26 September 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Another immemorial custom, that is.  Catalonia, that second-most unruly province of Spain, witnessed its last bullfight for the foreseeable future last night.  The effort to end the corrida was part-animal rights treacle, part-regional anti-Castillian politics.

Hemingway said, and for once I agree with him, that it is impossible for a person to really "get" a bullfight unless he has seen one.  Ahead of time, one might think they know how they will react, but it all goes out the window inside the arena.  He saw the toughest men go queasy, and the most delicate ladies embrace it.

In short, it is one of those most Spanish of things that are being thrown into the gutter-- down the memory hole.  Just like the Catholic faith.

From the UK Telegraph:

The last Ole! Bullfighting comes to an end in Catalonia

Almost seven hundred years of Catalan bullfighting history ended on Sunday night with the final death blow dealt by its hometown hero.

by Fiona Govan

While Jose Tomas, Spain’s finest matador, was the undisputed star of the evening, the honour of killing the last bull on Catalan soil fell to torero Serafin Marin, a native of Barcelona.

When Marin delivered the estocada, a half tonne bull dropped to the sand, just as reflections of the sun faded in the matador’s suit of light.

On a day when bloodthirsty spectacle was staged for the last time, Spain’s leading exponent of the sport took a triumphant bow in his favourite arena.

The final Ole! at La Monumental arena in central Barcelona marked the end of an era and cast the uneasy relationship between the Catalans and Spain into thick swirl of emotion.

The 18,000 seats for the region’s last ever bullfight sold out within hours and tickets traded on the black market commanding more than ten times their face value. A few were touted on the internet for as much as 1,500 euros each.

Even the posters that advertised the event became an instant collector’s item.

The limited editions prints, commissioned especially from Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo, have been disappearing from hoardings across the Catalan capital.

Queues formed outside the distributers as fans clamoured to get their hands on the piece of history.

Tomas can reportedly command a fee of up to half a million euros for each appearance and attracts aficionados from the world over.

He refuses to allow his bullfights to be televised, adding to the mystique surrounding him, and last year almost died when he was gored by a bull in Aquascalientes, Mexico surviving only after a 17-pint blood transfusion.

But while his name on the billboard guarantees a sell out, such popularity is rare.

Audiences have been dwindling in Catalonia for decades and the Monumental bullring, the last of three in the city to stage bullfights, rarely managed to fill a third of its seats and has struggled to turn a profit.

The death knell came in July 2010 when Catalonia’s parliament voted to outlaw what many consider a barbaric practice, following a petition by animal rights’ group Prou! — Catalan for “Enough” - which collected 180,000 signatures.

The prohibition comes into force on January 1 next year but the end was marked with the close of the bullfighting season in Barcelona on Sunday.

The ban triggered a furore across Spain and a nationwide debate over the quintessentially Spanish tradition that has inspired artists and writers including Goya, Picasso and Hemingway.

While campaigners celebrated the ban as a victory for animal rights and hoped it would be a tide turner that would lead to the spectacle being abandoned across Spain, many dismissed it as a purely political move.

Critics claim local politicians had agreed the ban on an activity seen as the symbol of Castillian Spain as a way of proving their independence from Madrid and distinguishing the region from the rest of Spain.

Marin, 29, decried the ban.

“The parliament has prohibited bullfights because it is a “Spanish fiesta” — the ultimate symbol of Spanish nationalism,” he said an interview ahead of the bullfight. “The ban has nothing to do with animal welfare.” Indeed, many have questioned how Catalonia can ban “la corrida” while continuing to allow other bull related cruelties, such as the “correbous”, where a bull with flaming torches attached to its horns is chased through the streets.

“They are banning the national fiesta whilst still allowing the Catalan correbous to continue,” Tim Parfitt, British author of “A load of Bull” and a Barcelona resident told the Daily Telegraph. “It is hypocrisy.”

The owner of La Monumental is demanded millions in compensation over the ban and promoters and breeders from across Spain are planning a class action to sue the Catalan authorities over denying them a means to earn a living


Methodist Jim said...

Has me wondering if Barcelona remains my favorite city in all the world. If only Madrid had a beach.

The Hussar said...

"I may remark, in passing, that I did not go to see any bull-fights, for a reason which I explained to my Spanish friends on the spot. I said I should be very much annoyed if one of my Spanish friends came to England, and instantly put on pink that he might rush to the meet and be in at the death of a poor little fox, and then turn around and say, “How hideous! How repulsive! What brutes in human form are the English, whose whole lives are passed in this degrading sport!” We can indulge in all sorts of controversy and casuistry about bull-fighting or fox-hunting, and there is a great deal to be said against both. But, whatever be the right way of treating a bull or a fox, there is a very wrong way of treating a man or a nation of men. And that is to make your first dash to see something that you know you will dislike, in order to tell him that you dislike it. That is not the way to begin to understand anybody or anything; it is simply taking a pride in prolonging your own prejudices and in learning nothing that might balance or correct them. It would be a very unfair way for a Hindu to judge England, and it is a very unfair way for an Englishman to judge Spain."

