Two bulls is plenty

Things are so hot in Spain, that they’ve moved the times of bullfights two hours later…to 9pm. No more sun and shade tickets…everything’s the same (hot in the shade). And that’s where I’m heading.

The last stop of the metro line is Madrid’s Plaza de Toros–the biggest bull arena in Spain. From the metro station, the escalator pumps the crowd directly to the front of the arena. It’s all peanuts and crackerjacks…like going to a baseball game. All tickets are only €6 ($8) today as the line up is 3 novice bullfighters (2 bulls each…six fights…two hours of medieval man vs. beast madness). The man in front of me in the ticket line negotiates aggressively for a good seat. I simply say “uno por favore” and end up sitting right next to him. The ramshackle band seems to be directed by the cymbal player who claps a relentless rhythm.

At 9:00 sharp, 500 angry and disoriented kilos of bull charges into the arena. Simple old men sit attentively like season pass holders, girls flutter their fans as if aroused by picadors prancing in tight pants. You can tell who’s local and who’s not. Tourists uselessly discharge flashes on their cameras. Local man croak “ole” like old goats and the Spanish women wave their white hankies with the kill.

The ritual killing lasts 20 minutes. Then another bull romps into the arena. Of course, even attending a bull fight is controversial among animal rights enthusiasts. I’ve always been ambivalent about the spectacle, thinking as a travel writer I need to report what is here (not judge it and support a boycott). When the event is kept alive by the patronage of tourists, I would then reconsider my reporting.

With this visit (my first bullfight in 5 or 6 years), the killing seemed more pathetic and cruel than ever and the audience seemed to include more tourists than ever. I left after two bulls (feeling a bit wimpy as I passed the ushers at the door). Walking from the arena back to the metro, there were the other biggest light weights in the stadium–about 20 people out of several thousand, leaving after only a third of the action: all Asian travelers and American families. I stood next to a Mid-West family–mom holding daughter’s hand and dad holding son’s hand at the subway platform. I said, “Two bulls enough?” The parents nodded. The 12 year old boy summed it up in three words: “That was nasty.”


15 Replies to “Two bulls is plenty”

  1. After years in veterinary medicine and having to deal with victims of dog fighting (pitbull fights), and cock fighting, I find that one does not need to be an animal rights activist to abhor animal fights for the sake of entertainment or spectacle. Some cultural icons are meant to become obsolete! Thanks for your assessment:

  2. For the sake of an enlightened traveling public, it should be noted that Portuguese bullfights do not include the blood and gore that Spanish bullfights do. In Portugal, they do not kill or maim the bull.

  3. Three Bulls

    I was at a Bullfight at Madrid’s Plaza de Toros in 1998. I lasted three bulls (out of six) before I left.

    I did find it very gory but also it seemed repetitive after a bull or two. It was an experience but it was not for me.


  4. As travelers, my wife and I are open to new experiences when we visit. Afterall, that is why we love to travel in the first place. And, we try very hard to be accepting of established customs in other countries, but this one is really hard to swallow.

  5. I don’t mean to rant but I find it extremely hypocritical for people to abhore bullfights, and then go off to McD’s or even the grocery store and buy factory produced, drug laden meats. The food you consume every day was an animal before it became a steak, and unless you purchase organic, local meat, it is 99% likely that your steak was born and raised as a thing rather than an animal, on factory farms, with inhumane, tortureous conditions before it was eventually slaughtered and sent to your grocers or compressed into a billion burgers. Obviously I agree the bullfights are brutal, but please consider your own individual contributions to animal torture and mis-treatment the next time you raise a fork to your mouth.
    We can also do our part to prevent cruelty to animals by not attending things like bullfights and not paying to watch dancing bears or monkeys. A bear in a skirt or a monkey smoking a cigarette is vulgar and heartbreaking.
    WE all are responsible for the cruelty. Thanks

  6. Well, it was only a matter of time, once Rick opened the bullfight Pandora’s Box that PETA would get into the fray. I don’t condone animal cruelty (or the bullfights of Spain and Mexico) but will never agree that raising beef for the market and humanely butchering the animals is animal cruelty. There is no way to twist the way beef/pork/etc. is raised for human consumption to “animal torture”. Ever see animals in the wild, constantly fighting starvation and predators? When a predator does attack its next meal, that’s not such a pretty sight, either.

