The Bullfights

Parental Advisory

Oh hi, didn’t see you there. On today’s very special episode of Distance from Normal we’ll be discussing some sensitive subjects. Ask your parents whether they think you should be reading descriptions and seeing videos of animals being tortured and killed by a man with exposed genitalia. If they’re a little too excited about the prospect, run. Far, far away.

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It was our fortune to be in Guadalajara doing the tourist thing on Sunday evening, when the Plaza de Toros there hosts bullfights. We took a cab up to the plaza and found two tickets right in the front for about $22 each. A fight was already in progress when we entered – we’d missed a time zone change – and it was ultimately the best fight of the day. As soon as we walked in, we saw the matador get tossed to the ground, gored, and go off for stitches. Pretty intense.

Matador - Right in the sack

When he came back on, here’s what happened:

Yes, those are his gentleman parts. It takes a brave man to fight a bull, but fighting a bull with your huevos y chorizo hanging out takes it to a whole different level. After the fight, two horses dragged the bull out back to the changing room:

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We started to piece things together as we saw a few full fights. The first phase of the fight is to release the bull, full of piss and vinegar, and have the matador and several of his buddies tire it down by waving pink bedsheets at it and then hiding behind some wooden barricades. A horn section high up in the stands lets loose and two heavily-armored dudes on horses draped in armored duvets come out. The dudes have heavy padding on their legs, thick steel stirrups and large spears.

Armored horse dude

They entice the bull to attack the horse – which amazingly stayed up every round we watched – while the dude rams the spear once with force into the bull’s back:

Next, the matador’s homies come out with what we called “fancy sticks”. They’re about two feet long with colorful frills, and from what we could see, have some kind of barb in the end. The second-lieutenant matadors taunt the bulls, attempting to lodge two fancy sticks in its back while simultaneously jumping out of the way. If they miss, the crowd lets them have it.

Fancy sticks

Finally comes the part we thought was the whole tamale. The matador comes out with a sword and his bedsheet and gets the bull to run past him several times. By this time the bull is usually beat all to shit, tired and confused, has several fancy sticks hanging in decoration, and seems to comply grudgingly. But occasionally the bull does get a shot in, which is what happened in the first fight.

After a show of machismo to get the crowd worked up, the matador inexplicably changes swords to get his angled “killing sword”. The goal at this point is to cram the sword up to the hilt into the back base of the bull’s neck, killing it in one swipe. This rarely happened – typically the sword went in part way and the bull shook in loose, in one case sending the sword flying toward a group of fans. So the matador tries again, and again, until the bull collapses. When it does, one of his buddies comes out and jams a blade into the back of its skull to finish it off.

It was an interesting experience. The danger of the whole event kind of has you on the edge of your seat, as the brave matador and his pals are narrowly dodging these massive, strong beasts that weigh in at about a tonne. Having not seen a bull fight before, watching the progression of the fight was intriguing. It was fun to sit in the crowd and receive beers and snacks right at our feet between fights. I’ve never gotten chips with lime and hot sauce at a baseball game before.

Bullfight snacks

And people in the crowd would yell ‘Ole’ whenever the matador coaxed the bull through the red bedsheet. Several ‘Oles’ in a row and the matador would flick his head with flair and the crowd would cheer. In one fight where the matador was doing this particularly well, an older guy threw his hat into the ring. Then a boot. Then the other boot. And finally some sort of man bag. Actually that matador rocked it in one hit too.

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So this historical/cultural extravaganza is all very entertaining and the skill and bravado of the matadors is not lost even on newbies like MacKay and I. But there is that whole other side of things. The side where you realize you’re watching an animal basically get tortured for sport. You can watch the bull wear down, see it lose focus, get confused, watch it charge and stumble under it’s own weight. That’s the sad part. It’s a slow, bloody death. And the event and the matadors pay great attention to honoring the bull and obviously have a great respect for their quarry. But every time we watched a bull twitch in it’s death throw and fall to the ground in a heap of it’s own blood, James and I would exchange a glance and say “Wow, that’s crazy.” We saw 5 bulls die that evening.

But we saw Matador Penis too, so I guess it’s cool.

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