Well, it's August 29th and the sun is shining. Which it may not do again this year. So I'm off down to Plaza Verdura for some wine and maybe some calamares. I'm copping out and leaving you with this account of bullfighting in 1808, by our French friend M. Rocca. Who found himself at a loose end in Madrid, in between slaughtering Spaniards and pillaging the countryside. Good to see that he could appreciate the couleur locale. . .
En passant, the word chulo these days has different meanings from those of 1810. Including, I think, 'pimp'. But mostly 'cocky'.
Oh, and these days packs of dogs don't rip up the wimpy bulls. They go home to mother.
Apart from that, Plus ça change . . .
The origin of bull-fights among the Spaniards is derived from the Moors, shepherds of Africa, a nation skilled in training horses, in managing unruly flocks, and conquering the wild beasts of the desert. The Spaniards inherit from the Moors the practice of a wandering life, which they have preserved even to our times. Throughout Spain there are extensive tracks left for the travelling flocks. The king and the grandees have vast studs appropriated to the raising of choice breeds of horses and bulls. The royal stud of Aranjuez, on the banks of the Tagus, is fifteen or twenty leagues in circumference. Gentlemen formerly fought on the bull-festivals; but they seldom now present themselves in the arena, either because the manners of the age are become milder by time, or rather, perhaps, because the frequent abode in the capital and the pleasures of courts have extinguished for the moment in the Spanish nobles their inclination for such sports.
We should form a very wrong idea of the bull that is to fight, if we judged of him by those which are seen, in some countries of the north, straying innocently through the meadows round the herdsmen which guard them : he is not the friend, the peaceable companion of the husbandman, the ox accustomed to bow his head gently to the yoke fastened to his horns, to obey without a murmur the goad that spurs him on ; he is the king of the forest, where he has lived, almost wild, under a meridian sun ; a fiery blood boils in his veins, and excites him to anger. The hills and vales lately echoed with his lengthened bellowings. He is a proud conqueror accustomed to fight for the young heifer, to see every thing give way, and even men fly at his approach, or at the first sound of his formidable fury.
I saw pass one of the unruly animals that were to fight in the evening; he had been brought, it was said, from Salamanca; his dark rusty coat gave him an air of great ferocity ; six powerful men could with difficulty hold him, by ropes sufficiently long to prevent danger. A young heifer preceded to entice him into the Tamil, a dark, narrow enclosure furnished with trapdoors, in which the bulls are separately put till the time fixed for the fight. In this place their angry passions are still farther inflamed by different torments : on the upper part of the breast is placed a riband which denotes by its colour their origin, breed, and birth-place.
The bull-fights at Madrid are given in an amphitheatre open at the top ; the spectators are seated in rows and separated from the arena, which is in the centre, by a strong wooden fence. Boxes are constructed in the upper part of the edifice ; places in the shade pay double the price of those that are exposed to the heat of the sun. The spectacle opens with a sort of parade executed by the horse and foot combatants, all richly dressed according to the old Spanish costume. The Picadores fight on horseback, armed with lances; their horses are saddled in the Moorish fashion ; the lances are furnished with a sharp four-cornered head, made so as to wound the bull, without entering deep into his body. The Chulos fight on foot, armed with darts ; their arm of defence is a piece of red cloth which, attracting by its glare the bull’s eyes, enables the skilful to avoid his attacks, and baffle his fury by favour of this illusory buckler.
Flourishes are heard ; the barrier opens, and the bull appears. He has to avenge the many injuries received in his dark prison, and the craft by which he was entrapped ; with his hair on end and nostrils on fire, he stamps the ground, and threatens with his horns the spectators ; the solemn silence that instantly succeeds the thrilling sound of the trumpets, far from intimidating him, seems to increase his ardour. He surveys the arena, and, in three bounds, darts on the first picador that comes forward. The picador, firm in his seat, lowers his lance which he holds in rest, and, pulling round his horse, drives it into the bull’s broad breast, just as this fierce adversary inclines his head to make a dreadful blow. The shock is sometimes so violent that the lance shivers to pieces ; and the bull suddenly stopped in his course, is forced backward with pain from the wound. Should the picador’s horse be thrown, one of the foot combatants approaches, and draws the bull from his victim by a red cloak ; proud of his success, and attracted by the scarlet, the noble animal turns his rage against this new enemy, more formidable to appearance, and proportions his effort to the expected resistance: the chulo leaps aside, and leaves the cheated bull to roar and wreak his fury on the cloak left between his horns.
Every time the bull conquers a new enemy, he lifts his proud head, and casts a scornful and haughty look around him ; calmed, for a while, by victory, he seems to delight in the repeated plaudits of the multitude, and listens with pleasure to the shouts of Bravo, Bull ! Bravo, Bull ! that come from all parts of the amphitheatre.
The Picadores are succeeded by the Chulos or Banderilleros, who advance on foot. The bull attacked takes a fresh spring; he thinks, in one course, to free himself from this weak, light and nimble troop which unceasingly harasses him; but they everywhere open at his approach; the Banderilleros pass and repass ; adroitly plant their darts in the bull’s neck and breast, and, by their extreme agility, sport with his fury. I have seen one of these Chulos, too closely pursued to escape by leaping the fence, boldly place his foot between the bull’s horns and, tossed by the blow that was intended for him, fall unharmed some paces behind.
The troop of Banderilleros retires at a signal agreed upon, and the Matador appears, to finish the fight by the bull’s death ; he holds a sword in his right hand, and a flag in his left. After a low bow before the magistrates’ box, he turns round, advances with a firm and orderly step towards the bull, whose motions he several times studies, by presenting and withdrawing his flag. The spectators are suspended betwixt fear and hope ; all eyes are fixed on the point of the Matador’s sword, who must pay with his life his irresolution or want of skill, should his blow fail or his hand falter : at length he lifts his sword, and plunges it, between the shoulders, into the very heart of the bull, who, eager to strike the Matador, closes, staggers, falls, and measures the ground with his huge body. The four-footed hero, victor in many battles, raises, for the last time, his dying head, and in one lengthened roar, the blood gushing from his mouth and nostrils, he expires. Flourishes announced the bull’s entrance, flourishes are again heard at the death
Three mules harnessed abreast and richly caparisoned come from a door opposite that by which the combatants entered, gallop to the bull, and drag him away with cords fastened to his horns. The bull which comes next respires sometimes with frantic horror the still reeking blood scattered about the arena; and seized with the fury of revenge, he attacks indiscriminately all his foes at once. Sometimes too a timid bull wanders cowardly about the course, and returns to the outlet whence he came ; but that is irrevocably shut. The spectators consider him unworthy the honour of fighting with men ; the dogs are loudly called for, and the bull, assaulted by a pack, is soon thrown ; he is struck on the head with a sharp-pointed instrument made for the purpose, and dies amid barkings, shoutings and abuse.
This bloody tragedy, of which the devoted bull is the chief actor, presents the living picture of war as it was before the invention of gunpowder ; it offers to the mind its tumult, uncertainty and agitations, and the spectator, as in a field of battle, feels that electric emotion which is excited by the shedding of blood.
Directly the spectacle begins, an almost convulsive joy seizes the spectators of every age and of both sexes. In an instant the gravest countenances expand and become cheerful. The men, seated on benches, lean forward, and open their cloaks to be more appropriate to the action, as if they were to take part in it. They are seen to follow with their eyes and gestures every motion of the Picador or bull, and even encourage the animal by words, thinking thus to influence, by their own eagerness, the fate of the combat.