by Charles Adams, columnist
The Reading Eagle
December 9, 2006
The United States has its ballparks. Spain has its bullrings. Here, major league cities sport stadiums that seat tens of thousands of baseball fans, while minor league cities have their own, smaller ball yards.
Go to a city like Seville and you'll see a 10,000-seat bullring. Head south into the heart of Andalusia and you'll reach Ronda, with its 5,000-seat plaza de toros.
Ronda is recognized as the birthplace of bullfighting in Spain, and its elegant showplace opened in 1785. It drew the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, who found fascination in what Spaniards call the “equestrian art” of bullfighting.
Welles' ashes, incidentally, are secreted in a well on an estate just outside of Ronda.
As I wandered the spectator galleries framed by 68 arches of Tuscan columns; as I stood on the gravel oval once soaked with bull blood; as I examined the art and artifacts in the museum under the stands; and as I watched horses being trained in the paddock, I felt the history, heritage and pride that reside in that ring.
I do not know the proper terms and the strategies of bullfighting; I don't want to know. I prefer to purge the images of bullfighting from my mind and memory with the last, expiatory words of this column.
With all due respect to the “art” of bullfighting, I just don't get it. To be quite honest, I should amend that last sentence. I don't believe that bullfighting is due any respect.
Call me a cultural infidel. Say I have no appreciation for a great tradition.
But be aware that I am not alone in my thoughts. Surveys show that 70 percent of Spaniards have no interest in bullfighting. Many Spaniards are repulsed by it. Those who continue to follow it are generally male and generally older.
Corporate sponsorships of matadors and events are way down. Attendance is sagging in Spain's 600 bullrings. Television coverage has been cut drastically. Some cities, towns and regions have banned bullfighting altogether.
I did attend an event in the Ronda bullring: a show featuring renowned Spanish dancer Joaquín Cortés. The only blood that flowed was the hot blood of the flamenco dancers, and only within their bodies.
Hemingway was oddly ambivalent about bullfighting. He attended corridas and befriended matadores, but he called bullfighting “a wonderful nightmare.”
In the 1930s, he wrote, “How long the bullfight survives as a lynchpin of Spanish life probably depends on whether the majority of the population thinks it makes them feel good.”
It would appear, Papa, that the lynchpin is loose.
Truth in journalism time: I have never attended a live bullfight. To write with a modicum of intelligence on the topic, I did watch a couple of hours of bullfighting on Spanish state TV.
There is no argument that a bullfight is a spectacle. The fanfare, the pasodoble, the sway of purple and yellow capotes and the mounted picadores; the daring banderilleros and the dashing torero pure spectacle of Spanish lore. But unfortunately, it is a spectacle of gore.
The picadors plunge lances into the bull's neck muscle. The banderilleros stab the weakened beast with wooden spikes. The torero, or star matador, exchanges the purple capote for the red muleta cape that conceals a razor-sharp sword.
It is with that sword, after agonizing taunting and teasing, that the matador delivers death to the stunned, staggering steer.
On television, the taunting and killing were repeated in slow motion, instant replay, over and over, ad nauseam.
Literally, ad nauseam.