Monday, April 11, 2005

Log 33 - "La Corrida de Toros" - Our First Bullfight

In this log we are going to introduce you to a different form of the bullfight Our last encounter with bulls was back in the streets of the Portuguese Azores (Log25) in the summer of 2004. 

Seville's Plaza de Torros - from the front
The spectacle of bullfighting has existed in one form or another since ancient days, as far back as 2000 BC according to one cave painting. Bullfights were popular spectacles in ancient Rome, but it was in the Iberian Peninsula (today's Spain) that these contests were fully developed. The Moors from North Africa who overran Andalucía in 711 AD changed bullfighting significantly from the brutish, formless spectacle practiced by the conquered Visigoths to a ritualistic occasion observed in connection with feast days, on which the conquering Moors, mounted on highly trained horses, confronted and killed the bulls.

The Seville bullring without spectators.
Seville's bullring, la Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, is supposed to be one of the most elegant in Spain and one of the oldest, with initial construction beginning in 1758.   It was here and at a nearby place called Ronda, that bullfighting on foot (instead of horseback) began in the 18th century.

A vicious 60lb bull...
The bullfighting season typically starts around Easter and runs to about October.  A month or so prior to the season opener and our first event,   we went to visit the bullring and its museum to learn a bit more about the spectacle and its traditions. Many outsiders think of the contest between bull and man as one-sided. They fail to appreciate the danger embodied by a corrida bull. A typical bull bred for the corrida (bullfight) is a jet-black, 460-kg (1000-lb) engine of awesome speed and strength, with long, dagger-sharp horns.  It wears a blue shirt with ...

Mother cow and her killer son and the victim.

In the museum, this display in particular caught our attention.  The matador in the picture was killed by an extremely crafty bull.  So unusually intuitive was the bull and so grievous was the mother of the matador over her loss that afterwards she insisted that the bull's mother be killed so that never again could a bull, as evil as the one that killed her son, be born and enter the bullring again. So we see, the bull does not always lose. 

The Seville bullring in the 18th century

As bullfighting developed, the men on foot, who by their capework aided the horsemen in positioning the bulls, began to draw more attention from the crowd, and the modern corrida began to take form. Today the bullfight is much the same as it has been since about 1726, when Francisco Romero of Ronda, Spain, introduced the estoque (the sword) and the muleta (the small, more easily wielded worsted cape used in the last part of the fight).

6:12pm Sunday, March 27, 2005 - La Corrida de Toros

The matadors and assistants arrive at the ring.
Bullfighting today is big business and rewarding for the successful few matadors who make it to the top. Many are multimillionaires, but have paid for their fame with many severe horn wounds; others have paid with their lives. Bullfighters generally expect to receive at least one goring a season. A star matador will fight as many as 100 corridas a year, and can make the equivalent of about  U$25,000 per corrida.   Before on-site medical treatment facilities, a gored matador stood a very high chance of bleeding to death before receiving any proper aid.

Settling into our seats
6:28pm - Well, we are settling into our seats waiting for the show to begin.   When Chris went to buy the tickets a week earlier, in addition to section levels, he also had the choice of sun, partial shade, or shade.  Spain gets hot in the summer and Seville can get as hot as 50 Celsius!  But being March, we opted for affordable.   Our tickets for this star-filled event were about $C 35 a piece - the best in the house were nearly $ 300!  And 'no', there was no TicketMaster, no booking by telephone, nor internet or anything else.  Chris stood in line outside the bullring on the correct day at the correct hour in all of its tradition-steeped honor, an experience in itself.

The opening procession
6:31pm - Back to the event.  Six bulls, to be killed by three matadors, are usually required for one afternoon's corrida, and each encounter lasts about 15 minutes. At the appointed time, the three matadors dressed ornately in silk jackets and monteras (bicorne hats), each followed by their assistants, the banderilleros and the picadors, march into the ring to the accompaniment of grand music. This cuadrilla (group of apprentices) that follows each matador into the ring, will assist the matadors in the slaying of the bulls.

Chris' mom & dad waiting for the events to begin.

Chris' mom and dad are sitting with us as our Norwegian friends from s/v Stroller.  The time has come...our senses are overloading as the rich tradition of the fight begins to play itself out in front of us.

