Bullfights in Spain
Bullfights are an integral part of many fiestas. In the south, especially, any village that can afford it will put on a corrida for an afternoon, while in big cities like Madrid or Sevilla, the main festival times are accompanied by a week-long (or more) season of prestige fights.
Los Toros , as Spaniards refer to bullfighting, is big business. It is said that 150,000 people are involved, in some way, in the industry, and the top performers, the matadores , are major earners, on a par with the country's biggest pop stars. There is some opposition to the activity from animal welfare groups but it is not widespread: if Spaniards tell you that bullfighting is controversial, they are likely to be referring to practices in the trade. In recent years, bullfighting critics (who you will find on the arts and not the sports pages of the newspapers) have been expressing their perennial outrage at the widespread but illegal shaving of bulls' horns prior to the corrida . Bulls' horns are as sensitive as fingernails, and filing them a few millimetres deters the animal from charging; they affect the bull's balance, too, further reducing the danger for the matador .
Notwithstanding such abuse (and there is plenty more), Los Toros remain popular throughout the country. To aficionados (a word that implies more knowledge and appreciation than "fan"), the bulls are a culture and a ritual - one in which the emphasis is on the way man and bull "perform" together - in which the arte is at issue rather than the cruelty. If pressed on the issue of the slaughter of an animal, they generally fail to understand. Fighting bulls are, they will tell you, bred for the industry; they live a reasonable life before they are killed, and, if the bullfight went, so too would the bulls.
If you spend any time at all in Spain during the season (which runs from March to October), you will encounter Los Toros on a bar TV - and that will probably make up your mind whether to attend a corrida . If you decide to go, try to see a big, prestigious event, where star performers are likely to despatch the bulls with "art" and a successful, "clean" kill. There are few sights worse than a matador making a prolonged and messy kill, while the audience whistles and chucks cushions over the barrera . If you have the chance to see one, the most exciting and skilful events are those featuring mounted matadores , or rejoneadores ; this is the oldest form of corrida , developed in Andalucía in the seventeenth century.
Established and popular matadores include the veteran Enrique Ponce, César Rincón, Victor Mendes, Joselito, Litri, David "El Rey" Silveti and José María Manzanares. Two newer stars are Sevilla's golden boy, Antonio Bareas, and the 18-year-old prodigy Julián "El Juli" López. Cristina Sánchez, the first woman to make it into the top flight for many decades, retired in 1999, blaming sexist organizers, crowds and fellow matadores - many of whom refused to appear on the same bill as a woman. A complete guide to bullfighting with exhaustive links can be found at www.mundo-taurino.org .
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