The Silence of the Bull – 2

September 25, 2009

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In the art gallery: so many Madonnas – both with and without child. And so many suffering Christs, nailed to wooden crosses, while wearing the obligatory crown of thorns, blood streaming from the various wounds in hands, feet, side and head. All this endured in order to “save us” all, poor sinners that we are!

Here, also, are portraits of every Saint known to man ( and some that aren’t! ) from St. Abadios to St. Zoticus – with imaginative and bloody depictions of their myriad martyrdoms. Like an over indulgent Sadeian fantasy, keenly, lingeringly created in languid brushstrokes, these orgies of blood and torture include an “auto de fé” – yards long canvass, depicting both ecclesiastical and civil authorities, the humiliation of the “heretics” (Jews in this case) and the smiling, gleeful faces of the onlookers (always nice to know someone’s worse off than you!) – finally the burning. So much burned, raw flesh in this Spanish holocaust. A timely reminder, perhaps, of just how ugly humanity can be…often without really trying.

The names of the artists simply trip from the tongue, too: Juan Valdes, Murillo, Bartolome, Francisco de Zurbaran…so much culture begins to clog the arteries after awhile, like a surfeit of high cholesterol!

Ah, but enough. Enough. It is nearly lunchtime (my lunchtime at any rate). We are to walk to the bullring and its museum before eating. It’s 49 degrees in the shade. In the stands of the bullring the sun is fierce, merciless; the stone “seats” are so hot they burn through the material of your cut-off denims. Like the fires of hell itself. After a morning of apocalyptic artworks and the rhetoric of religious torture and death, the bullfights seem almost humane! Almost…

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So, the bullfight consists of six bulls and three matadores, each of whom is supported by his own team of assistants. The bullfights take place late afternoon. The matador is resplendent in his trajes de luces, his suit of lights (one of these usually costs around 3,000 euros). His assistants, using large purple capes, attract the bull’s attention and “work” the bull while the matador observes closely how it moves. Next come the picadores, a pair of lancers working the bull from horseback, using their pics to pierce the bull’s neck and weaken it. Now it is the turn of the banderilleros who get the bull to charge them and thrust the banderillas into the bull’s neck muscles thus weakening them. Finally the torero, the matador, engages the bull in a number of elegant passes before exchanging his purple and yellow capote, the large cape, for the much smaller cape, the red muleta and sword…from this point on it’s usually “Goodnight, Mr. Bull”.

Bullfighting is bloody ritual – one can’t help but think of those ancient depictions of “bull dancers” seen in Crete. It is a ceremony of death carried out in carefully arranged stages, each choreographed to achieve a final climax of confrontation between bull and matador – one or other will be the sacrifice in this ritual to death. The matador, man, stands alone in the ring and seeks to vanquish death. He accomplishes this by confronting his fear of death, and by overcoming the physical reality of death in the shape of the bull. The bull is death. When the matador kills the bull, man has defeated death…become a god, immortal for that single transient moment.

Matadores earn a fortune. They are akin to English or US pop stars. They are adulated by crowds of fans, who follow them from arena to arena. When the season finishes in Spain the Matadores journey to Latin America and the bullfights there.

But enough about bullfighting. I’m thristy and hungry. Time for tapas and wine.

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