22 April 2016

Meatless Friday: Tough Guy Edition

I have in the past recommended Alexander Fiske-Harrison's captivating, modern-day exploration of the Spanish bullfight, Into the Arena. It is in parts intensely personal and in others detached, and takes a serious and non-sloganeering look at the beauty, danger, and some of the problematic elements of the corrida.

Well, bullfighting is dangerous business, and not just to the bull.  I recently came across this article in GQ by Fiske-Harrison on the very famous, very brave, and recently horribly gored matador, Jose Juan Padilla. This great bullfighter stands as something of a metaphor for the current state of the art in Spain.

Padilla is famous for his willingness to fight the fiercest and largest breed of bull, the Miura. After begin gored in the face-- losing one of his eyes-- Padilla has returned to the ring.  As difficult as it must be to stand up to a bull at any time, I couldn't imagine trying to do it with a reduced field of vision and no depth perception.

I wonder what he would think of grown men using a girl's bathroom?

From the full article:

Jose Juan Padilla: The Last Matador

[…]Nowadays, most matadors don't place their own banderillas, delegating the task to their assistants. However, Padilla is Padilla. This time, though, somewhere around umpteenth time he must have performed this particular move, something went badly wrong. He tripped.

Running past the bull, a foot tapped an ankle and he was down, the bull on him like a vengeful, snorting locomotive - all coiled black muscle channelled down into a point the circumference of Louboutin stiletto; like an iron skip balanced on a nail. Crunch.

The horn entered under Padilla's left ear, cracking the skull, ripping the auditory nerve, and then into the jaw, smashing through both sets of molars, exploding his cheekbone as surely as a rifle bullet and coming out through the socket of his left eye. If you can stomach to even look at the images (let alone the YouTube video), just be pleased the tragedy was all over in a matter of seconds.

His team took the bull off him; distracting the animal's resurgent aggression with their bright capes. Padilla, astonishingly, got up. He was holding half his face in his right hand. Cheek, jawbone and eyeball, like the contents of a butcher's bin, rested in his upturned palm as he walked towards the edge of the ring. "I can't see, I can't see," repeated the fighter. As he walked out, the 42-year-old's legs, unsurprisingly, buckled - blood loss and nervous shock eventually getting the better of his breathtaking machismo. He was rushed to the ring's infirmary and from there out into the city of Zaragoza and to the Miguel Servet Hospital. By now the entire nation was following the sirens.

A team of expert surgeons - general, trauma, plastic and nerve-specialists who usually work on face transplants - worked desperately to try to piece together the skull with titanium, prevent the loss of the eyeball, prevent infections from a horn wound so close to the brain, and generally stop Padilla from flatlining. They succeeded. Just. Although he came away with his life, what Padilla had lost was 15kg of his usual 70, his left eye and the mobility in the left side of his face - and that was just the physical injuries.

More miracles were to come: ten days after this horrific accident, the unthinkable happened. Wheeled out by his bullfighting and medical teams, Padilla announced to the attending press that he would be returning to the ring. He couldn't walk, couldn't eat, and could only half-see, half-hear and half-speak, but what he said was that he was coming back. Back into the ring. Back to fight the bulls. It was only then that I knew I had to be there with him.


At the end of 2011, bullfights were banned in Catalonia. The regional capital, Barcelona, is Spain's second city, and the closure of its ring La Monumental was a serious blow to bullfighting aficionados. In fact, the official figures show that the number of bullfights across Spain have fallen by a third since 2007 - from 2,622 five years ago to 1,724 in 2010. Many believe this decline mirrors the start and longevity of Europe's financial crisis - bullfighting coming under pressure in Spain because of public-subsidy cuts.

But come 2012 and something is stirring amid the ranks of matadors and the lovers of the bullfight. What's clear is that such staunch defenders of tradition are not going to give up their beloved arenas quietly - they've been scrapping for their livelihoods for centuries, after all. Over the last 12 months there's been a shift, if not in the ever-diminishing figures, then certainly in the mood.


So what of Juan José Padilla? How does the ageing, one-eyed matador fit into Spain's broader picture? Well, for many, Padilla - after announcing his injury-defying return to the ring - has somehow become symbolic of bullfighting's predicament in its homeland. And perhaps its last hope. Could Padilla - a man from humble beginnings whose feats have been so defined and so adored by the sport and who cheated death in the arena - face down all the odds and rise again triumphantly, lifting bullfighting back into favour, and back into the hearts and minds of those countrymen who once loved the spectacle?
Some believe that if anyone can, Padilla can. For some, Padilla's return to the ring has become less about one man's personal victory, and more a symbol of Spain's integral survival.

No pressure, then.

1 comment:

Patti Day said...

We need men like Padillo to stand up to these bull s**t laws our government is forcing on us.