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 beginning of the end for bullfighting?


The parliament of Catalonia, the eastern region of Spain, has voted to ban bullfighting.

The move comes after anti-bullfighting activists presented the government with a petition bearing 180,000 signatures calling for bullfights to be abolished. Bullfighting has become increasingly divisive in Spain, where some Spaniards say it’s part of the country’s heritage and others see it as a national embarrassment. I’ve lived part time in Madrid for six years now and most Spaniards I know have never been to a bullfight, although I also know an active minority who go every season.

A ban in Catalonia is significant because not only is it the first in Spain, but the region’s main city of Barcelona has one of the leading bullfight rings in the world. A ban there is a serious blow to bullfighting worldwide. It is expected to cost thousands of jobs and millions of euros in income for the city, including a sizeable amount from tourism.

The ban takes effect in January 2012. The vote was 68 in favor, 55 against, with nine abstentions.

Do you think bullfights are right or wrong, and why? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Image of the painting “Dead Bullfighter” by Édouard Manet courtesy The Yorck Project. Painted c. 1864.

Man gored to death in Pamplona’s running of the bulls

A man was gored to death today at the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It is the first such death since 2003.

The victim, reported by Spanish media to be a Spanish national named Daniel Jimeno Romero, 27, was killed when a brown bull named Capuchino broke away from the main group and attacked a crowd of runners. Three other runners were injured.

The running of the bulls is part of the week-long Festival of San Fermín. Crowds of people traditionally dressed all in white and wearing red kerchiefs run through the streets toward the bullfighting ring, being chased by a herd of bulls. Later in the day matadors fight and kills the animals.

As seen in this video, the man was knocked to the ground before being gored in the neck. He was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery but died of his injuries. This longer video shows the entire run as well as the fatal incident.

The festival was made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his book The Sun also Rises and attracts thousands of runners a year, many of them foreign tourists. It remains a controversial and dangerous event. Since the running of the bulls started in 1922, fifteen people have been killed, including one American, and hundreds injured.

We here at Gadling extend our sympathies to Señor Romero and his family and want to remind our readers to think twice before engaging in risky activity while on holiday.

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