Imagine entering a colosseum. Stone benches bordered by a wall of arches face into an arena. However, instead of men in togas, imagine men in blazers and white rimmed hats in those seats. And instead of seeing two gladiators fighting to the death, imagine the following.
You have been in darkness. Workers rub petroleum into your eyes to obscure your vision and they beat your kidneys repeatedly. They give you tranquilizers, laxatives, and drugs that induce paralysis or a hypnotized state. After being locked in this space for five days, you enter the arena and look up to the thousands of people in the stands.
This is what the bull sees during its last days of life.
Bulls are not violent. But the audience sees them charge into the arena. Only a closer look unveils this truth. Charging does not come naturally to the bull. It is panting, gasping for air before the fight has even started – traumatized.
The bull charges towards a pink capote, the cape used by one of the matador’s assistants.
The assistants are trying to make a show of the bull’s ferocity. They also show their own cowardice, hiding behind walls as the bull nears them in its charge.
Soon, a man on a horse — a picador — enters the ring. The horse is drugged as well, so that it does not attempt to flee when the bull charges at it. The bull slams into the horse.
The picador stabs the bull repeatedly with a spiked lance. The first blood is drawn and the bull’s neck muscles are ravaged. It can no longer lift its head. It will die looking down at the sand of the arena.
After this, the matador, the killer and showman, enters the ring to defeat a dragon that has already died.
Like his assistant, he is accompanied by his cape, except his is red to further distinguish him from his peers. His outfit and mannerisms are also more outlandish.
The bull charges at him. And to his credit, the matador is very daring in how close he lets the beast approach prior to swerving out of its way. His performance is met by emphatic ‘ahhs’ from the audience.
The matador then exchanges his cape for swords. He now stabs the bull as it charges.
The animal begins to bleed internally.
After stabbing the cow around seven or eight times, the matador feels satisfied and retrieves his capote. He once again performs his swerving act until the animal fatigues to death.
The bull coughs and snorts blood. It collapses as it begins a final charge.
Its carcass is tied to horses that drag it around the arena for all the spectators to get a better look at its size.
If they are impressed, they wave white handkerchiefs in the air. This sight is truly surreal to watch.
Six bulls are killed this way during each bullfighting match.
I left the Seville stadium after three died. I couldn’t watch another. I was crying.
Walking back to my hostel, I screamed at my traveling buddy. I don’t really remember what I said, but I just had to let it all out.
Both of us had entered the arena not realizing that bullfighting was anything more than what we saw Bugs Bunny do.
Earlier that day, I visited the Museum of Arts and Traditions of Seville. This was one of my favorite museums. It gives a glimpse into the lives of the artisans who crafted the glorious art who make up the region’s renowned culture.
What I loved about this museum in particular is that each of its exhibitions work together to make the argument that the best way to preserve culture is to ensure that it stays alive – that traditions and traditional ways of being should be continued.
I believed this for all of a few hours.