Watching bullfights with my five-year-old

bullfight, bullfights
One of the facts an immigrant has to accept is that your children aren’t going to grow up in the same culture you did.

When I want to give my five-year-old son a treat, I take him to dinner at El Brillante here in Madrid. You can’t get more traditional than El Brillante–an old-school cafeteria/bar that hasn’t had a remodel since forever, with hefty waiters who scream your order back to the kitchen. All the traditional dishes are on offer, and people throw their napkins on the floor. This may sound gross, but it’s more hygienic than putting your chorizo-grease-stained napkins on the same surface as the plates. Adapting to a new culture involves lots of little shifts in perception.

We walked in the other night and a bullfight was on the television. My son was immediately transfixed, not because of the program but because he got to see a TV. We don’t own one. Spanish TV is as dumb as American TV, and with fewer channels.

I hesitated, wondering whether we should stay. I don’t like bullfights but I also don’t like breaking promises to my kid, and this is one of his favorite places to eat.Then I began to think. Bullfights are controversial here in Spain. Last year the region of Catalonia banned bullfights and many Spaniards see them as a national embarrassment, my wife included. They’re still popular, though, and get lots of coverage. If he hasn’t seen a bullfight already, he’s bound to see one on TV sooner or later–at his grandmother’s house, another restaurant, or a friend’s place. I’d rather he saw it with me than someone whose judgment I may or may not trust. So we sat down and ordered.

Is five too young to see a bullfight? Yes and no. I’m his father. My job isn’t to shelter him from the ugliness of the world, my job is to prepare him for the ugliness of the world. Bullfighting is part of Spanish culture and we’re both going to have to deal with it. He sees bad stuff every day, like the homeless guys drinking themselves to death in the park. There are limits to what I’ll let him see, though. When the news showed the carnage of a suicide bombing in Pakistan, I covered his eyes. I should have covered mine too.

While a bullfight is a needless display of cruelty, there are at least two sides to every issue. After it’s killed the bull is eaten. Bulls live a free-range and well-fed existence, unlike the factory cows penned into stalls so tiny they can’t even turn around. I’ve always been amused by people who get righteously indignant about bullfights and then go eat a hamburger.

A bull has a pleasant life until the last fifteen minutes, when it suffers pain and terror before being killed and eaten. In other words, it has much the same life it would have in the natural world. If I was to be reborn as a bovine, I’d choose a bull’s life hands down.

We ordered our food and my son perched on his stool and watched TV. The last time we were here he was equally entranced by a reality show about a 73 year-old man learning how to cook. But this was no cooking show. As usual, the bull had to be goaded into a killing frenzy. Horsemen called picadores speared the bull, and three banderilleros run out with pairs of spikes and jabbed them into its back. Bloodied, weakened, and enraged, the bull was ready to meet torero or matador. A young man in an elaborate suit walks towards the animals wielding a cape and sword.

“Do you know why he carries a sword?” I asked my son.

“No.”

“Because he’s going to kill the bull.”

He turned to me with surprise. “Really?”

“Yes.”

“But sometimes the bull kills the torero,” he said.

“Sometimes.”

He turned back to watch. I wondered again whether this was a good idea. Farm kids see animals killed, as do children in the developing world, so really it’s our urban, First World culture that’s in the minority with this.

The torero had a tough time. After making a few impressive passes, the bull got wise and stopped just in front of the cape and sideswiped the torero. The guy retreated behind a barrier while two assistants distracted the bull. After a minute he summoned enough courage to go back out. He’d lost his confidence, though, and only made the bull do a few passes before using his sword to finish it off. It was a pointless spectacle, not nearly as entertaining as most bloodless sports. I get the impression that in another generation bullfighting will die. The average age of the spectators almost guarantees it.

By this time my son wasn’t so entranced. He was paying more attention to his salchicas del pais con pimientos and was treating the slaughter on the screen with very Spanish indifference. Being Canadian, I could never be that indifferent to a bullfight.

“So what do you think of bullfighting?” I asked.

“It’s OK,” he shrugged. “Not as good as football, though.”

And by football, of course, he means soccer. Chalk up another difference between him and his old man.

[Image courtesy Marcus Obal]

The worst zoo I ever saw

zoo, Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Lion ZooI feel sorry for my Harari friends.

During my stay in Harar, Ethiopia, they were so hospitable, so eager to ensure I had a 100% positive impression of their city and country. For the most part I did, and I left for the capital Addis Ababa with lots of great things to say about Ethiopia.

They should have warned me not to visit the Lion Zoo in Addis Ababa.

It’s billed as a natural wonder, where you can see rare Ethiopian black-maned lions descended from the pride that was kept in Haile Selassie’s palace. In reality, it’s a sad display of animal cruelty and neglect.

The lions, primates, and other animals are kept in undersized cages with bare concrete floors. They look bored, flabby, resigned. Several of them look sick. Visitors shout at the listless animals or even throw pebbles to get them to move. Some toss packets of chocolate or potato chips to the monkeys and laugh as they tear the packages apart to get to the food inside.

The worst are the lions, proud carnivores, kings of the wilderness, reduced to trapped objects of amusement for bored city dwellers who don’t give a shit about nature. The lions lie around most of the time, doing nothing. Occasionally one will get its feet, shake its dirty mane, take a few steps before realizing there’s nowhere to go, and then sit down with an air of defeat.