        Classical bullfighting is theater in three acts...

Three toreros start to goad and tire the bull.

In the first act, the toro, or bull, is released into the bullring from the confines of a dark pen. Dazed by the light, the bull will first see three toreros, or bullfighters, standing in the ring waving large capes to attract its attention and goad it into initial charges. The toreros run behind wooden barriers at the sides of the bullring, which the bull charges and rams with enormous violence.  Then Picadors on horseback (a couple of photos up) spear the bull with long lances, a practice designed both to enrage the animal and to make it expend its energy battering their blindfolded and padded horses.

A banderrillos harpoons the shoulder muscle.

In the second act three banderilleros in sequence enter and run at the bull carrying short, barbed harpoons with flags attached. Agilely avoiding the bull, they plant the harpoons in the hump of its back, leaving it gleaming with (more) fresh blood. The stings of the barbs drive the animal further into a frenzy of rage.

The matador flourishing his cape...

The faena is the final act. The matador faces the bull alone across the ring, carrying only a tiny red cape and a sword. His goal is to kill the bull. Ideally, he will do it with a single sword thrust between the shoulder blades, his weapon sinking in to the hilt and piercing the heart of the beast. First, however, he must bring the animal to a mesmerized, exhausted, and panting halt.

To achieve this, he entices the bull into frantic charges by flourishing the cape in elaborate passes. Purists demand these motions be graceful, swift, sure arcs. They also demand the matador not falter or flinch as he draws the thrusts of the bull's lethal horns within inches of his flesh. Before this apex of human cool, the bull eventually grows hypnotized from its own dizzying circles. It wears down until it sinks on the sand before the matador. Younger matadors may play to the spectators near the finish, sinking to their knees and dropping their capes. More traditional matadors lock the bull in a deadly stare, stroking the bull's horns or the rough fringe of hair across its head to gauge the spirit remaining before delivering the death blow with the sword. 

Here, one of our matadors, Enrique Ponce, lines up for the final thrust.

Getting ready for the kill.

An appreciative crowd

If the matador shows a lack of grace, skill, or courage, or if the knowledgeable crowd perceives that the matador contrived to fight a smaller, tamer bull, jeers will follow him from the ring. If all is performed with sufficient aplomb, however, the judge will award the matador the bull's ears or, for an exceptional kill, its tail.   

Two Ear performance for El Cid 
The crowd is very appreciative today for the first performance of superstar "El Cid" and the judges award two ears, which you can see in the matador's hands as he walks around the perimeter of the bullring smiling at and waving to his fans.  These guys have massive egos!  In our event programme, all the statistics are spelled out for each fighter: total number of corridas, total number of ears awarded, more specific details on the past season. For example, one of them has fought 1348 times and been awarded 1767 ears since his professional debut in this form of bullfighting in 1988.

A mule team hauls the deceased bull out.

And what of the bull?  He is hooked to a team of mules - con o sin orejas (with or without ears) - and hauled out of the bull arena.  A team of attendants quickly straighten things up and rake the floor as required.  Then the next fight begins.   Olé!

Rabo de Toro - Oxtail stew.
The corrida is a spectacle with a long history and many rules.  It is not, as many might suggest, a ghoulish alternative to the slaughterhouse (itself no pretty sight).  Aficionados will say the bull gets to live a year longer than the slaughterhouse route and will die with much more honour.  The corrida is about many things - death, bravery, performance.  No doubt the fight was bloody and cruel, and our hackles and bile raised more than once.  To witness a fight is not necessarily to understand it, but it gives some clues to the thought and tradition behind it. And so, we conclude this log with a picture of a delicious Spanish concoction we got to enjoy, Rabo de Toro - bull's tail stew.

Join us in Log 34 where we experience the April Fair, take a road trip to Granada and sadly (yet excitedly) get ready to leave Seville.  

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Log 32 - March, 2005 - Jerez and Semana Santa (Easter) in Seville, Spain.

For the month of March 2005, we enjoy more of what the area offers plus we are all excited for a visit from Chris' parents who want to experience with us the beautiful city of Seville, Spain for Seman Santa (Easter).  It truly is one of the most iconic celebrations and the week leading up to Easter is a fascinating time to be here.   

