Corrida in Arles – April 12th

I seem to end up at exotic places at the end of my thirty day trials. It’s not planned at all, but it’s the second time I’m in a place completely different from my regular element when I finish a trial.

I’ve been mentioning on the blog that I am spending the Easter week end in Arles with my siblings. Arles is located in Southern France, and they throw a feria every year (like many towns of the South) that includes a program of: bullfighting, Paella eating and dancing in Bodegas. Now this year, the weather has been aweful, and the bullfighting programs were cancelled on Saturday (an event that was qualified as “unique” by the local newspaper, as a whole day of cancellations due to weather had never been seen… This is the South of France, after all).

However, weather seemed to go in our favour yesterday, and the rained agreed to stop a little bit at 5 pm, for the corrida we had tickets for. The sky was gray, and the threat of the sky breaking on us still present, but it didn’t stop the crowd of a 1000 viewers to come in mass to the arena to watch the bullfighting program.

On the poster, two of the most experimented toreros: Juan Jose Padilla and Rafaelillo. The third torero was French: Julien Lescarret. He was also less experimented and the newspapers feared for his life. Indeed, the 3 toreros were to fight against 6 bulls of the most reknown, and the most dangerous lineage of bulls known to corrida afficionados: The Miuras, known also as “The Black Legend.” This was the first corrida I ever attended. I hadn’t even watched one on TV. Those who know me know that what drama and theatricality fascinate me. I was not disappointed.

A man walks in the arena with a postsign that gives the statistics of the bull to come. Only one figure is interesting and that is the one everybody looks at : its weight. The first bull was 680 Kg. 680 !! I must say that for the people who have never seen a corrida, the torero is not alone in the arena. He is the maestro, the leader of a team of 4 other people: 3 people on foot, and one other on a horse with a pick (which I will come back to later)

Silence. On the side, I see a team member who signs himself and who kisses his hat. A door opens. 680 kg of muscles and flesh enter. When the bull comes in the arena, with him comes the idea of death. It is a solemn moment. Now the fun, the preparation, the music are over. Somebody will die. Be it the bull or a bullfighter. As I watch the show, the species survival instinct makes me side for the humans; I want them to survive.

The team members, located at several ends of the arena, call the bull with their pink sheet, the bull runs towards them, and then they hide behind a small wall. As you watch, you know that if they trip or take too much time to put their head behind to wall, one hit of the bull’s horn will injure them.

Then one man comes in the middle of the arena. He is not covered by any wall. He is the torero. He is on his knees, waives his pink sheet, faces the stampeding bull, puts the sheet on the side and as the bull goes through it, he waives it in the air in a round movement. He does not kid around. He is the boss. The audience goes “olĂ©”.

A horse comes in. The horse has an armor. On him a man holds a long stick with a pointy iron piece on top of it. It is the “pick”. The man is called the “picador”. The horse has a black fold on his eyes, so he cannot see what’s happening. It’s probably for the best, because here is what happens next. The team positions the bull so that he eventually faces the horse; the bull then runs heads on in the side of the horse. The picador then sticks his pick in the spine of the bull. This is to weaken the beast. When the picador insists, or moves his pick back and forth in the bull, the audience whistles and boos. They don’t want to bull to be too weak. They want the beast to be able to fight. But these are Miura bulls. And the maestro orders the picador to repeat the process 2 times, sometimes 3. Then the Bandilleros come is. They hold two sticks in their hands and their goal is to face the bull, and plant the two sticks on his back as he is stampeding towards them.

The third phase is the final duel, between the torero and the beast. It is the one part where the torero has a red sheet and a sword. It ends with the killing of the bull, by planting the sword on his back so that it goes straight into the animal’s heart.

The Miuras are faithful to their reputation. They refuse to die. Even after the sword has been planted in them, they stand up and refuse to lay down to expire their final breath.

***

The two Spanish toreros give way to a heated discussion between the purists of corrida and the amateurs of show. Padilla is a showman. He does impressive moves in which he puts himself between the head of the bull and the red sheet. “It’s just circus!” say the purist. But the audience loves him and at the end, they waive their white handkerchiefs to demand that Padilla receives the two ears of the beast because he was brave. The purists say: “Asking for two ears for this clown of Padilla, I am ashamed for the Arena of Arles. Clearly this audience is ignorant.”

The audience can feel that Rafelillo is technically impressive. But people don’t understand what he does. The connoisseurs say: “he was on the edge of death 4 or 5 times during the combat. but nobody realized.”

***

I am glad I saw a corrida once in my life, but I’m not sure I’ll rush to see another one. I was not particularly disgusted by it (sorry animal rights advocates, but I was kind of insensitive to it), but I have to say that I don’t think the arguments of the pro-corridas are valid. These people say that at least, the bull is given a chance to fight for his life, as opposed to going straight to the slaughterhouse. But what kind of an opportunity to fight is this? It’s like if you said to someone: “let’s fight, I’ll give you a knife and I’ll have the gun. and also, let me break your leg first.” Don’t be fooled, a corrida is not a combat. It is a sacrifice. And I have more interest seeing a “fake”, acted out sacrifice in a tragic play, than a real one of an animal.

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One Response to “Corrida in Arles – April 12th”

  1. A Canadian Reader Says:

    I’m not an animal rights fanatic and I adore a good steak, but I think I’ll pass on going to a bullfight. It’s just too sadistic for words.

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