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No-frills bullfighting November 14, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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…or, rather, no-cape. Darlings, I’m so indignant I’ve had to switch on the lap-top.

Do excuse this barrel-scraping and blogging about what’s on’t telly but, you know, sometimes there’s no choice. And I’m quite a believer in telly, in a way, even though I don’t watch much a) because I think it makes me a more solid member of the intellectual bourgeoisie the less I watch and b) because we don’t leave the bastard on standby for ecology/tightness reasons which means actually having to move to turn the thing on. And just as well, because the moment I do resolve to set out on a quest for the remotes, I’m normally gripped.

Darlings, remember I told you, because it’s important that we don’t have secrets from each other, that the Russian bought a new box so we could, we hoped, pick up Anglo-channels for my mother’s visit? Well, it’s been quite an acquisition. I’ve already mentioned (no secrets, remember…) the 800 new Arabic channels – we’ve got both Al-Jazeeras – and that the new soft porn is very soft indeed. Also very depressing. And I do think that if the girls taking your phone calls live and feigning interest in each other’s bits were given a crowbar, they’d liberate themselves out of slavery. As luck would have it, we did get all those BBCs and CNNs and Fox Newses. We got a Cuban channel. A Turkish channel or two. A very, very low-budget Hungarian channel. A Polish one which seems to talk about nothing but god. A Bible channel. And then a good sprinkling of stuff from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

So I’m live-blogging Spanish TV for you. Not all of it. Just one, regional, satellite channel. Televisió Valenciana Internacional, one of whose aims is promoting the social structure (and other things) (like no-frills bullfighting) of the Land of Valencia in Spain and the rest of the world. I’m not sure I think TV is the right medium for social-structure promotion but the bullfight’s got me gripped.

But, darlings, they’ve cut such corners it’s all a bit of a scandal. I know nothing about bullfights but can tell this is only Vauxhall Conference level, a poor copy of the real thing. I’ve never been to a bullfight on any of my trips to Spain in case I instantly turned into Hemingway but I do remember the man of the house (or the man of one of the houses) I stayed at on my first trip to Madrid a hundred years ago – I arrived wearing a polo-neck in August because of being so mal élevé – watched them on video and we even saw one matado(r) get gored, which his daughter pointed out to me was autodefensa. I was 16 and didn’t dare express an opinion, though secretly I was chuffed for the bull.

Anyway, that was over 20 years ago. It’s November, not August. And I’m very much not in Spain. Nor did I become Hemingway. But seeing the Spanish sun and the sand in the arena has got me (semi-)gripped. I don’t know if this is November sun. You never can tell with those Spaniards. But if this is what bullfighting has come to, I shall have to write a letter in the strongest terms to Su Majestad Rey Juan Carlos de Castilla, Ceuta y Melilla y Jefe de las Corridas to alert him to this distressing and blatant example of dumbing-down.

I don’t particularly like animals, especially ones that can kill us, but this no-frills bullfighting is majorly taking the piss out of the bulls. The Russian says I mustn’t worry, (“Take a tablet.” OK, he doesn’t say that really) and the bulls know what they’re doing and are playing along. Like the wrestling. I think I’m watching bull no. 3 – once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all, frankly – and I, in stark contrast to my beloved, don’t think any of them had been prepped about what they were getting into. They make their way through a sort of bull-flap into the arena and you can tell they don’t know it’s about to be ritual humiliation. Initially, they are on the sand alone to bask unbothered in the jeers of a full-house. No sign of a matador. Or atormentador. For their no-frills tormentors don’t even have the common decency to kill the poor beasts once they’ve driven them to distraction. Instead, the boys, all with modern haircuts, hide themselves behind a little fence where the bull can see them but hasn’t got a hope in hell of getting a bit of blood for his efforts and then our hapless hero is ultimately ushered back through his flap none the wiser what he’s been paraded around like a common criminal in the Valencian sun for.

No tradition is respected. The bulls, at least, have the common decency to hoof the sand every now and again. Someone’s got some manners. But you’ve got to conclude, and I don’t know if this is because they’re no-frills bulls, though they look the real deal – black, horns, quite handsome – that bulls aren’t very good at what they do. I must have been watching for a good week now and no bull has struck gold. Not once. Either they are slow to learn or have very poor analytical skills. If they could just once, even by accident, not go for the perfect straight-line form of attack, they might get a nice bit of revenge and slake their thirst for blood.

But it’s the matadors who are the real disgrace. Perhaps because they’re no-frills. Maybe they’re apprentices. But not one of them is dressed up to the nines in the correct garb and the only headwear I’ve seen is a baseball cap. Indeed, the non-murderous matadors seem to be wearing baseball outfits. Elasticated waists. Numbers on their t-shirts.

