It’s been nearly twenty years since I went to a bull fight with Mr. Understanding. Sitting in the “sol” seats (i.e. the cheap seats in the sun) in Barcelona in August long ago, we were far from the action. Nevertheless, I infamously took 3 rolls (36 exposure) of the proceedings. When developed, it was apparent I had no zoom lens; you could not see much, just a black dot the size of a bean, a red slash , and a big circle of sand.
Why go to a bull fight, you might ask, in the first place? As an expat today and not as a tourist, it is part of the cultural acclimatization and education. Perhaps the Spanish national sport explains why the natives yell at me for stopping at a red light, parking my car next to theirs, or entering a store in the wrong spot. Does bull fighting relieve some sort of Iberian tension and aggression? Does this explain my landlord’s refusal to upgrade my security system, even after I have been burgled? To enter the mind set of a Spaniard, that is what I am after. Why, why, why? And what is up with the outfit? Where can I get those hot pink (why?) trouser socks?
Thusly, it was to the Plaza de Toros in Madrid that Mr. Understanding and I went on Sunday night. Accompanying us were our visiting friends from Shanghai, Bea Long and her husband. This is the type of spectacle best shared with a good friend, so you can pick it apart over a few days time. As it was Father’s Day, Montecristo cigars had been purchased for the event. The men drove downtown to purchase the tickets that morning, front row ring side seats (46 euros each – ouch). They made the executive decision not to bring along the children (wise).
The show began precisely at 7 p.m. with the band playing as the matadors and other toreros entered the ring. We were seated nearly eye level with the wooden barrier protecting the audience. Old men with bad combovers smoking cigars sat right in front of us. (One of them must have been important because several toreros came over to greet the gentleman.) Mr. Understanding and Mr. Long blew smoke right back.
And then it began. Right in front of us.
But let me back up just a titch. The day before we had all toured Toledo, the last stop of the day being an exhibit on “ancient” methods of torture. This we took the kids to see, I confess. Beyond gruesome. Really, you cannot imagine. We learned, for example, where the phrase “putting the screws to someone” came from. These devices, used primarily during the Inquisition (throughout Europe, not just Spain), make waterboarding look like fun and games. Ever heard of a tool called a “breast stripper”? I thought not. Burning at the stake, it turns out, was relatively benign. The garotte, a strangulation device, was retired in Spain in 1975 – not so ancient.
With these fresh images rolling around our heads we went to the bull ring.
This time I took nearly 1,000 photos and had a zoom lens. The three matadors were 24 years old or younger. Although there were a few flippings, no one got gored. One matador did lose his shoe which I am sure cost him some style points; kicking off the other one might have gained them back.
I will spare you the gory (and they are) details and omit the horn blow-by-blow. The evening’s event was enough to quench our collective curiosity for a lifetime, even though the press called that day’s fights a snoozapalooza, a real yawner. Still, not my place to comment.
Questions, however, remain: why do the matadors wear these little crocheted tails(?) pinned to the back of their hair? How do they clean the blood off the traje de luz (matador’s costumes – “suit of light”)? What’s the origin of the funny hats? Were the Romans responsible for this sport too? Sitting in the ring, it is easy to visualize the Christians being thrown to the lions and other beasts. Bea Long believes that in the not-too-distant future, our grandchildren (?) will be taking their grandchildren (?) to an exhibit of the ancient art of bullfighting.
Speaking of Bea Long, we have had a great visit. We trounced the men in dominoes several nights in a row, causing a tantrum or two and Mr. Understanding much consternation. We now know that there is medical care at the Prado (fainting child in front of Roger van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross – a doctor checked him out). Toledo is still too big to visit in one day and the Cathedral in Madrid has some crazy fun ceilings. Bea leaves on Thursday and I on Friday, both of us back to the Land of Not-So-Much-Plenty-Anymore, green vegetables, and my favorite bull’s eye of all – Target -right on the mark. Any bets on who’ll come out ahead in that match up?
P.S. The Expat Princess will be on Summer Hiatus until … August? If you are a Facebook fan, I will keep you posted on my return date. xoxoxo