Bullfighting: Life after Death [Happy Birthday Clara! Sorry about the subject matter today! :)]

What does everyone do while the large corpse lies in the ring waiting to be hauled away?  They come up with a verdict, that’s what. And they award prizes if it feels the bullfighter had done a good job.  Actually it’s not the crowd who hands down the prize, but the president of the fight that day, who is often a high-ranking member of the local police force or government.  If the people feel the toreador should receive an award, they appeal to the president by waving white handkerchiefs. The more you see, the stronger the appeal.  If the president finally agrees to their calling, then he too will let a white handkerchief drape over the edge of the balcony.  So, what is the prize?  A weekend away at a bungalow in the Costa del Sol?  A pair of running shoes?  100,000€?  Yeah, right.

        They get an ear.  One of the bull’s ear.  It’s lopped off right there and then.  The crowd can continue to petition if they feel the bullfighter has done exceptionally well, and if the president agrees, then we’ll repeat the action and the other ear will come off too.  And if it was an outstanding performance, the tail may be added too, but that never happens in Madrid.  It would have to be something which would go down in history.  You see one of the biggest factors is the importance of the ring.  A small town might mete them out for any ordinary bullfight, but in the big rings it’s a totally different story.  The crowd in Madrid’s Las Ventas is not easily impressed, which is why more often than not the reaction is that of disinterest.  Maybe a light round of applause at best.  And if it’s a botched job, you can expect lots of insults and booing.

        That’s why Madrid’s venue is so important.  Other’s include Sevilla, Pamplona, Barcelona, Valencia (just to name a few), but Las Ventas is the most rigorous test.  It’s kind of like Broadway for a stage actor.   If you don’t make it there…well, you know how it ends. 

        The bullfighter is to be carried out of the arena on the shoulders of his assistants, which signifies that he has triumphed that afternoon.  For this to happen, you need to have had at least two ears cut off in the same event.  They can be two ears taken from one bull or an aggregate of the two bulls (one from each) that he faces.  To have this happen at Las Ventas is the dream of every bullfighter, as it will mean he knows how to stand up under the greatest pressure. 

        Does the bull ever get a fair end of the deal?  Normally not, but on rare occasions, the crowd and torero may feel that the animal is so especially brave that its life should be spared so they will ask the president to pardon it.  If he agrees, he will draw out an orange handkerchief.  

        But I tell you.   That ain’t often.

Bullfighting: Now what?

You have to wonder that at some point the bull comes to the conclusion that something awfully wrong is going on.  After about six minutes of galloping around the ring chasing a big pink cape, plowing into an enormous horse and having a lance stuck in its back several times certainly these thoughts must come to mind:  “This is not what I planned on doing when I woke this morning.”  And he’s right, because in about fifteen minutes, he’ll be dead. 

Unless fate has something.

You see, up to this stage, the experts have been eying the animal carefully and pointing out its strong points as well as its weaknesses.  They analyze the size of its neck, its horns, its musculature.  They watch how it runs, how it charges, how and when it lifts its head, and so on, all to test how it will perform as the encounter progresses.  If any major defects appear, i.e., unquestionable signs of weakness, the crowd begins to get restless and protest.  They whistle, shout, wave their white handkerchiefs and beg the president for a change.  If he agrees, then he tosses a green handkerchief out and the bull gets yanked from the ring.  To get him out, a team of steers trots out onto the arena and lure him back into the corral.  Disgraced, possibly, but still alive. But he doesn’t know the difference.

This is not the case for most bulls.  In a sense, we are at the point of no return.  Once you’ve made it that far, there is no turning back. 

Stage Two: the banderillas.