May 17, 2009

My First Bullfight

We arrive at beautiful Las Ventas with time to spare.
We wait in line for our turn to enter.
The matadores greet us.
The stands are packed as the season kicks off on the San Isidro weekend

We all wait with anticipation. The buzz in the air is palpable.
And so it begins with introductions and a parade around the ring.

First, the suerte de capote where the bull is tested for ferocity.
Then the man on the horse, the picador, gets first stab with his vara.
Next comes more stabbing in the tercio de banderillas (the third of flags) stage.

In the final stage, the tercio de muerte (the third of death), the matador comes out with a small red cape (muleta) and a sword. The matador lures the bull into a series of passes called a faena.

The faena ends once the matador gets the bull into a position to stab it between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or heart. This sword thrust is called an estocada.
If all goes well, the bull falls to its knees and dies fairly quickly afterwards. In the coup de grâce a peon uses a dagger to end the bull's suffering. We see one of the bulls shudder in a terrible death rattle... but at least he dies quickly.

Things don't go as well for the poor bull below. He isn't stabbed correctly so begins puking blood and then smashes his head against the ring wall and dies. The matador is booed.

We watch six bulls killed in this ritualized slaughter and each bull carcass is dragged out by a team of mules.

All these photos were taken by me at yesterday's bullfight. The experience left me with a clash of contrasting emotions because bullfights are beautiful and grotesque, skillfully artistic and yet revoltingly barbaric. I found myself fascinated by what I saw despite the cringing I felt. Watching death is an awfully disturbing thing. Would I go again? I'm not sure. Probably not. The experience is still too fresh in my mind - the images of the death rattle and blood spewing will haunt me for some time.


Anonymous said...

Did you find it exciting?

You see, I think excitement is what really drives the 'taurinos'. The coming together, the flags, the shared excitement. The frenzy.

Shehani said...

I agree, excitement is a big part of the spectacle. The danger. The crowd. The possibility of gore and accidental maiming.. I did find it exciting in the riskier bits and disconcertingly boring when the bull took too long to die because the taurino wasn't getting it right...

Nelson Kamenz said...


I am a old friend of Mark's and saw your photo's and description of the bullfight very interresting. I too would not know if it is all good or bad but it must have been an experience that you have to see once in your life. The photo's you take are always amazing! Say hi to Mark and thank you for the photo's.

Nelson Kamenz

Shehani said...

Hi Nelson, glad you found my blog post interesting. Thanks so much for your compliments on my photos!! It was indeed an unique experience. My students tell me that village bullfights are less posh and more savage... I think I'll take a pass on that venue. Mark says hey Digger!

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