Bull Attack Kills Tourist In France

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

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.


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

He turned to me with surprise. “Really?”


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


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]

Drinking Bull’s Blood in Hungary’s Valley of the Beautiful Women

There are no beautiful women in the Valley of the Beautiful Women, located on the outskirts of Eger in northeastern Hungary. A true misnomer. At least from what I could see. Instead, the only humans in sight were old crones pouring potent deep-red vino from long stem-like glass wine pourers and ancient portly men passed out in the corner of subterranean wine cellars. Is this one of those bad marketing ploys? I wondered. It didn’t really matter because I hadn’t actually been lured here to gawk at the aesthetics of the female figure. I’d come to imbibe wine. And, from the looks of it. I was in the right the place.
Eger is, after all, one of the best towns in Central Europe for wine-centric debauchery. Bull’s Blood, a wine that hasn’t exactly taken the international wine market by storm, is the wine blend of choice here, where (in the Valley of the Beautiful Women) nearly 200 wine cellars are carved into the cliffs and thirsty visitors can pop in for a cheap glass before moving on to the next and the next until the evening is just a giant red wine-stained blur.
No one’s really sure where the name came from, but the wine pourer in cellar 16, a wrinkly-faced man with a permanent smile on his face, said it’s probably a reference to a pagan fertility goddess. Then he raised his glass in a toast and slammed his wine (Hungarians never clink glasses–it was the practice of Austrians who occupied the country for hundreds of years).

We do know, though, where Bull’s Blood came from.

It all started, ironically enough, in 1552 when 60,000 non-booze-imbibing Turks–who had managed to besiege their way all the way up to Hungary–decided they wanted to take Eger before conquering the rest of Europe.

In preparation for what seemed like an inevitable defeat, Dobo Istvan and his 2,000 Hungarian warriors did what any smart army in this situation should do: they mixed together all the wine they had, even if it was from a different grape, and commenced drinking. It worked. Thirty-eight days and dozens of barrels of red wine later, the Bacchus-inspired Hungarians stumbled out of their well-protected and now ruined castle and forced the Turks to retreat. Humiliated, shocked and completely sober, the Turks’ only excuse for the defeat was that the Hungarians’ red wine-stained beards were proof they’d been imbibing the blood of bulls for strength.

Though the Turks came back four decades later, and this time stayed for almost a century, the original battle figures prominently in Hungarian national lore. And the wine, Bikaver, or Bull’s Blood, as it was called after the battle, is forever linked with the strength and courage of Hungary’s resistance to foreign powers.

Getting to the valley, the epicenter of Bull’s Blood consumption, is easy. It’s just a pleasant 15-minute trudge out of town, following the signs for Szépasszonyvölgy, which all the wine in Eger will never help you pronounce. Fortunately signs are also translated into English, pointing Bacchanalian visitors to the “Nice Ladies Valley.” When I first arrived, I scanned the cellars, felt the wad of Hungarian forints in my pocket, and gravitated to the nearest open cellar. I was pretty sure a hangover was awaiting me in the morning.

In cellar number 17, a quintet of gypsy musicians played old Hungarian tunes as a large group of German tourists–partying the only way they knew how–swayed their glasses back and forth in front of them. Meanwhile, in cellar 22, pop music blared from the stereo as a dozen or so Hungarian teenaged girls tried to drink as much as possible before their curfew. In addition to the varying atmospheres of the individual cellars, each one offers its own distinct version of Bull’s Blood. While one cellar’s offerings might have subtle hints of fruit, another may scream a smoky oak taste.

Cellar number 2 had a cozy, upbeat atmosphere and a quirky wine pourer, an erratic sexagenarian with wild, disheveled hair. The wine here had hints of spice. As she re-filled my glass, over the raucous clamor of other drinkers (the metaphorical sons and daughter of Dobo Istvan), she said to me, “Polish?”

“No, Turkish,” I said jokingly. She didn’t laugh. Instead, she pointed to the hundreds of coins dotting the rocky cellar walls, saying if the coin sticks, I would return to Eger. If not, “well…,” she said, letting her words trail off. I pulled out a 20-forint coin and pressed it into the gummy dark wall. When I pulled away, it stayed for two long seconds and dropped on the floor.

I picked up the coin, plopped it in the woman’s hand, and she re-filled my glass again. She continued until everyone I saw appeared beautiful.

Bull fed up with fighting – takes the day off, along with 40 injured spectators

Warning: graphic video

Whoa.That is about all I can say after watching this clip. Halfway through his bullfight, this bull decided enough was enough, and jumped out of the ring, injuring 40 spectators.

The first few rows of spectators were lucky, but once the bull climbed higher, you’ll see that quite a few others did not share their luck. The bull was captured with the help of an experienced bull fighter, and killed.

Of the 40 injured spectators, one was gored in the back, one suffered a crushed vertebrae, and one ten year old boy remains in intensive care after the bull fell on him. The incident took place at the Tafalla Arena in Spain, in the same region popular for its yearly Running of the Bulls.

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.