“David Fandila Marín – El Fandi – walked across the sand with 14,000 pairs of eyes watching him, weighing him. This was his first visit to the most judgemental bullring in Spain, La Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Sevilla, the oldest of the great rings. Madrid is the head of the bullfighting world, where money is aggregated and policy decided, but its heart is in Seville. This is where it was born, among the pastures where the bulls are created. Not only have the aficionados here seen more fights than their urban cousins in the north, but many have stepped into a ring themselves, even if only on a ranch with a 250lb cow. For this reason they don’t easily accept the elegant safety of ‘caping to the furthest horn’ to keep the animal distant, or the showy trickery of leaning in after the horn points have passed so the bull’s body brushes the man’s without risk. The 250-year-old stones of this ring always demand truth, even if the price is a human life. As it was for the thirty-three-year-old Valencian Manolo Montiliú, who died on that same sand eight summers before. The footage is there on the internet for all to see, his body lifted clear of the ground by the 1,320lb might of the bull Cabatisto, the animal’s left horn a foot deep in his chest. As the attending surgeon described it with chilling poetry, ‘his heart was opened like a book’.
“Fandi was only nineteen and still a novillero, a ‘novice matador’, but he seemed supremely confident and oblivious to the June Andalusian sun hammering down on him as he crossed the line of shade on to the sunny side of the ring. Despite the 10lb of tightly-cut scarlet silk and gold braid on his body and the 15lb of compressed magenta and yellow cotton in his hands, he moved lightly on his feet until he was directly in front of the door through which the bull would enter. To the delight of the crowd, he dropped to his knees before these ‘Gates of Fear’ and began to spread the cape out over his thighs. He was to open with la larga cambiada a portagayola, ‘the long exchange at the cage-door’.
“His only thoughts were now about the animal: what were this one’s strengths and weaknesses? How was its stamina and speed? Was it left-horned or right? Would it attack into his territory or merely defend its own? Most importantly, how would it respond to this bravura opening manoeuvre? Yes, it might impress even this jaded audience, but on the other hand, Franco Cardeño, a more experienced bullfighter who had tried this same manoeuvre in the same spot three years before, had ended his career serving in a bar named Portagayola for that very reason only 400 yards away, with half his face crushed. And he was lucky to walk – or rather, be carried – away with only that. Fandi carefully smoothed out the creases in the compressed fabric of the cape. When the cloth flew, it had to fly true or he would die there on his knees.
“The gate was opened before him by Manolo Artero, a stout middle-aged man, who shouted to the rustling crowd the words he had shouted for thirty years: ‘Silence! A man risks his life here today.’ As Fandi’s sun-blinded eyes stared into the darkness he heard the distant protest of heavy steel bolts sliding into their housings, followed by muffled shouting and the hollow sound of unshod hooves skittering on concrete. Then came the dull crash of horns against steel. The sounds repeated closer as further doors were opened, followed by more crashes. Then, from within the darkness, came a rearing, jolting black head, eyes focused, nostrils flaring, ears forward, a foot and a half of horns tapering to fine points above it. And behind it came a half-ton of pulsing muscle propelling it at a steady twenty-five miles an hour. The heightened senses of the bull perceived him as an immediate threat in a totally unknown world of smell, sound and colour. It arched its neck to aim its long horns and accelerated hard.
“Fandi pulled the cape up in a single long smooth movement so it swung out in front of the speeding animal’s eyes, catching their attention, and then spun out to the side of his head. Distracted by this extension of the creature it wished to destroy, the bull deviated mid-charge and dived after the movement. As its horn struck the cloth mid-air, it discovered there was no substance there, no satisfying penetration to confirm its dominance. As for Fandi, all he saw was the long horns, the striving head, the massive neck and shoulders, and the long driving flanks sailing by him. He smiled. Then he stood up.”
— from Into the Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight, by Alexander Fiske-Harrison
The beauty and drama of the corrida cannot be adequately described, but Fiske-Harrison and, of course, Hemingway come close. I have been thinking about the bullfight often lately, as it looks extremely unlikely that I will ever be able to see one again. My decision not to be injected with a dangerous genetic serum means I am too dangerous to enter Spain. And perhaps there are some decent bullfights in Mexico City, but don’t tell that to a Spaniard. And, really, it wouldn’t be the same outside of Spain, as the cultural heart of the Spanish people is deeply intertwined with the art and battle of the corrida.
Hey, forget Communist travel restrictions— Communist kulturkampf could likely ban the bullfight nationwide, as the fractious region of Catalonia did more than a decade ago. It broke my heart to see la Monumental turned into a shopping center when I was last there.
If you have never seen a bullfight, there is no preparing for it, nor your reaction to it. Barbaric cruelty or passionate miniature of the life and death struggle we all face? I’ve quoted Ernest Hemingway before at the old, deleted, blogspot site , so I think I’ll do it again:
Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.