Sunday, July 12, 2009

Running of the Bulls is Dangerous!

It was a hot August day many years ago. I was in a Texas border town and saw a poster nailed to a telephone pole advertising a bullfight just across the border in Mexico. Why not? I thought. So I grabbed a few friends and off we went. It was my first time at this.... Not my first trip to Mexico but my first time watching a bullfight live, up close, and in the flesh. It was something I had to do I suppose. Another box to check and a square to fill. All things considered, I was not impressed with my little adventure. Don't get me wrong, there was quite a bit of ceremony. There was music, trumpets, food, and lots of cheering - "Ole!" The Matador was suave, distinguished, and graceful. Yet, in the end, the Bull fell and the Matador walked out of the stadium with his head held high and his shoulders back and down. Sort of strutting as he left.
A predictable ending.

In retrospect, I didn't quite see the sport in the activity. The way I see it, the bull always dies. In my case, this waltz between "El Torro" and the "Toreador", while poetic, was marked with a gruesome finality that has left an unfriendly image in my mind for years. The Matador seemed to be toying with the bull. Confusing him while wearing him down and frustrating him.

I watched as the bull, dazed and bewildered, slowly moved from one stage of slaughter to the next. Ending up with several barbed spears sticking out of his shoulders. His thrusts and charges becoming less aggressive until finally, he was killed with the matador plunging several swords into the bull.

Here's something I learned later:

Apparently in these bullfights, the audience looks for the matador to display an appropriate level of style and courage and for the bull to display aggression and determination. For the matador, this means performing skillfully in front of the bull, often turning his back on it to demonstrate his courage and mastery over the animal. The skill with which he delivers the fatal blow is another major point to look for. A skillful matador will achieve it in one stroke. Two is barely acceptable, while more than two is usually regarded as a bad job.

I guess our matador did a "Bad job."

Anyway, I found myself cheering for the bull. Secretly hoping the bull would get at least one good shot in before he was slaughtered.

Gratification for the Bull?

It didn't happen. The bull kept it's date with destiny and was loaded up on at trailer and removed from the stadium. I was told that the meat was given to the poor and some of the proceeds from the ticket sales were given to charity.

I've never been back to a bull fight. But a few years later, I read the book "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemmingway in which Hemmingway described "The Running of the Bulls" in Pamplona, Spain. This coincided with a period when I was traveling to Madrid quite a bit. Madrid was one of my favorite cities to visit. The people, scenery, food, ..... All fantastic! I found myself wondering around to all the restaurants that said: "Hemmingway Ate Here." And while I never considered running with the bulls myself, I'd always thought it would be great to attend. You could say I fantasized about sitting on a balcony sipping sangria, eating tapas, and watching the running of the bulls!

I haven't quite made it there yet but each year after the running of the bulls I try to read the report and watch the coverage. This year, I was saddened to learn that the bulls got one back. Daniel Jimeno Romero, 27 years old, has died after being gored in his lung and neck during the famous running of the bulls.

Bystanders say that one bull, which became detached from the others, started repeatedly attacking runners and tossed one into the air and then attacked him on the ground before he was pulled away by the tail and horns. Romero, was taken immediately to intensive care but doctors were unable to save him. Fernando Boneta, who organizes the festival's medical services, said that the bull's horn pierced the runner's body "at the height of the left-hand superclavicular region" and subsequently took "a downwards trajectory that affected the left lung, the aorta and the vena cava".

This was the first death at the running of the bulls since 1995, when Matthew Tassio, a 22-year old American, was gored. As best as I can discover, 15 people have died during the running of the bulls in the last 100 years.


I wonder if a death like this casts a dark shadow over the festival? I'm certain the family and friends of Daniel Romero would gladly trade a thousand bulls to have him back. The irony of this story is that many more young men, now more aware of the danger, are preparing for their chance to run with the bulls. If nothing else, this year's story is certainly a harsh reminder that running with large powerful and angry animals can be dangerous and is not for the faint of heart! The consequences can be severe and permanent.

And That's no Bull!


dickster1961 said...

I had considered posting about the running of the bulls. I have never seen it live & don't think I would want to. I have vague memories of watching fights on TV years ago. I do remember cheering for the bull. Gotta pull for the underdog.

The Sun Also Rises was great but I love anything by Hemingway.

Heather Dugan (Footsteps) said...

So sad when you boil it down to a particular family with a specific loss...
I read every bit of Hemingway I could find as a teenager, relating to his sense of adventure and passion for the outdoors, I guess. ~Have never been one for spilled blood though; better to keep it in the body where it belongs. The idea of intentionally causing pain to human or beast bewilders me.
Running with the bulls seems an athletic extreme with proportionate risks. The bullfight seems too choreographed to be kind. I don't watch "R"rated movies very much either. Weak stomach.

Jane Turley said...

I've no inclination to watch a bullfight and the running of the bulls doesn't have that much appeal to me either - well not when people are gored to death anyway. My mother saw a bullfight back in the 1950s - it made quite an impression on her too. I found a series of really rather beautiful (drawn) postcards amongst her possessions - in fact I've been thinking about getting them framed. I don't think she thought the bullfight was beautiful though - but I guess it's impact was enough to make her keep those cards all those years.

Illia said...

I was looking around at opinions on bullfights and found this - I love what you've said, but I just hope that people realize that the bull runs in Pampalona end with bullfights anyway. The bulls you run with get killed in the same way any other fighting bull gets killed to. What I really love is our American bloodless bullfights - You see the art, the grace, and the appreciation for the bull without the pain, death, and teasing. They happen throughout California, and in a couple small cities in Texas.

intrepidideas said...

Thanks Illia, I wasn't aware of these Bullfights. Sounds like a more humane degree of the sport. Do come back to visit...

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