Eventually (it being a Sunday) I got a train out of Alhama de Murcia back to Murcia, where I dithered for a few minutes before deciding not to stay again, and instead boarded another train and returned to Alicante, despite not really intending to stay there either. But shortly before the end of a hour-and-a-half’s dozing journey, I suddenly recalled that (according to the poster I’d seen there a week before) there was a bullfight in Murcia that day. And I confess I was a tad annoyed with myself for having forgotten, because remembering might have tipped decision in Murcia the other way, in order to go and see it – for the ‘experience’, like.
A short walk in Alicante brought me to the underground station where I hopped on the tram to Benidorm, having ‘decided’, I guess because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, to ‘see what it’s like’ (though it turned out to be largely how I imagined it would be). Travelling with neither companion nor itinerary is a capricious pastime. After a hour-and-a-quarter’s pleasant, largely coastal journey before resuming the rucksack-laden search for acceptable accommodation, I eventually settled on a cheap hotel and then took myself out for some needed refreshment and sustenance. Walking down towards the seafront, I passed an open-walled locals’ bar, whereupon my football-on-TV reflex was, on second take, proved wrong: what the slack-jawed punters were watching through their caña de cerveza was the bullfight – live from Murcia.
So, I turned, stepped up and leaned on a pillar, in time to watch the throes of a noble beast as it was being taunted to death by a bullying popinjay.
The only pleasure I quickly glean is that of not having paid to see this in the bloody flesh. Yet, it’s not as though I’m surprised. I recall seeing footage of such, way back when controversial talk of banning it used to very occasionally crop up. But that seems a long, pre-satellite-TV time ago, and I guess I’m a bit startled to discover that it still goes on and, moreover, gets live TV coverage à la professional football. As I joined it, three banderillas were already flapping from the bull’s back as the matador went through his preening motions, repeatedly drawing the bull into red cape, waiting until satisfied the animal is sufficiently exhausted and unlikely to react quickly enough, before he stands face on with raised sword, ready to thrust it into the bull’s back and down through its heart – which he managed at the second attempt. And then on waltzed his three hombres (the banderilleros), drawing the now slow and fading beast into their pink capes, corralling it until, surrounded, exhausted, beaten, it gives it up and (particularly moving to the onlooker with any semblance of compassion) slowly folds its limbs underneath itself, lowering to the ground, spent. Though still keeping its panting head high; before one of the despicable bastards drew his dagger and applied the coup de grâce to the back of the beast’s neck, spraying blood as the head hit the dust.
The matador, Alejandro Marcos (imagine if the red highlighting in that top black-and-white photograph were not limited to the cape), then took the crowd’s appreciation, throwing his pose. Oh, how noble and dignified he is, brave matador! Meanwhile, the dead beast is afforded one final indignity as it is removed from the ring, rope around its horns, dragged out by a tractor. And the workers scurry on to rake the sand over the blood. And then the brocaded papagayo is TV-interviewed, like a Premier League footballer after a win, before returning centre-ring to take another bow before the attendant applauding appreciators.
The next day, I briefly caught another televisual feast of this extreme animal cruelty, perpetrated by Ginés Marin, who actually, get this, roars at the (sparse) crowd and goads the bull, which, even if it was having a good day, couldn’t understand him. Bulls have, conveniently for the matador, poor eyesight anyway; but confused and frightened, dumping excessive levels of stress hormones into its circulation, brain-befuddled and rendered virtually blind with delirium, it resorts to all it has left – instinct – attempting now feeble charges at the only thing it can register in its monochromic field of vision: a big cape, affording the brandisher opportunity to throw those shapes, arch that back, clench those buttocks, assume that arrogant expression. Oh isn’t he just fantastic?! Admirable?! Beautiful?!
No, he is a wretched narcissist!
Don’t try and suggest to me that the final dagger stroke is one of ‘mercy’ toward an already mortally wounded bull after the deliberately protracted ordeal it has just been put through. Don’t give me the ‘cultural tradition’ apologetics baloney – there is no justification now for making heroes of men who dress like tight-tailored pearly kings, posturing like effeminate gladiators in an auditorium, somehow garnering praise and admiration for their supposed bravery in stress-torturing a frightened, hornswoggled dumb animal. Don’t give me the “but livelihoods depend on it” resort of England’s pro-fox-hunting lobbyists. And don’t feed me the Hemingway line that this is art. I understand he was an admirer. He wanted to learn how to write about ‘violent death’, so went to a country that he considered had an ‘interest’ in it and so legitimises the activity of the sort of man who enjoys the God-like administering of it. Art is in the eye of the interpreter; as I read it, Hemingway considered that the charade is enabling the spectator to experience, through the matador, what it is like to experience ‘the terror of death.’ Whether those drawn to this barbarity get that kind of hit, I don’t know. But I was pleased to note that it does draw protest also.
It is commonly perceived falsehood that all bullies are cowards. This is not so: many can look after themselves well enough. Rather, they are sadists. I don’t doubt the nerve and skill the matador must possess in order to do what he does. However, I also don’t doubt that the whole performance is choreographed in order to wear down the bull to the degree that minimises the goring risk posed to him. But what he does is inhumane and utterly unnecessary; no more praiseworthy than a teenager inflating a frog through a straw. In order to do it, he must, by some twisted logic (which humans are adept at), justify to himself the remorseless cruelty he inflicts. That, or it troubles him not in the slightest. Noble? No, blatant savagery. Beyond sadism – it is psychotic.