    And who says a bear who gets fed regularly minds putting on a tutu and doing a quick jig for the tourists? Next we’ll probably hear that the cockatoos at large amusement parks’ bird shows are subjects of torture, too.

    If anyone prefers to eat a salad over a burger or chicken drumstick, that’s their choice. Or vice-versa. But don’t tell me that my eating meat is equivalent to animal cruelty or torture. I just don’t buy it.

  7. I try not to be judgmental about most cultures and traditions, but I see nothing redeeming about this “sport.” The French way, as you depicted in one of your shows, where they pick the ribbon off the horns of the bull without harming the animal, is fine, but this is just barbaric.

  8. I am yet to see a bullfight but will be in Barcelona and madrid in September and hope to experience once then if possible. I think it should be up to the Spanish people and not tourists to decide (and comment on) what is right and wrong in Spain – its their country and their bulls.

  9. Hmmm
    Interesting notion, that. I’m sure that tourists will never be the deciding factor with regard to bull fights, but being told I shouldn’t comment on their merit seems a bit odd and over the top.

  10. Some cultural icons are meant to become obsolete!
    I agree. After all, bear-baiting was quite popular in England for many years but Parliament still managed to outlaw it (eventually) in 1835. I’m sure there were many folks in London and elsewhere who were decrying the loss of this “cultural icon”. One naturally hopes, though, that a cultural icon is more than just something that has been done for ages, and so, ipso facto, it must be continued. Of course, only the Spanish (or Mexicans or whomever) themselves can decide when enough is enough, and the most that non-native opponents can do is to engage in respectful discussion with the knowledge that they most likely will not change many minds.

  11. First off, Portuguese bullfights do involve killing a bull. It is done immediately after the bull leaves the arena by normal butchering practices. Any bull which has faced a fight before would be extremely dangerous and difficult in any subsequent encounters. That meat is then sold.

    As far as tourists are concerned, the Madrid bullring is only slightly affected by any number of us. The vast majority of the crowd at the corrida I attended in 2003 was a local crowd.

    It is a brutal spectacle but the idea is to stay away if one doesn’t approve. I am getting of our shrink-wrapped and sanitary and more boring all the time world. Over.

  12. Rick, perhaps you should have refrained from commenting on one of your favorite pet peeves about American travelers: AMERICANS WHO COMPLAIN ABOUT HEAT AND NO AIR-CON (from your 7/20 blog), since you’ve joined them with your own complaints! You’ve now joined the masses, eh?

  13. Only an idiot would take young children to a bullfight! You might list it as R-rated in your guidebook – repulsive to the uninformed.

  14. Any right-minded person would not be caught dead (excuse the expression) at a bull-fight, whatever the cultural or historical aspects of it may be, anymore than we would pay to watch virgins being sacrifised by being thrown into a volcano. Perhaps one day the Spanish or Mexican cultures will wake up and see that their persistence in carrying on this non-sport bloody horror show tarnishes their image as a modern society. But I say, let’s hit where it hurts – in the pocketbook. I would not even consider going to Spain, knowing that this bloodsport is a part – apparently an important part – of their culture. I can see castles and get a sunburn in any number of more civilized countries; I refuse to encourage bullfighting in anyway by spending my travel dollars in a country that supports such an obscenity as bullfighting is.

  15. Let be be the lone voice on this matter. I admire and respect the art and the sport of bullfighting. What’s next people….banning of the running of the bulls in Pamplona?

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