On Bullfighting

Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.

― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

Yes, I love the bullfight. Why? Because it boils down the most basic human emotions. Here is someone (the bullfighter) willing to dance with death with a 700 lbs. (at least) beautiful, noble animal. Although the bullfighter has the edge, he must use all his skill, and valor in a highly choreographed ritual to vanquish the bull. The bullfighter does not always win, and therein lies the excitement. There is a primary, primal relationship between life and death, between the fighter and the bull, between man and animal. And only a profound understanding of that relationship, of that beauty will lead you to understand why a man will stand in front of death, and dance with it.

Of course, bullfighting dates back to the Roman circus, and even before that, to the Greek and Cretan games. This is the very stuff Greek mythology is based on (partly). Humans fighting it out with amazing animals. In a hyper material world, we think we can live forever, bullfighting reminds you of your own mortality, you understand that death is part of life and that if you get to die with dignity and grace, all the better.

If you have not been to a bullfight -and had it explained to you- I am afraid you cannot opine. The centuries of tradition, the intricate ceremony involved, the part each person plays in and out of the ring. The whole thing is nothing less than amazing.

My dad was a big aficionado and he passed on his passion to me. I remember the first time he took me to the bullring; he would not let me go without socks, even when it was all the rage in the early eighties!! Although I have been to Las Ventas bullring many, many times (for bullfights and concerts: Sting, Prince, etc.) I had never actually visited the ring, nor had I visited the museum. A couple from Belgium recently booked me for a tour of Madrid and asked me to see Las Ventas. So, the day before I went to the bullring to do my homework with my niece, it was impressive! We walked around the ring checking out the bulls’ stables, the chapel, the stands, the museum, the obligatory gift shop, we even had a chance to try our hand at virtual reality bullfighting!! It was great fun!!

If you want to learn more I highly recommend Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. Hemingway loved the bullfight and followed them for a full Summer, getting to befriend and hang out with great fighters like Manolete.

The bullfight is a Spanish institution; it has not existed because of the foreigners and tourists, but always in spite of them and any step to modify it to secure their approval, which it will never have, is a step towards its complete suppression.

― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

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