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Matadors treated as royalty by bullfighting fanatics

© By Mike Keenan


As a tourist with no intention of attending a bullfight, I reasoned I should try to understand the phenomenon. There are 70 bull-rings in Andalucia where we traveled, the oldest in Ronda but the most important in Seville with a museum. Mounted on the wall there was the head of the mother of the bull that killed famed Manolete, Aug. 28, 1947 in Linares.
     Sadly, if a bull kills a matador, his mother suffers the same fate. No need to maintain a genetic version of Bonnie (as in Bonnie and Clyde) to nurture future killers.
     Besides Islera, the mother of the bull that killed Manolete, there were two other heads mounted on the museum walls, one missing an ear. These were the two "best bulls," presumably the strongest, some consolation to the bulls - akin to a taxidermist stuffing the Toronto Maple Leafs Mats Sundin after being knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite the typical Spanish disdain for time, bullfights are regimented like clockwork: six bulls dispatched, 25 minutes per bull, matadors performing in order of seniority, each allotted 15 minutes. The event lasts from 5 to 7 p.m. Three matadors each battle two bulls weighing 500 to 800 kilograms, bred to fight.
     The number of trophies (the tail and ears) is decided by the president, sitting safely in the royal box. Imagine a tail or an ear presented to a beautiful senorita as opposed to a bouquet of flowers!
     Matadors earn as much money as European soccer stars and they are as famous. In the museum were hung paintings of the famous 19th century matadors: Rafael Gomez or El Gallo (cock or rooster), Jose Ortega or El Gallito (small cock or rooster) and Juan Belmonte. Rafael and Jose were the Spanish equivalent of Montreal Canadiens Rocket (Maurice) and Pocket-Rocket (Henri) Richard, although one wonders how much Jose enjoyed being known as the smaller version of the two cocks.
     Bullfighting originated in village squares but became formalized with the ring in Ronda in the late 18th century. The format followed a distinct sequence: the entrance of the bull, the picador, the banderilleros, and finally the matador. Bullfight posters are collectors' items, and we saw them disslayed in every town that we visited.
     In the Seville ring, there are five gates, one each for entry and departure of the bull and the matador and one for the horses. First, footmen work the bull with large magenta and gold capes while the matador conducts a scouting report, appraising agility, intelligence, sight, strength and characteristics such as whether the bull favours one horn or the other, like a golfer who hooks or slices. Next, picadores, mounted on padded, blindfolded horses, provoke the bull, plunging a lance into its neck, weakening the strong muscles, lowering the head for the final coup de grace. Carrying a banderilla in each hand, the banderillero runs towards the charging bull at an angle, thrusting the barbed darts with colourful ribbons into the neck.
     Finally, the matador removes his hat, salutes and asks the president permission to kill the bull. He executes a series of passes with his red cape (there are 40), bringing the animal close to his body. The crowd shouts "Ole!"
     If the matador performs well, he is applauded and showered with flowers and hats much like a hockey player who scores a hat-trick. In contrast, the bull's carcass is quickly removed, pulled out of the arena by harnessed horses and then distributed for sale in butchers' shops or reincarnated into various leather objects in the local market.
     Newspapers feature photos and matador statistics are maintained on the number of bulls fought, ears and tails awarded. For me, educational, yes, but for Spanish culture, I will stick with flamenco dancing.


Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo credits
Mike Keenan

If You Go
Andalusia.com: http://www.andalucia.com/cities/seville/bullring.htm
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seville,_Spain
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Seville

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