The whole place made me feel ill, yet I can’t feel morally superior. I come from a country where people freak out if someone beats a dog but cheer when a Third World country gets carpet bombed. Where a zoo like this would be a national scandal but people eat meat raised on factory farms that make Ethiopia’s Lion Zoo look like a nature reserve. Only vegans can talk about animal cruelty from any moral high ground, and I’m not a vegan. Meat tastes too good.

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But a travesty like this zoo is totally unnecessary. Ethiopia is anxious to promote itself as a tourist destination, a friendly, civilized country where Westerners can feel at home. Well, if it wants to do that, it better do something about the Lion Zoo.

Like shut it down.

So to my Harari friends, I’m sorry. You came close to getting a 100% positive series (well, except for my bumbling around Ethiopia’s Somali region) but it was not to be. I understand Ethiopia has bigger priorities than a few animals in a zoo in Addis Ababa, but if you want to make a positive impression on Western visitors, this place has got to go.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s city of Saints.

Coming up next: Tomoca: the best little coffeehouse in Africa!

Adventure travel company accused of killing 100 sled dogs

A Canadian adventure travel company is accused of killing more than 100 sled dogsYesterday a disturbing story made its way out of British Columbia, Canada, where an adventure travel company has been accused of killing more than 100 sled dogs last April after suffering a poor travel season. The incident first came to light when a former employee with the company made a claim for workman’s compensation based on his suffering Post Traumatic Stress after he was ordered to kill 70 dogs. That number was later raised to 100 by the company in question.

According to this story, adventure travel company Outdoor Adventures Whistler is under investigation for animal cruelty following the alleged event, which took place around April 21-23 of last year. The report says that the dogs were shot to death then tossed into a mass grave, the site of which is now being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Reports seem to indicate that the travel company suffered a poor season last winter with very few travelers electing to take their tours. As a result, they fell on hard times economically, which forced them to make the decision to kill their sled dog teams rather than finding alternate solutions.

Animal lovers should use caution when reading the full story on this incident. Some of the descriptions of what happened is a bit disturbing to say the least. This report underscores a bit of a dark side to some kinds of travel, where animals can be seen as a commodity used for profit, then discarded when they are no longer useful. Obviously not all adventure travel companies, or even dog sled tours, operate like this, but it helps to underscore the need for researching who we choose to travel with.

This is a sad story and if the allegations are found to be true, I hope those involved are held responsible for their actions.

[Photo credit: Zeledi via WikiMedia]

Man caught with dog inside his luggage

I’ve traveled with my cats a few times while making some cross country moves. I hated cramming them into squat cages to fit them under my airplane seat and I really hated having to pay a few hundred dollars for their own “tickets” plus the vet checks and paperwork that certified them as healthy enough to fly. But never would I have considered trying to smuggle them on a flight inside my luggage. Yet that’s exactly what a man traveling from Madrid to Dublin did with a small Chihuahua dog.

Somehow the man was able to get the dog, which was in a cage inside his luggage, through security in Madrid. When he got off the plane in Dublin after a 2.5 hour flight, customs officials noticed a strange outline as they X-rayed his bag. They thought it was a stuffed animal until they opened the bag and found the live dog.

The man, who is originally from Bulgaria, has been arrested. The dog was reportedly in fine condition and is being held in quarantine after which, I hope he will be placed in the care of someone with a little more common sense.

[via Telegraph]

Off-beat travel experiences people actually pay for: 6 worst vacation ideas

When it comes to yard sales, there’s an adage “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.” When it comes to vacation experiences, you might say the same thing.

Some folks can’t seem to get enough of a Disney theme park, while others wouldn’t step a foot in one. Being willing to fork out cash for Disney–or not—is a run of the mill vacation choice. Here are other options that fit the unusual to the downright weird.

Tom Barlow, my pal over at Blogging Stocks and Wallet Pop sent me this link to the “6 Worst Vacations People Actually Pay for” at Cracked.com. Jason Moore’s round-up includes one experience we’ve written about here at Gadling.

Jason lists a stay at the Ice Hotel in Sweden as his number two worst vacation idea option. Frankly, I’m with Jason on this one. I’m sure it’s fascinating and beautiful, but too cold for a relaxing night of slumber. Ruben Laguna, who snapped this pic has several others which gives me the impression I could be wrong. Still, it does look too cold for my taste.

Jason’s number one choice of bad ideas is the one where people shoot farm animals with rocket launchers. WHAT!!! Isn’t there a grim film called, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? In this case, horses aren’t on the menu, but you can shoot chickens and cows. The place is near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Here’s a link to that weirdness.

Moore’s other bad idea choices are:

  • Tour the sewers of Paris
  • Illegal Border Crossing Experience
  • Ghetto Tours
  • Crossword Puzzle Cruise

The Paris sewer tour does sound interesting to me. The crossword puzzle cruise? Not so much. Check out Jason’s post for more details on each option. You can find decide for yourself what’s trash and what’s treasure.


Click the images to learn about the most unusual museums in the world — from funeral customs, to penises, to velvet paintings, to stripping.