'The history of the bullfight is intertwined with that of Spain, so much so, that if you don't know the first, it would be impossible for you to understand the second'. José Ortega y Gasset.
'The bulls are the most cultured fiesta that exists in the world'. Federico García Lorca.
Illustration by Picasso (he liked them too)
I went to the bullring in Roquetas de Mar last Saturday. It's a new ring, built in 2002. Inside, they tend to look alike - round and painted red and yellow, with the narrow escape burladeros for the crew to get, quickly, out of the way. The sand is yellow powdery stuff called albero. However, being a modern ring, it has a few extra attractions. A small and interesting museum of 'bullfight stuff' - suits of lights, posters, mounted bulls heads, capes, photographs and video... plus the interesting revelation that there are sixteen permanent bullrings in Almería. A second gallery, just opened, has a collection of serigraphs from Picasso and Goya both. Fantastic. Seventy five of them and nobody there. Wow.
Later the same day, I was in Berja, a small agricultural town in the Almerian hinterland. It was their fiesta and I had been invited to a bullfight. We were a group of ten and we were in the sunny seats (called sol as against the more expensive sombra) and we were in the front row, on the barrera.
The entertainment was provided by El Cordobés (son of the sixties icon); plus El Fandi from Granada, who places his own bandilleras decorated in green and maroon, the colours of his city, and finally Almería's Torres Jerez. They have two fights each. Next to me sat a young woman who is studying veterinary school in Córdoba: a six year course. She wants to specialise later to become a bullfight vet. She knows all the fighters, their special passes, their history and their colours. She knows all the arcana about the toros and tells me pieces of information as the afternoon continues and sandwiches and beer are pressed into my hands. The boy on the other side of me is shouting for an ear from El Fandi's second kill and, as the matador makes his circle of the ring, he tosses up the grim relic to my excited friend. 'I'm not having that in my fridge', says his mother sitting just behind me.
What to say? It was fun. The matadores played to the crowd, but they appeared to respect the bulls. Perhaps you can understand that, and perhaps you can't.