Saturday, 11 May 2013

Bullfight, bullshit

My first exposure to all things Spanish in my childhood was without a doubt that plastic bull dangling around the neck of a bottle of Sangre de Toro. And the bull has become quite a symbol to Spain and Andalusia in particular. In 1956 Osborne sherry built a massive advertising campaign around it. 500 giant bulls were put up around the streets of Spain until in 1994 roadside advertising was banned as a threat to road safety. The bulls were destined to be destroyed, but the people of Andalusia fought back - the bull had cemented its status as a key cultural figure. Osborne-references were removed, but the bulls stayed put. 89 of them still remain today.

The Spanish Supreme Court declared the bull as a national cultural symbol and the bull sure has paid the price for this. Once Catalan separatists sawed the legs off the bull in Barcelona as a protest. The one in Mallorca, too, has suffered in the hands of various separatist movements. In Galicia a group campaigning for local independence painted their bull orange. 

Culture is a funny thing. At its worst it is used to justify things that seem absurd to the sense of justice of yours truly. Such as female circumcision. And honour killings. And karaoke. 

One thing about Spain I'll never understand is the bullfighting. Bullfighters are respected and revered and in many traditional tapas bars entire walls are devoted to the most legendary ones. The fights are still regularly organized and many of the villages nearby have their own arenas. 

Some years ago I talked The Gentleman into taking me to one of them. Cheap fun it ain't - tickets for two cost around a hundred euros. And wasted the money was, seeing how I spent most of the time at the bar downstairs, upset beyond imagination. The Gentleman could not believe I genuinely had had no idea what we were in for and never gets tired of pointing out how googling would have cost a lot less.

Well, I know now. And I'm in no rush to ever go back again. I still don't know which infuriated me the most - the way the bull is bullied around for absolutely no reason or the fact that the bully, echoing such supreme masculinity in the local ethos, is a figure that in those pink tights looks more camp than Boy George at a drag bingo...

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