And not a cape in sight. Their main move is best described as a wiggle. They do come-on-then, you-want-some signs to the bull, let it charge, and then wiggle deftly out of its way at the last minute. Some have replaced the cape with a stick and are pole-vaulting the poor beasts, which is adding insult to injury. And some, in my least favourite move, simply run away.

I’m wondering if no-frills bullfighting is a bit like WWF wrestling for Spaniards. You know, a cheapo day out (though WWF wrestling probably costs more than a trip to the moon, doesn’t it?) for all the family. Or like going to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Wembley Arena. (Don’t laugh. Mad Lizzie was doing the warm-up.) Easily watchable but not overly taxing, especially as I can’t even be bothered to force myself to compare man and beast when the beasts have given such a poor account of themselves.

Still, Spain is obviously in a deep philosophical crisis covering identity, the limitations of regional autonomy and its place in the modern world. I just saw someone wave a plastic bag at the bull.



1. bowleserised - November 14, 2007

Somewhere in a wardrobe at my parents’ house lurks a coat made out of a Spanish fighting bull. I don’t think there can be anything more politically incorrect than that, unless it’s lined with panda fur.

There was a funny little local bull ring in the town I visited in the south of France last year. I suppose it keeps the teenagers off the streets.

2. Geoff - November 14, 2007

My parents have a teddy-bear made out of Koala fur, which is not far off I reckon.

I reckon to see bull-fighting done properly you’d have to go to Andalucia. While the rest of Spain seems to determined to show the world how modern and cosmopolitan it is, Andalucia feels proper spanish, which I love.

3. helena - November 14, 2007

I’m feeling very left out here re owning a coat made from a politically incorrect animal. But I do have a coat that my grandma gave me which bears the label “Genuine fake fur”.
And you managed to go to Spain and avoid becoming Hemingway? I’m impressed!

4. Ed Ward - November 14, 2007

When I was in Languedoc a few summers ago, there were posters for something like “tauro piscine,” which is bullfighting with swimming pools. There were even (not very revelatory) pictures of matadors, bulls, and great splashes of water. Talk about confusing! In Nimes, they do a bull-running day, and also have a bullring which is also the ancient Roman colisseum, and in the bars there you can get the feeling someone’s looking over your shoulder, only to discover that it’s the head of one of the bulls from the bullring, mounted on a piece of wood, with his name and date of decease on a brass plaque. I also ordered a “steack taurine” at a restaurant and can tell you the bulls don’t give up fighting after they die.

5. Katia - November 14, 2007

My sister once inherited a baby seal fur coat from her deceased mother-in-law. It was ghastly. She ended up giving it to the Salvation Army, having chosen to feel guilty about giving away her “inheritance” rather than to feel guilty about having the skins of baby seals hanging in her closet.
This was before Eby came along. I wonder how much it would fetch at an auction today. Would selling it even be allowed? ( the coat was from the 1950’s)

6. Katia - November 14, 2007

That’s Ebay of course. It’s still early here in Brooklyn and I have not had my second Java yet.

7. MountPenguin - November 14, 2007

My parents have a teddy-bear made out of Koala fur, which is not far off I reckon.

My mother has a koala made out of koala fur. (Not a real koala, obviously, but I don’t think you can legitimately call it a koala bear) Beat that!

8. marshaklein - November 14, 2007

Oh you do make me laugh, which, regarding your previous post is most useful function indeed! I’m starting to ennumerate my periods of non-productivity in weeks rather than days.

The baseball cap wasn’t orange was it? Could this be Stelios’s latest acquisition – easyBullfight? Although, come to think of it, probably not as you say the bullfight is taking place in Spain and, obviously, easyBullfighting would have to take place in somewhere that looks like it might be Spain but actually isn’t.

Ooh, now I want someone to start a low budget, big cat conservation organisation so they can call it easyTiger. The corporate colour would be taken care of too!

9. Geoff - November 14, 2007

MP – yes, actually ours is a koala made of koala fur, which just sounded confusing when i first tried to post it, hence me switching to my even more confusing alternative.

And you know what? Un-PC as it may be, of all of the soft toys at home, the koala was always my favourite, and my sister’s too.

10. narrowback - November 14, 2007

the “bull fight” sounds somewhat similar to an event the mexican community here in chaicago ran several times some years ago…until PETA or some similar organization got their knickers in a knot. i think that it was even open to “anyone” who wished to play matador and had the required entry fee…

but if you really want a show – mexican wrestling!!! makes the WWF seem sedate and cultured

11. Arabella - November 15, 2007

I’d go to a frilly bull fight if I had the opportunity.
Can I pass on a good read about the subject? ‘On Bullfighting’ by A.L. Kennedy. It’s also about being depressed and is very funny in parts; and there’s Lorca if you like Lorca.

