Nick: We decided that in order to get our full Spain experience we would have to go see a bullfight. The decision to go wasn't necessarily a hard one to make - neither Jamie or I are animal rights activists or anything of the sort. But we weren't exactly super excited to go see one, either, just due to the nature of the thing. But as we left the kids with a babysitter (a friend that Jamie had made via the Facebook group "Americanas en Madrid". Sadie was kind enough to vomit on the living room floor just as we were about to leave, but that's another story), we ound ourselves eager (to get the heck away from the kids for a night) and very interested (in what we were about to experience).
When we bought the tickets I had to ask the guy what kind of clothing people wore to these things. I had no idea! (Apparently its very casual, FYI.)
The building that the bullfight takes place in is very impressive, and we tried to get a few shots of it. After getting ripped off by an old lady hawking some treats (I think we paid €12 for a few handfulls of crappy, stale candy. Seriously) we made our way in and discovered that our seats, while smack in the middle of the sunny section (it was probably close to 90℉ or so that afternoon), were about as close as you could get as a normal oberver. This gave us a very good view of the spectacle that we were about to behold.
The whole bullfight thing was completely new to us, although apparently I knew a little more than Jamie did (she didn't know that the bull was actually killed in the fight until we had sat down). Here's some of what we learned:
A bullfight consists of:
-multiple bullfights ("corridas"). This means that you watch one bull fight a matador ("torero" more approprately) and his team, and when that bull dies they "reset" the ring and do it again with another bull and another torero and team, etc. If I remember correctly we saw maybe 6 bulls that night, shared among 3 toreros.
-Each corrida has specific stages. After the bull is released into the arena, maybe 4 members of the team take turns making the bull angry by waving the cape thing ("capote") and dodging it, frequently running behind a thick wooden wall that protects them from the bull.
The next stage involves two men ("picadores") with lances, mounted on armored horses. The bull charges the horse and as it is busy trying to bowl the horse over (which did happen once!) the picador thrusts his lance at the bulls neck and back.
The following stage is quick and involves three teammates ("banderilleros") taking their turns at stabbing arm-length spikes ("banderillas") into the bull's shoulders. These are the colorful things that you usually see hanging from the back of the bull if you've ever seen photos of bullfights. These men have to dodge the bull usually as it runs towards them, jumping out of the way and stabbing the bull at the same time.
The last stage is the bull and the torero, one on one. To me this seemed the most symbolic stage, the most prideful - it seemed like it was a display of "man over nature." It was during this stage when you really get to notice the difference between the toreros - which ones are good, which ones are new, which ones are more graceful or more brave. The dance between the bull and the torero was really quite exciting and the exchange between the best torero and the most lively bull (you learn that each bull has its own personality) was quite spectacular. In probably 4 of the 6 corridas the bull actually managed to topple the torero, in which case the other teammates rushed to his aid and drew the bull's attention away from the downed torero until he could stand and regain his composure. On his first appearance of the evening, the youngest torero took a very hard hit that knocked him to the ground and during the short scuffle that ensued before the bull could be drawn away, the torero's buttocks were exposed (much to the ladies' delight!) after the bull managed to tear off part of his pants. Impressively, the torero took it like a man and finished the fight with one cheek almost completely exposed.
The abrupt end of the match, with the torero ending the bull's life with (ideally) one perfectly placed thrust of the sword through the bull's shoulderblades, down to the hilt of the sword and presumably into the bull's heart, almost ruined the experience when juxtaposed with the beautiful choreography of the bull versus the torero. The good torero could kill a bull with one thrust (which had the crowd on its feet and waving white handkerchiefs as a sign of praise), but the youngest torero took half a dozen, maybe ten attempts until the bull fell. This last part was almost always very gruesome, as blood would start to pour out of the bull's mouth in large amounts and if not felled quickly, the bull would begin to sway and stumble until finally falling to its knees and eventually dying. On one occasion the sword thrust was placed so well that the bull just stopped in its tracks and fell over dead, almost cartoon-like.
After the bull died a team of horses was brought out and the bull was hooked up to it and dragged back through the gates, often leaving a dark trail of blood on the bullring floor that was swept up by another member of the team.
Jamie had to look away several times during the whole production, and I almost had to a couple of times. The crowd appeard to be mostly foreigners, although there were several audience members that seemed like season ticket holders. All in all we were glad that we went but we definitely do not feel the need to go see another bullfight again.