Sunday, March 6th - Field day

Compass training

During the first couple of weeks of March, Sheila goes back to Canada to visit with her family and tend to some various matters and Chris gets to be Mr. Mom.  For school one day, the boys make a trip to a nearby forested area and learn to use a compass on a treasure hunt.  The treasure?   Mars Bars.

Thursday, March 10th - Knight Joel

At a museum gift shop on another outing, Joel tries on the helmet of a knight - it's only 170 Euros $C 270.   The shop attendant came rattling after us seconds after the picture.

Knight Joel

9:28 am Tuesday, March 15th - Jerez Airport waiting for Mom to come home!

Patiently waiting for mom's flight.

Today, Sheila arrives back from Canada, bags stuffed with school books, supplies, Canadian treats, good salad dressings, and the like. 

Two weeks was a long time for all. 

 It's good to have her back.

11:30 am, March 15 - Real Escuela Andaluz del Arte Ecuestre (Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art)

Andalusian Equestrian Centre

Near the airport in Jerez, the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art trains horses and riders in dressage, and you can watch them going through their paces in a daily 'official espectaculo'.  To help Sheila get right back into the Spanish time zone,  we have planned a day that does not involve her sleeping.  For starters, we purchase tickets to the "Lipizzaner" horse show that we have been trying to see for months now!   We arrive to these beautifully manicured grounds with barely any time to spare for the noon show. 

The "Andalusian", known for centuries as the Spanish horse, is one of the oldest horse breeds.

Native to the area, the Andalusian has influenced the development of more breeds than any other horse except for the Arabian and the Barb (of  NW Africa).    The Lipizzaner is a descendant and a famed breed of riding and show horse, renowned for its equestrian ballet performances, that which we see today.

Lipizaaner horses

2:23 pm, March 15 - Sandeman Bodegas

Sandeman sherry bodega

Well, if that's not enough for a jet-lagged Sheila, we then drag her to one of Jerez's centuries-old Sherry bodegas.   This is the south of Spain, and Jerez is one of the towns  forming a triangle encompassing an area world famous for it's Sherry production.  In case you don't know, Sherry is a "fortified wine", one that contains additional alcohol and is usually consumed in small amounts as aperitifs before meals or dessert wines after a meal.   Sherry is made by adding alcohol to a young dry wine in an oak barrel intentionally filled only halfway.  The barrels never move and are stacked on top of each other.   Every year, about half of each of the bottom casks are drawn off and bottled. Then, the half-empty cask is refilled from the cask directly above, which is then filled from the cask above, and so on.  Newly fortified wine tops-up the top row.  This cascading or Solera method of blending takes six or seven years and is centuries-old.

Sherry tasting

In the tasting room, we learn about Sandeman's Amontillados, Finos, Olorosos, and Pedro Ximenez.  Gerrit and Joel are more interested in the potato chip snacks.  

Now... maybe it's time for you to read or reread Edgar Alan Poe's errie tale of revenge in "The Cask of Amontillado."

"The Cask of Amontillado."

Friday, March 18th - Chris' parents arrive and a trip to the Triana Market

Chris' parents, Vince and Ann Richards

Within 48 hours of Sheila arriving back at Tioga, Chris' parents from Victoria arrive for a 3 week visit to southern Spain, with Seville as a major focal point.  It's great to have them as our guests and, with Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations coming up, there is plenty to do.  


A visit to the Triana market

Chris' mom, especially, likes to walk, so why not a trip to the very colorful Triana Market.  Triana is a district near the historic center of Seville, but across the river.  Once the "poor" side of the river, it was where all the trades, shipwrights, and crew lived.  


Saturday, March 19th - Carmen

Today is a lot of fun.    We track down an effervescent street performer who goes by the name of Carmen.  On select days, she leads the "Carmen" faithful on a walking tour of old Seville all the while doing her version of French composer Georges Bizet’s famous opera, Carmen, a tragic romance between an officer and a fiery Gypsy woman. 

Carmen in the streets of Seville

"My dearr peoplez... ," begins Carmen, white spittle collecting in the corners of her mouth, "A lady at de cigar factory where I work says something not nice about de Gypsy peoplez.  My family, dey are Gypsies, ... so I grab de first thing dat came to my hand, which naturally is my cigar-cutting knife.   And I begin to carve... just a little in her face.  And den she began to cry, de big baby..."