12. wyndham - November 15, 2007

I hope that plastic bag was recyclable – the whole thing would be highly unethical if it wasn’t!

13. Arabella - November 16, 2007


14. Katia - November 16, 2007


Read this! It is about bull fighting by children in Mexico. Pretty sick! And Sad.

15. pleite - November 18, 2007

Katia, underage bullfighters and baby-seal fur coats. Excellent cases of unethicalness, though you have some stiff competition here. But I think the Salvation Army route was the right road to go down. Maybe the coat kept someone homeless warm in winter.

Arabella, you certainly can. And once I find it, it’ll go top of the list, as long as I’ve started Suite Française by then. And I’d rather like to go to a frilly bullfight too now that cheapo Spanish satellite TV has got me a bit interested. I haven’t given Lorca a single thought since doing Spanish A Level actually 113 years ago. Should I make room for him in my ever-shrinking brain again?

Wyndham, as luck would have it, I happened to sit on the remote at exactly that moment and the video recorded the vital seconds. I’ve replayed the blown-up footage a number of times and can, in fact, reveal that the plastic bag turned out to be a good old woven one after all. Phew! I’m afraid to say the bulls had been flown in specially from Argentina though. And then they’d forgotten one and had to fly back, with no passengers, and pick up the last one. Carbon hooves galore.

Narrowback, I have to draw the line at wrestling. Just have to. Too painful flashbacks to childhood Saturday afternoons in front of the TV in a crowded living-room in London. I pray Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki never spread their fame beyond the UK.

Geoff, Penguin, if I may pair you off for a sec, isn’t a koala bear teddy-bear made from koala simply a dead koala? Embalmed, admittedly. Well, or stuffed. Worthy, if Norman had been a koala- rather than bird-lover, of wall-space in the Bates Motel. You’d be removed from your parents if the authorities found out in this day and age.

Marshypops, I tried to think of more easyPuns but could only come up with an easy-to-lay-carpet-producing company called easyLay. Sorry. I hope bullfighting hasn’t been streamlined for the sake of costs. But, no, they weren’t in orange. It was all a rather dreary white.

Ed, I still babyishly try, at 37, to disassociate meat from the animal. Do I really eat bull? I’m glad, in a way, they put up a fight even in death. I did once have to give up on some pelmeni in Russia when I realised they were of horse. Cue the Russian and me wandering around a particularly desperately poor bit of St. Petersburg afterwards trying to give them away. Cooked, in a sauce and everything.

Helena, I was going to come and revel in righteousness with you but then remembered that I did once own a rabbit hat, given to me by none other than another blogger, no less. But it was in Russia and I think when faced with winters of -30, we can get a bit flexible with our ethics, can’t we? I never did give up on leather though, even when I had a vegetarian period, but I was only vegetarian because I hated animals so much I didn’t want to eat them.

B., describe the coat a bit. Do you mean a long leather coat? Or were tufty bits of bull used if, indeed, bulls have any tufty bits? The one small bit of revenge the bulls got in amongst the ritual humiliation was parading their ludicrously large and pendulous scrota. I hope that gave some of the teenage tormentors cock-shrink.

16. MountPenguin - November 18, 2007

isn’t a koala bear teddy-bear made from koala simply a dead koala?

No, I think it’s more a question of 1) find deceased koala (with the aid of a heavy wooden club if necessary); 2) relieve aforementioned koala of its fur; 3) use fur as the outer part of a newly-produced koala-like toy.

17. kean - November 19, 2007

fwiw, culling koalas has been a regular event downunder, and you can usually find their furry selves living on in those cuddly forms, not overly different probably from their usual inanimate routines when alive. one report here; http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s528804.htm
all you’d have to do to disassociate yourself from the apparent cruelty of it all when getting cosy with a koala bear toy is actually cuddle one at zoos or sanctuaries when they’re alive – and find them pissing or biting you to put you in that right frame o’mind ;)

18. MountPenguin - November 19, 2007

That is slightly relieving to hear. Maybe they could make the koala cull into a touristy event – giving a whole new meaning to e.g. “Club 18 – 30 holidays”. (Sounds like Australia is a prime location for wildlife decimation safaris, what with all the kangaroos, warthog, bullfrogs etc.)

19. Arabella - November 19, 2007

Oh! I’ve just howled at “I was only vegetarian because I hated animals so much I couldn’t eat them.”
Wipes eyes.

