cruelty toward animals. In addition, it is a Spanish tradition and the Spaniards conquered Ecuador, and so it celebrates the conquest of Ecuador and the imposition of the Spanish culture on a conquered people, and Erika feels that the conquest does not merit celebration.

I am trying to sort out my feelings about the bullfight. Meanwhile, I wanted to understand the ritual and the relationship of the audience with the toreadors. We dropped Maya off with Isabel and walked to the Plaza de Toros, which is only a few blocks away. It was a gorgeous sunny day and Rio Amazonas, which passes in front of the arena, was closed to cars and taken over by cyclists of all ages. The entrance to the Plaza de Toros was full of spectators waiting to enter along with hawkers selling hats and umbrellas for protection from the sun, as well as drinks and snacks. We had tickets to enter, although they were free. After entering a door and being checked for tickets, we walked through an open area with stands selling cooked food, sandwiches and drinks, and more hats and umbrellas. Once in our seats we had an hour to watch the crowds fill the stands. The clock was not working again, so part of the entertainment was watching someone take a ladder and climb up to the clock to get it working again. A man in red and white came out with a big hose to water down the dirt in the arena and another two marked two white thick circles to indicate to the bullfighters where they are in the ring.

Dividing Up the Arena

I learned that there are always six bulls and three matadors in each bullfight. Each matador fights two bulls. The bullfight has three parts, and there is a master of the bullfight who decides when to move to the next phase. He instructs the musicians in front of him (he is in a box halfway up the side of the stands) to trumpet the signal for the next part of the ritual. There is a band higher up in the stands which plays the opening national anthem (actually I am not sure of that, it is a song that keeps repeating 'San Francisco de Quito', so it may be the song for Quito) and strikes up at certain parts of the bullfights' when the torero is playing with the bull and when he marches around the ring in celebration of a successful kill.

The Bull Wrangler

The Bull Enters

The Bull Charges

The event starts on time (certainly not Ecuadorian!) with the entrance of the 'aguacilillos', who are men with feathers in their caps and eighteen century costumes on prancing horses, followed by the paseillo, the entrance march of everyone who is involved with the bullfight, from the bull wranglers to the matadors and picadors and banderilleros. The costumes are remarkable; the bullfighters wear fancily brocaded outfits (my fantasy is that they are made of kevlar) in bright colours with silver or gold accents, and shockingly pink stockings. They carry their capes wrapped up around their left arms, and salute the 'president' of the corrida, and then prepare for the arrival of the bull. Each spreads out their pink capes and makes a few practice passes before the bull arrives.

The First Tercio

The Picador Enters

The Second Tercio

They take their hats off to the 'president' and in no time the bullwrangler salutes and the door to the bullpen is open and the wide eyed and agitated bull charges out. The matador uses a pink cape to play with the bull for a while, and when the bugles sound (my sense was that the president wants the bullfight to move forward and not get dull at any moment), the picadors come out on their very sturdy and well padded horses, whose eyes are covered ( why would they do this if they could see what they were doing?). The purpose of the picadors is to stab the bull with a long lance to weaken it and get its head down for the next part of the bullfight. On more than one occasion, the audience voiced its opposition to excessive picador action and the president via his buglers would call them off. In the second tercio, the banderilleros ( usually three) stick two bandilleras each into the bull's shoulders to irritate him further. If the president feels that two sets of banderilleras are sufficient, he will call off the third one. In the final part of the one sided competition, the matador uses a red cape to play with the bull and finally uses a sword to plunge into the bull's aorta (ideally) which kills the bull quickly, except that most of the time, the sword thrust is not clean and it takes several attempts until the bull falls over.

After the one or two or three sword thrusts that are required to mortally wound the bull, several matadors stand around the bull waiting for it to fall, teasing it a little more with their capes, a man with a short dagger tries to cut the bull's spinal cord to finalize its death. The matador stands over the bull with his right hand in the air to announce its demise. This part of the action goes on too long.

This is a Dangerous Sport

The crowd likes when the matador takes risks and 'plays' with the bull, they express their appreciation with 'oles' and their displeasure with whistles. They clearly do not like the picador, and they like a clean kill, which did not happen regularly during the bullfight. One of the matadors was gored when he tried to put the bandilleras onto the bull. He was bleeding profusely and carried off the ring frantically. It was later announced that he was stable in hospital. I tried to check the news to see how he was doing, but will have to wait until the morning newspaper for more details.

The successful matador and his assistant toreadors and banderilleros take a walk around the ring to applause and cheers. The audience throws him flowers and their hats, which he and his assistants dutifully throw back to the audience. If he has done a particularly good job, the crowd expresses their approval by demanding 'an ear' (or two if he has been amazing) and the alguacilillo will cut off an ear and offer it to the matador to applause. The crowd expresses it displeasure by whistling, and they are frequently unhappy with the matador for not playing with the bull enough, or taking too many attempts to kill the bull, or the picador for weakening the bull too much, or the president for moving things along too quickly or too slowly. They are most pleased when the matador demonstrates his skill with the cape and moves closer to the bull. My sense was that everyone watching the bullfight was stressed today, after the horror of watching the toreador get injured; it was an unsettling sight and I sensed heightened anxiety through the rest of the afternoon.

The Matador Wins

The Crowds Cheer

Sunset Pichincha

No comments:

Post a Comment