"Spain and the Color Black", by GK Chesterton, printed July 19th, 1926 in The Illustrated London News.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Barcelona and Whit Stillman films, Whit Stillman's "Barcelona" is pretty funny. It's cruder than Metropolitan, but it has some fun anti-imperialist themes. Does anyone know anything about Stillman's brand-new film -- Damsels in Distress?


Clothilde said...

Having only seen parts of a few televised bullfights and having read Death in the Afternoon, I do not claim any authority on this subject. I love tradition and especially romantic cultural tradition, so I am partial to bullfighting on these points alone. But I cannot help wondering whether such a sport is not an example of failing in our God-given responsibility of stewardship toward these animals, in having them endure hours of seeming torment for our fascination. I am curious to hear your thoughts.

thetimman said...


Your question is a good one, I think. I can only give you my own opinion. I have seen a live bullfight in Spain, not in a tourist production but in a small town about 60km south of Toledo. I have read Hemingway on the subject in several books.

I was prepared to respect bullfighting for the reasons you give, and was not sure I could "handle" it. What I saw was magnificent.

There was something profoundly cultural in this event, and the social personality of the Spanish people. It was a symbiotic thing among matador, bull and crowd. Aesthetically, I've never seen anything like it. The bull charges into the arena full of power and vitality, and in the span of fifteen minutes he literally seems to welcome the end.

It may sound weird, or insincere, but I tell you that the bull is more respected by the crowd than is the matador, particularly a bad or mediocre one. Until you see it, I cannot tell you why I don't think it is cruel to the bull. But it isn't.

The bull's entire life, prior to the last fifteen minutes, is the opposite of cruelty. He is pampered. And in the final fight, he is respected. Yes, the wearing down process can look cruel, but again, I didn't think so when I was there.

Methodist Jim was at the same bullfight, perhaps he can give an insight I cannot.

I am hooked on bullfights, and I would see one again anytime. It is a microcosm of the Spanish people-- daring, bravado, honor, and life and death struggle.

thetimman said...

UHB, I haven't seen it yet, but will, and maybe I'll make an obnoxious post about it.:-)

Methodist Jim said...

Timman's comment is well put. When first in Spain, like Chesterton, I had no desire to see a bullfight. My ignorant assumption was that a bullfight was akin to a dogfight or cockfight in America . . . nothing more than bloodsport, brutality for the sake of drunkenness and gambling and satisfaction of human's bloodlust at the expense of a defenseless animal.

But that notion was so far askew from what I saw in the Spanish people that it made me wonder and, thankfully, doubt the assumption. I read more (Hemingway ... Death in the Afternoon and The Dangerous Summer ... and other shorter works in an anthology about Spain in general) and on a second trip to Spain had no plans to see a bullfight but was certainly open to it. When the last-minute opportunity came I was excited.

Timman described the event well, I won't belabor it anymore. But I didn't see bloodlust in the Spanish crowd. I saw respect, respect for their traditions and for the bulls. Trying to get into the rhythm of things but not knowing, really, what was happening, I cheered at a point that previously got cheers but I was alone and the locals were scowling at me. Realizing it was my first bullfight, a man next to me - in a mixture of his broken English and my very broken Spanish - that the matador had missed his mark and the kill was not as painless as it should have been.

To understand a bullfight, you must see one. And to see a bullfight as it is meant to be seen, you must be in the right frame of mind. If you do see one in the right frame of mind, my guess is that you will appreciate and enjoy the spectacle.

One last thing, if you eat meat, that part of your meal has been killed. So, respectfully to any non-vegan standing in opposition to bullfighting on an animal rights principle, please make sure that you're objection goes to something beyond the baseline fact that bulls are killed in bullfights. If the bull is to die anyway, the bullfight doesn't seem a bad way to go.

StGuyFawkes said...


Not to be contentious but I want to put in a plug for pit bull fighting. It's clearly part of confederate culture and despised primarily for its southern origins. I've never been to one but I've been around a lot of "pits" and I've always seen a metaphorical relationship between the tenacity of Catholic Traditionalists and the thousand pound maw-grip of the pit bull. In fact I think that at their best Catholic Tradtionalists ARE pit bulls.

The pit bull was named for their relationship to taurine-bulls I am told.

The breed has been used to control bulls by biting them on the nose and subduing them by not letting go of the nose until the big brute becomes pacified.

Michael Davies told me on one of the several occasions when I drank with him that a baby pit bull slept between him and his Croatian wife.

True story. Fact. Pit bulls, gladitorial arenae, horned bulls, Mike Davies, Mon. Lefebvre and Catholics. It's all of a piece.

St. Guy

P.S. Did you know Hegel inspired the Ead's bridge?

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Timman, bravo!


Mike Vick

thetimman said...

Wow, Mike Vick! You're on my fantasy team!

Anonymous said...


I know. Look, man, I shouldn't be saying this, but you should sell high. I'm still getting headaches and I see two footballs when I'm under cetner sometimes.

On a separate note, can you hook me up with some of those bullfighting tix in Mexico? It's still legal there, right? Why did I not know about tis?

Yours truly,