20. narrowback - November 19, 2007

big, giant and kendo had their counterparts on this side of the pond… and the thought of it conures up some BAD memories of time spent in barrack dayroom’s in the american south where it was standard fare on the communal tv.

mexican wrestling is like brtish/american bad wrestling on acid. an interesting anthropological exercise.

21. pleite - November 20, 2007

Narrowback, sometimes I’m glad when a bar advertises its televisual and recreational wares. Not that I’ve ever seen a bar advertising wrestling (or bullfighting), but when I walk past a bar where all the male heads are turned upwards and towards a corner sporting a TV, I know it’s not somewhere I’m going to like that much. (Mind you, there’s one a bit like that not far from our house and the Russian and I have been a couple of times and they served lovely stodgy food and we did fancy all the men but we were a bit afraid to speak Russian.) Also, when darts and pool facilities are lauded with great ceremony, that helps whittle down options considerably.

Arabella, it’s as good a reason as any, I suppose, isn’t it? I can’t remember if I’ve ever claimed I only started eating meat again because I hated the animals I was eating so much it was my revenge over them for having existed in the first place. The truth is I actually lived for a while with a family in France and it was too mad to expect them to cook separate meat-free dishes for me. They weren’t overly impressed by English vegetarians, I have to say.

Penguin, I’m sure that type of holiday does exist. Well, maybe it’s promoted more as a hunting expedition rather than a act-out-your-aggression-on-something-furry trip. But, yes, it is a problem with koalas, being so cutesy and furry ‘n all. But warthogs have never managed to swim all the way to Australia, surely? I know an elk made it from Sweden to Denmark (and the Danes put up road-signs and everything but the poor elk croaked) but the Horn of Africa to Western Australia, even if the tide was in your favour (or something) would be pushing it. (Or is there an Australian make of warthog too?)

Kean, I could just visualise the man who was all for shooting the koalas in the article you linked to. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if he moaned about pinko lefty liberal poofters in his spare time. Might be entertaining to have one very quick beer with. But not two.

22. MountPenguin - November 20, 2007

Ah, I think I meant to write “wild boar” or something. Plague of them in Queensland, so I heard somewhere.

23. Ben - November 21, 2007

For what it’s worth, in Barcelona I heard nothing but disdain for bull-fighting. They associate it with the primitive ‘other’ Spain and Franco. That, of course, doesn’t keep shops from selling piles of bull-fighting swag to tourists on the cliched assumption that Spain = bullfighting (thank Hemingway for that) but for most Catalonians I got the impression they it as a point of pride and identity to look down on the practice. There’s at least one bullring still in the city (which used to have three) but it’s protested zealously every weekend.

24. bowleserised - November 22, 2007

“Cock shrink” strikes me as the entire justification for bullfighting int he first place, no?

The coat was mid thigh and black (obv) with panels of bull hide (hair and all) bordered with plain black leather strips. It smelt of moths.

25. pleite - November 22, 2007

B., I suppose lots of sports and competitive activities are about adding an inch/cup-size or two (remembers matadora from that total bollocks Hable con Ella), but it’s a nice twist that here you’re up against a beast from elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Somehow it makes me cringe less than lion-taming.

Ben, that’s interesting. Using a negative, as they see it, cultural tradition from the other to disassociate themselves from that other and reinforce their own differentness. If it’s genuine revulsion, then that’s rather clever. But if Catalonians are secretly gagging for bullfights and sneaking into Castille – does the term Castille still exist? I’m feeling a bit Middle Ages. I’ve got Aragon TV too – for a bit of a stealth corrida at the weekends, then I think it’s naughty. I don’t know much about the sport, but if it’s so widespread in southern France too, I’m guessing it’s not a tradition foreign to Catalonia.

Penguin, I’m sure Australia is awash with wicked species. I can’t sleep with my toes dangling off the end of the bed for weeks after reading the latest amusing story about how an Australian went for a swim and was eaten by crocodiles or for a wee and was bitten to death by some hideous spider. We’re relatively lucky here on that front (but for the wild boar. Do they get eaten?).

26. MountPenguin - November 22, 2007

Australia seems to suffer from imported species which – lacking natural predators – go wild, devastating the local flora and fauna as is the case with the wild boars. Or so I keep hearing on the radio.

I think I read somewhere Berlin is one of the world’s most benign cities in terms of lack of natural hazards of all kinds. Though wild boar are a problem in the suburbs because not enough are being shot and they’re finding gardens a tasty source of fast food.

27. pleite - November 23, 2007

Penguin, Wildschwein is quite often to be seen on menus here, so I hope the shot ones get put to good nutritional use… And now I’m remembering Joe Mangle from Neighbours who married an environmentally-aware green activist who got shot protecting something native from something non-native. In Australia. I’m looking into brain transplants.

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