Monday, October 19, 2015

OLE!...No, no, I don't think so.

My recent vacation trip to Spain included four days in the capital, Madrid.

Monday October 12 was that country's National Day. Sort of like our 4th of July with parades and fireworks.
This particular Monday, there would be a card of bullfights downtown.

Back in the 1960s, I was a staff photographer for the San Diego Union-Tribune newspapers.
Covered a lot of assignments including trips down to the Caliente Race Track in Tijuana on weekends.

I would take photos of the winner of the main race and then  quickly drive to the border to get my film back in time for the paper's Sunday deadline.
Some Sundays I would be on the sidelines for a Charger's football game and other times, I'd be in Tijuana again but this time, at the Plaza del Toros for the bullfights.

I was in my twenties, recently married and took the bull fights as just another part of my job.

As a photographer with a long lens I would try to capture the motions and details of the confrontation.

It was colorful, combining elements of graceful dance, crowd-stirring music and a true test of man versus a raging enormous animal. 
One with long and sharp horns.

First the Picador would ride out on a horse that was heavily-padded ...and blindfolded. He carried a long spear with a blade attached that was outfitted with a plate to limit the depth of the wound he would inflict.

The rider's job was to jab the bull in the shoulder muscles to weaken them so its head would be lower when facing the matador.

Other fellows , the Bandelleros were on foot, and would circle and dance around to attract the bull's attention and, when he charged, they would bravely leap over and stick colorful barbs into that same targeted neck muscle area.
Crowd-pleasing and accompanied by martial music as the saga began.

There were three matadors and they faced two bulls each. As I recall, the ring was always crowded - probably tourists - and seats were priced on whether you sat in the sun (Sol) or in the shade (Sombra). 

The object was for the matador to work as close to the deadly horns as possible while taunting the angry bull with his cape and fleet-footed movements. 

He hid a sword with his cape and, when he decided he had worked the bull into a confused and agitated state, he would plunge with the sword, behind the lowered head and pierce the animal's heart.

Ideally it would be instant death, the bull would crumple and a team of  3 horses would be brought out to drag the carcass out of the arena.
All of these memories came flooding back as I sat to watch my first bullfight in nearly 50 years.

I flinched when the bull attacked the Picador on horseback and knocked him from his saddle. His horse, not able to see what had happened, struggled to regain its footing.

I cringed each time the barbs hit bone and bounced to the ground as the Bandelleros circled the confused animal that probably had spent the morning in a peaceful pasture, eyeing the nearby cows.

I watched the first three fights and each ended with protracted stabbing with the spear, several failed attempts to pierce the heart by the matador and - finally - the ungraceful death of an animal that had been raised solely for the purpose of being killed in front of tourists drinking cervezas or rum & cokes in the shaded areas of the arena.
I left and skipped the next three deaths. I wanted to wash my hands and be somewhere else.

I found some tapas and a glass of chilled red wine.

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