Two Bulls Is Plenty
|A legitimate slice of Spain, or cruel spectacle?|
By Rick Steves
Things are so hot in Spain that they've moved the times of bullfights two hours later...to 9:00 p.m. 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 $8 today, as the line-up is three novice bullfighters (two bulls each — that's six fights, or 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 favor" 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 p.m. sharp, 500 angry and disoriented kilos of bull charge into the arena. Simple old men sit attentively like season-pass holders, while 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 "olé!" 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 bullfight is controversial among animal-rights activists. I've always been ambivalent about the spectacle, thinking as a travel writer I need to simply report what happens here (not judge it or support a boycott). When the event is kept alive solely by the patronage of tourists, I would then reconsider my reporting.
With this visit (my first bullfight in more than five years), the killing seems more pathetic and cruel than ever, and the audience seems to include more tourists than ever. I leave after two bulls (feeling a bit wimpy as I pass the ushers at the door). Walking from the arena back to the metro, I come across the other biggest lightweights in the stadium — 20 people out of several thousand, leaving after only a third of the action...all Asian travelers and American families. At the subway platform, I stand next to a Midwestern family, mom holding the daughter's hand and dad holding the son's hand. I say, "Two bulls enough?" The parents nod. The 12-year-old boy sums it up in three words: "That was nasty."
This article was excerpted from Rick's recent blog. For more on Spain — and its bullfighting tradition — don't miss our Spain guidebook. For more information on these topics and destinations, see the Plan Your Trip section of our website.