Semana Santa (Easter Week)

3:00pm, March 21st - Holy Monday - San Gonzalo Procession Begins

Though Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) officially began the start of Easter Week, we head out on Holy Monday to take in a Paso Procession.  We wait outside San Gonzalo church for the action to begin.  

San Ganzalo church

'Nazarenos' leave San Gonzalo church
No, this is not a Ku-Klux-Klan demonstration, but the start of one of many processions that make up Holy Week celebrations in Seville.  Every year since the 17th century, every day from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, large richly decorated images and life-size representations of the Easter story are solemnly carried from Seville's many churches through the streets to the cathedral and back, accompanied by long processions that take hours to pass.  Those in the procession, the nazarenos who wear the KKK-like hats and capes, are traditionally penitents keeping their identities known only to God, a practice with its roots in the Spanish Inquisition. Today, many nazarenos still go barefoot and carry crosses

Mere inches on the sides in this Paso of Christ exit.

It is truly amazing to see the start or completion of one of the processions.  The beginning is called a salida or 'exit' meaning the huge pasos (floats) must leave the home church.  The end is called the entrada or 'entrance' as the pasos return.  On any day, there are usually 7 or 8 of these processions, starting mid-afternoon or in the evening and some taking over 15 hours round-trip to complete.  The crowds that gather to watch these processions are immense at any time of day or night. Getting close enough to see a paso exit or enter with only inches of side clearance and its bearers on their knees in order to get enough overhead clearance through the doorways is breath-taking. 

Paso of Christ successful exit.

In most processions, there is a paso related to Christ first followed at some distance by one related to the Virgin Mary.  As Holy Week progresses, the themes keep pace with Jesus' impending crucifixion.  This paso is about Jesus before the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.

Paso of the Virgin Mary exits the church

Amazing detail to this paso. 

The procession heads off towards the cathedral

It took over three hours for this San Gonzalo procession, with over 2000 nazarenos, to exit in its entirety.




Costeleros (bearers) underneath the take a much needed break
The processions are organized by over 50 different cofradias (brotherhoods) and usually have two pasos (floats) weighing as much as 8000 lbs. and carried by teams of up to 40 costaleros (bearers), working on a rotation.   The costaleros rest every 10-15 minutes or so and it is quite the sight to see a hoist - the well-timed lift of paso.  The pasos move with a hypnotic swaying motion to the rhythm of their accompanying bands.

1:30am, March 25th - Early Good Friday Morning - El Silencio

Very popular and old El Silencio procession

The climax of the week are the madrugada (early hours) of Good Friday, when some of the most respected or popular brotherhoods file through the city.  We caught the El Silencio brotherhood which was (get this) founded in 1356 and carries images from the 17th and 18th centuries.  The procession carries out in complete silence, crowd included, with carefully orchestrated movements of 1000s of candles. 

Amazingly, these immense crowds (70,000 in our area alone) control themselves.    While waiting for the procession, an unknown disturbance breaks out nearby; a crush, then people push ... people fall ... people rush - a stampede?   In an instant, a wave of panic engulfs us, engulfs everyone.  "No,  NO,   NOO!!" the experienced crowd roars back.  Adrenaline pumps, surges ... yet restraint is  required - absolutely required.  "Shh .. Shhhh .. Shhhhhh .. " the crowd calms itself, we calm ourselves.  Twenty minutes later, the adrenaline rush only just begins to fade, the heart beat begins to slow.   "Shhh..." the crowd still murmurs.

Back home again for another year.

A final picture for Semana Santa - A paso of the Virgin Mary safely back in her home for another year.

March 27th, Easter Sunday

Museum at the Plaza de Torros, the bull ring

Today is finally Easter Sunday, Christ is risen, and we are all tired and "pasoed" out after many long and odd hours during the past week.  We have a nice dinner planned on our boat, then its off to the bull fight.  Yes, Easter Sunday marks the beginning of this year's bullfighting season in Seville and there is a spectacular line-up (so we are told) of top-notch matadors.  

Don't miss Log 33 for a look at the bullfight.