PERSONAL MEMORY OF BULL FIGHTING .....
CULTURAL ART OR ANIMAL CRUELTY?
Bull raising is threatened in Spain I read recently in the news as this pandemic has taken a toll on many business enterprises. The bull raising business, especially in Spain, is no exception though it has been under assault for other reasons for a number of years as has been bullfighting for which these bulls are raised.
"The most well-known form of bullfighting is Spanish-style bullfighting, practiced in Spain, Portugal, Southern France, Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru. The Spanish Fighting Bull is bred for its aggression and physique, and is raised free-range with little human contact.
The practice of bullfighting is controversial because of a range of concerns including animal welfare, funding, and religion. While some forms are considered a blood sport, in some countries, for example Spain, it is defined as an art form or cultural event, and local regulations define it as a cultural event of heritage. Bullfighting is illegal in most countries, but remains legal in most areas of Spain and Portugal, as well as in some Hispanic American countries and some parts of southern France. (CGTN Rahul Patnak).
This 2002 The Art of Bullfighting video (17:20 duration) best presents the bullfights ritual sequence of actions I was to see one mid-1950's afternoon. Video commentary notes: "Every attempt to ban bullfighting in Spain has failed. In fact, since Spain joined the EU, it has enjoyed a renaissance as Spaniards stand up for their cultural heritage."
Actually, since this video, a few Spanish cities reportedly have outlawed the practice of bullfighting. There may have been some slight decline in bullfighting acceptance around the world in subsequent years in addition to the toll the pandemic has taken.
PBS recently aired a special program series on writer Ernest Hemingway that I watched. During this TV series, books he wrote about bull fighting evidenced his fascination with this activity in Spain. He stressed bull fighting was not a sport as conventionally viewed in the United States.
I was aware of Hemingway's non-fiction book, "Death In The Afternoon", published in 1932, examining the Spanish traditions and ceremony of bullfighting. Deeper meanings about fear and courage, life culminating in death, though the latter supposed to be only for the bull, are the focus true aficionados appreciate he noted.
His earlier novel, "The Sun Also Rises", published in 1926 portrays American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. The story is based on real people in his life. Thought to be a lost generation after WWI Hemingway suggests they were resilient and strong.
"The Running of the Bulls occurs every July 7th-14th in Pamplona, Spain. 6 Spanish fighting bulls, along with 6 steer, run from the Corrales de Santo Domingo to Pamplona's Plaza de Toros (bullfight arena). Over 1 million spectators watch thousands of runners over the 8 days of the San Fermin Festival.
Rick Steves, European travel authority, describes the event:
The 2021 Running of the Bulls event was cancelled for the second year in a row as reported by Reuters due to the pandemic. The event, expected to resume in 2022, is being promoted on the Internet now for visitors to make travel bookings and accommodations reservations.
I have not been particularly interested in bullfighting so hadn't read either of Hemingway's books though I did see the 1957 movie based on "The Sun Also Rises". I especially recall sultry actress Ava Gardener in a leading seductress roll pursuing the bullfighter which reportedly became her reality in real life. There was also a much less appreciated 1984-TV miniseries I didn't view of that same book that is said to not have been favorably received by critics and the viewing public. The news item and focus on Ernest Hemingway prompted numerous thoughts and memories of my own from the mid-fifties.
My only sibling, decade older brother now deceased, made an effort to expand my horizons in various ways throughout my life. Not all his undertaking went well such as the time he sat preschool age me on the back of his bike with me gripping his bike seat. My little legs hung down as he rode his bike uphill toward our house. Apparently, my legs tired and I attempted to rest my left foot somehow, but ended up entwining it in the bike wheel's spokes. I still carry the large scar on my ankle but have no conscious memory of the event.
When I was a senior in high school my brother visited, gave me the keys to his convertible enabling me to have the rare opportunity to drive alone into town on my own one evening from our then rural home. Then when I graduated from high school his gift to me was a couple pieces of Samsonite luggage which was perfect for moving out into the world, or college as I had hoped and he certainly encouraged. A few years later he gifted me a necessary standard bit of jewelry accessory for any young woman's social life I was yet to experience -- a high quality simulated pearl necklace.
So, years later when I visited him in Ecuador, one unexpected activity he introduced me to was an afternoon at a popular event in South American countries as well as Spain -- the bullfight. The event featured an increasingly popular young bullfighter, Jaime Bravo, who was busily making a name for himself though relatively unknown then. Bullfighting was more universally accepted during those years, partly due to Hemingway's writings describing the Spanish art form aspect of the event.
I recall visiting a local hotel an afternoon after attending the bullfight where my brother's young children were able to interact with the giant size Galapagos tortoises in the courtyard. I heard quite a commotion inside the hotel which soon revealed itself to be fans encountering their idol, Bravo, who was staying there.
My recent research about Jaime Bravo's career revealed in his biography he led quite a colorful life, eventually groomed to be a U.S. motion picture star, actually appearing in several movies including:
"Love Has Many Faces" (1965) with him as a matador, of course, a movie that was scandalous at the time. "Starring Lana Turner, Cliff Robertson, Hugh O'Brian, Ruth Roman, and Stefanie Powers, the film was rife with repeated affairs...seemingly Bravo was typecast." His voice was dubbed due to his heavy accent, though he spoke English.
"Known for his death-defying style, in the late 1960's ... Jaime Bravo was a bullfighter for many years, especially popular with the ladies and with the border town crowds. He had the looks and the charm, if not the talent, to make it on the screen and to some producers, that's all that mattered." Ava Gardener is said to have showered her attention on him at one of his bullfights. Born in Mexico in 1932, he died there in a car accident in 1970.
Whatever point of view one has about bullfighting, after my viewing the afternoon spectacle, talking with others, reading about the various perspectives of bullfighting aficionados and critics, the moment when the banderillas planted their spiked end wooden sticks designed to tear muscles, nerves and blood vessels, my reactive opinion was formed.
Then, when the bull charged the mounted padded horses with the consequences of their sharp pointed horns out of view my perspective was reinforced. Yet later, more flesh damaging sticks were thrust into the bull's neck and shoulders. There was never any doubt in my mind -- how could such torture and brutality be part of or considered as art -- this was animal cruelty.