Bull Attack Kills Tourist In France

bull attack
Wikimedia Commons

A bull attack in France has left one German tourist killed and another injured, the BBC reports.

A man and wife were on a cycling vacation in the Camargue region of southern France when they were attacked while passing a farm where some bulls were fighting each other. One animal broke out of the enclosure and attacked the woman. When her husband came to her aid, he was gored twenty times and killed. The woman survived and is recovering in hospital.

The region is known for its bulls, many of which are raised for bullfighting.

While people are naturally afraid of bulls, it’s important to know that cows can be just as dangerous. In August a hiker was killed by a cow in France, and while hiking in northern England I was nearly attacked by cows. Cows are large, strong animals that can turn aggressive when scared or if they think their calves are being threatened.

The Ramblers hiking society of the UK has a good information page about walking near livestock.

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.

The Original Running of the Bulls

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

Most people outside of Spain got their first glimpse of los encierros (The Running of the Bulls) thanks to the 1926 Ernest Hemingway novel, The Sun Also Rises. Inspired by Pamplona’s San Fermín festival, his novel in turn has inspired millions to visit, and even participate in, this most unusual and iconic celebration. What few people realize, even in Spain, is that Pamplona is not the only place where los encierros are performed. To experience the most historic of these fiestas with an authentic flair, head inland to Cuéllar.

The small Segovian village of Cuéllar, north of Madrid, has been hosting its own running of the bulls, Los Encierros de Cuéllar, the last week in August every year since 1499 (and possesses historical documentation referencing dates as early as 1215), a celebration which few outsiders have witnessed.

Despite the town’s modest fame, tourism from the surrounding villages can double the town’s small population over the week of the festival, giving a welcome boost to the agricultural economy.

A foreign visitor to Cuéllar, Spain, which is relatively hidden away and known only to those with a family or geographical connection, will find that the town is as interested in them as they are in it and its celebrations, and they will feel welcomed and encouraged to take part.

Want to learn more about this lesser-known Spanish festival? Keep reading below…To kick off the festival, the peñas (groups of friends) convert garages and storage spaces into makeshift dens where they can eat, drink, and gather for the week. The peñas then parade in the town square for the pregón, or opening ceremony, where the guest of honor (usually a minor Spanish celebrity) addresses the crowd and the queen of the fiesta is presented. What ensues is a heady mix of drinking, street parties, tapas (fried pig’s ear is one local specialty, exquisitely prepared by the Las Bolas cafe, Calle de San Pedro, 20), live music, and, of course, the running of the bulls.

It is the locals that make this rural Spanish festival really special and most are more than happy to indulge visitors with stories of the fiesta and the village’s history. One former fiesta queen, Cecilia, now in her late nineties, loves to share stories about strange, inexplicable happenings at the fiesta. In one of her favorites, a local man was cornered and attacked by a bull years ago and left miraculously unharmed, but stark naked.

While Cuéllar may seem like another world, travel there is simple. Daily buses from Madrid’s central station carry passengers from the capitol in 90 minutes, adding accessibility to the charm and wonder of the place known to its residents as “la isla en un mar de pinos,” or “the island in a sea of pine trees.” Want to check out this year’s festivities? Make your way to Spain at the end of August to check out this great Spanish celebration.

Fiestas de la Virgen de la Paloma in Madrid

If you’re in Spain this week, you won’t want to miss the festival for the “Virgin of the Dove”. This takes place every year in the old barrio of La Latina in Madrid and honors an 18th century portrait of the Virgin that was found in the trash one day and captured the barrio’s heart.

I went to one of these a couple of years ago and it’s loads of fun. There’s music, dancing, and lots of limonada, which is sort of like a cross between lemonade and sangria. Tasty, but potent on a hot evening.

The main festival is August 15, when there’s a long procession and a mass in honor of the Virgin. More secular entertainments include dancers, clowns, and fireworks. Since madrileños can’t conceive of a party lasting only a single day, the festival actually lasts August 12-16.

There’s something for everyone at this festival–chess tournaments, storytellers, dancing, kids’ games, and way more into the wee hours. Last year they even had a running of the bulls suitable for the whole family. The bulls were guys in bull costumes, and kids dressed as matadors waved little capes in front of them. It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Local blogger/writer/poet Sue Burke, who took this shot, nearly lost her drink when she got gored. The running of the fake bulls will happen again this Thursday, so hold onto your limonada.

A full schedule of events is here (in Spanish). Check out this website’s main page for more festivals in one of Spain’s most enjoyable cities.