The excitement of the word bullfight is not exactly what its cracked up to be. This last weekend I attended the second to last bullfight to take place in Barcelona and all of Catalonia (the last one took place on the next day). There are two main reasons sited for the ban on bullfighting in Catalonia, either of which seem to have a distinctly different outlook on the sport. To fully understand both reasons I will first explain my bullfight experience.
The bullfight experience as seen from these pictures was not some glorified fight in which a bull really fights anything. In fact right from the moment the bull is let into the ring, it has no chance to survive. The sport of the bullfight comes from the Matador and his skill in killing the bull.
There are four stages to the fight, all of which weaken the bull until its demise. The first stage the bull has a small stab in his back and is put into the arena, with all his energy and rage from being stabbed he runs around the stadium at 3 different people waving him to them until they hide behind a wall when he gets there. After a little while of this two blindfolded and padded horses enter the arena with a man on each carrying a long pole with a spike on the end. The bull then charges at these horses and while running into them at full force and in some cases picking them off the ground or moving them, the man on the horse stabs the bull in the back, jabbing the lance deep into the back. Fun fact, the horses used to not have padding and it used to be that more horses died in these fights than bulls. After the bull is stabbed in this way twice, the horses leave and three men come into the ring. These men attempt two stab three banderillas, which are sharp bladed sticks, into the back of the bull. A few times these guys missed and were chased pretty closely by the bull. After the bull now has these six banderillas sticking out of its back is time for the matador to do the fight. It is now just the Matador and the very weakened bull. The matador will shake his famous red cape and the bull charges directly at it, ignoring the matador entirely.
There is somewhat of an art form to the way a matador can get the bull to chase the cape. In several different moves from getting the bull to do multiple circles to behind the back to getting within centimeters of the bulls horns the matador shows off his talents to the crowd. In some cases, like one fight I witnessed, the matador made a few mistakes and the crowd yelled “Fuera!” and began loud whistles, this particular matador left quickly with no victory lap. After a while of the “fight” the matador then switches to the killing sword. He sets up the bull directly in front of him and stands with his sword directly at his back. He then waves his cape, the bull charges, and he lunges his sword deep through his back and into the heart. A perfect attack should kill the bull quite quickly after this attack, although a few times some of the bulls lasted for a little long and a second attack was needed. If done correctly, the Matador is greeted with cheers from the crowd and he receives the ears of the bull which he marches around the stadium holding up and throwing hats that were thrown into the stadium back to their rightful owners.
There is no question that to the eye of an outside american such as myself, this entire display was one of utter brutality. I felt I had been thrown back centuries into an 1800’s society in which such disdain for life was held as normal. They repeated this full process with different matadors 7 times in the fight I attended, effectively killing 7 bulls in front of my eyes. Some of the friends I had come with left after 2 or 3 fights, I however stayed until the end. I certainly was intrigued by the culture and even when we tried to leave halfway through the last fight, I found it hard to turn and go down the tunnel away from such an utterly bizarre experience. Despite the brutality of the “sport,” there certainly is such a tradition and one could even claim an art form to the way a matador handles the bull. Many who argue against the ban say that the bullfight is in fact a long tradition of bullfighting in Spain and that it is just as much of an art form as painting. However one obvious reason for the ban of bullfights in Catalonia is the brutality of the fight. The utter disdain for the life of an animal in the 21st century is certainly something the western world does not understand, and as Spain becomes more and more integrated into western society, it must leave behind its bloody traditions.
The other reason for the ban however has nothing to do with the bullfight itself. Catalonia and many Catalan people see themselves as their own country apart from Spain. They have their own language, Catalan - a sort of mix between Spanish and French, that they use over Spanish on a daily basis. When talking to many Catalan people they will tell you they are not Spanish and that they think Spain is degrading their country. Since bullfighting is seen as a distinctly Spanish tradition, Catalans sought to outlaw it to cut their ties with Spanish culture to a further extent. While people in Madrid will disagree with this entirely, Catalonian’s don’t necessarily find bullfighting grotesque as much as it is a Spanish culture draining on their own.
No matter which reason is the real reason for the Catalan ban on bullfighting, I certainly can sleep easier knowing that their won’t be any more bullfights for the duration of my time here in Barcelona. This is especially nice considering my window literally looks out to the bullfighting ring. Every time I see it now I get flashbacks of that experience and it certainly feels like it was not something that happened in this lifetime.