The tickets were cheap, much less expensive than what you expect for a bullfight, for a bullfight, for a bullfight. Only: 5 euros. For that price I could only get half my body in the Prado museum, two-thirds into a movie theater and a toe or two into a play.
The Ventas Bullring is in Madrid, just not in the center. It’s a couple of miles to the east on Alcalá Street right next to the M-30 highway. It was built in 1929 but the first bullfight didn’t take place for another two years. The design is what they call neo-mudéjar, or new-moorish style, characterized by its ornate brick layout. At the top, in tiles, are the year of completion, and the simple words “Plaza de Toros”. It has a capacity of nearly 25,000 spectators making it the third largest ring in the world. But more significantly, it is the most important bullring in the world. Just like New York, if you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere.
That was a pretty crappy start. Oh, well. This time of year is normally not a good time to go to the bullfights; I am warning you; this time of…year…is not a good time of…year…to go to the fights. The big tournament, the big season, takes place in May and early June in the San Isidro Fair, where are the best toreros want to prove their worth or worthlessness if the case applies. Better. I am at peace. The summer events are for the small-timers looking at a shot down the road for the big time. The summer events are for the tourists who don’t want to miss out on that great Spanish tradition. The place was crawling with visitors from other countries: Japanese and Americans overall. They came in droves. They came dressed up in their best; they came with smiles and an air of excitement. Then there were loads of followers of the three toreadors. The three novilleros. And then people who had no reason or excuse to be there like us. Just a Sunday night, what-do-you-want-to-do-let’s-go-watch-a-few-bulls-get-stabbed-to-death-like-attitude-if-you know what I mean. These shows bring the best out of me as a snobbish American in Madrid making fun of ignorant fellow countrymen who were in no way prepared for what they were in for.
Andrés was a kind of expert in bullfighting. He had an encyclopedia at home on the subject which had so many volumes it required its own bookcase. I liked to go with him just to pick up a few more details on the practice.
The went through the ritual: Go to a bar for a beer; buy a sub to take into the bullfight (Spain is still civilized in that sense and allows people to bring in their own food); mull around the souvenir stalls; go inside building and upstairs to a large balcony that looked out over the main entrance; scope out the prettiest girls as they came in; walk through to the ring and find our seats. They are made of concrete. The bull suffers, why shouldn’t we? But Andrés was a veteran, as you know, and had brought his own cushions to boot. A few minutes later the horns blared announcing the beginning of the bullfight. Andrés said to me, “Hey! Two of them are performing here for the first time. You see how they are coming without wearing their caps? That means it’s their first time.” That’s why it was good to go with Andrés.