Thursday, January 19, 2012


I attended my second bullfight, in the Spanish world known as corrida de toros,  this week and feel I am beginning to get a better sense of how to watch the activities of the contest.  In this post I am simply describing  a few of the rituals surrounding the events as well as some of the technique I began to understand.

A few minutes prior to the fight, the toreros (some countries called matadors or this term is reserved for senior toreros) gather just outside the primary entrance to the ring (not the stands) in an area called the patio de cuadrillas where you can meet the men and their teams and get signatures or photos if you wish.

This afternoon the queen of the feria (or perhaps of the town) was driven around the ring, riding in a beautiful white Spanish buggy pulled by two large black horses.  Once she was safely outside the ring, the main doors swung open and a man on horse galloped into the stadium and stopped abruptly at the other side.  He was there to obtain the keys to the bull pen, a ritual event officially announcing the beginning of the corrida.

Then the toreros and their teams entered followed by the two picadors and the large black horses that would be used to remove the bulls from the ring.   Members of each torero’s team might be two banderilleros, perhaps a picador that you travel with, a manager and others who look after the capes, exchanging the sword for the torero, and so on.   Looking around the stadium you see a box of the authorities - the judges - as well as a box for the band and perhaps a box for the breeders of the bulls being used this day.

Behind the scenes the judges selected the 6 bulls to be used this day (as well as one or two extras); after  examining their size and horn structure made up 3 groups of two (as each torero was to fight two bulls today).   The toreros, or more likely their managers, put their names on paper (traditionally a cigarette paper), these chits were assigned a number as were the three groups of bulls, and then a random draw made to determine which bulls each torero would face today.  The managers would have time to examine the bulls, perhaps discuss background with their breeders and on the basis of the information available make some suggestions to the toreros.   These suggestions might become visible in the ring in subtle ways.  For example, if the bull is a little lighter than the others,  has a compact build and non-threatening horns this might imply that the torero will have much success in working the bull and be able to demonstrate his skills.  In this case it would be advisable to tell the picador to not inflict too much damage on the bull, ensuring that the bull would have the stamina to follow through on his charges.  If the bull is large, has threatening horns and appears to be a little unpredictable and perhaps beyond the skill level of the torero then instruct the picador to inflict more damage to slow the bull down.  The torero may not give his best performance but at least he will live, put in a decent showing and thus get invited to future corridas

The fight begins with the bull charging into an empty ring.  Three or four men are located behind the blinds and appear with large capes to entice the bull into charging around the ring two times.   I believe this helps to tire the bull but it also gets the bull to fixate on the cape and not the body.  The torero then moves forward, also with a large pink cape which he holds with two hands, and has the bull make 3-4 passes at quite a fast speed.   At this point you hear these passes referred to as Veronicas.   The term Veronica comes from the bible and is the same Veronica that wipes the brow of Jesus when he collapses at one of the stations of the cross:  the cape represents the cloth she used.  This allows the torero an opportunity to learn something about the bull - how does he charge, when he charges which horn does he prefer- and thus able to give some instruction to the picador as well as determine his strategy.    He is also beginning to train the bull on how to charge. The bull is then enticed to charge one of the picador’s horses, sometimes forcing the horse and rider back against the wall or even lifting the horse up.  The horse is well padded but it is possible for the horse to  be badly injured at this point.   (In the old days, prior to the use of padding, the horses were almost always killed.)  The horses are blindfolded so they do not see the bull and appear to obey the instructions of the rider.   The picador then forces his long lance into the point at which the bull’s back becomes the neck.  Drawing blood and probably injuring muscle and some say forcing the bull to keep his head lowered.   The picador may be instructed with hand signals to back off quickly or to give another blow to the animal.
Here we have the large cape and a type of veronica being performed.

The bull charges the picador and here you see his lance.

After this the banderilleros appear on foot, usually with torero watching but on occasion the torero may himself play the role of banderillero, and putting himself in danger as the bull charges jumps up and a little to one side in order to plant two banderillas (small banners) in the shoulder area of the bull.  (These banderillas are approx. 30 inches long including a 2.5 inch spike.)  If done well this can be quite breathtaking although it takes only 2-3 seconds.  If he should fail to plant them well he can expect to  hear from the crowd.
The banderillero plants the banderillas.

This photo is a little unclear but but captures the second of drama.

Now as I watch I have come to appreciate the following moves.  It is not a good performance to have the bull pass too far from your body.  Neither is it a good show to move your feet closer to the bull after it has passed in order to give the impression you were close when it did pass.  Toreros use the main cape (a muleta), which they hold in one hand,  in two forms: to begin they support the cape with a sword which allows them to hold the cape further from the body and thus force the bull to pass further from them.  Later, they remove the sword and this makes the cape smaller and hang closer to the body and this is when you can notice the skill of the torero.   A torero whi is very good with the cape may be called a mulatero.  A good performance is one in which the torero appears to almost stand still:   with the bull totally under control he can force the bull to turn tightly thus allowing the torero to just turn to get the next pass.  A bad performance is when the torero has to chase after the bull after each pass, or he feels threatened and has to dance backwards to regain his position.   A further error occurs when the torero has left his best performance too late and the bull has become too tired to make complete passes.   If all goes well the bull still has sufficient energy and anger to continue charging the torero, the crowd calls out Ole with each pass and if this can continue for 7-8 consecutive passes the crowd is pleased.   These passes are referred to as faena and at this point the torero is at his best and one can indeed see elements of art.  (Accompanied by danger as a 1000 pound bull with sharp horns can do considerable damage even if not going very fast.)
A pass using the small cape with sword holding the cape.  He has the confidence to have the bull pass behind him, although not very close.
Here the torero make the kill.

Before the bull becomes too tired for further charges the torero prepares for the killing.  He attempts to get the bull to open the front legs to separate the bones, then with sword aimed at a position that should push the sword through the skin and into the heart or an artery,  the bull and the fighter move together and the sword (which is about 24 inches in length), plunges into the bull.  The torero has to raise himself  to get the right thrust but also ensure that he slides to the side of the horns.The assistants enter at this point and attempt to get the bull charging in tight circles:  these moves by the bull force the sword to move and perhaps do further damage to bring about a quick death.    If the bull does not die quickly it is a considered a bad kill  and the torero is penalized for this.

If there has been real skill in the third part of the fight and the killing has been very quick the crowd through their actions signal to the judge that a reward should be offered.  The torero may be granted one ear, two ears or both ears and the tail depending on the level of skill and appreciation.  (These parts are cut from the bull as you watch and presented to the torero.)  Two large horses then enter the ring and the bull is pulled out of the ring, presumably to be butchered.  The other night the crowd was so appreciative that the bull was dragged around the ring twice and the torero kissed his hand and pressed it to the bull as it passed.   The torero, his agent/manager and the bull’s breeder then walked slowly around the ring to standing ovation and hats, flowers, jackets and flask of alcohol thrown into the ring.

Thanks to my friend Bill who has been watching corridas for 60 years.

No comments:

Post a Comment