A vast circle of yellow ochre, ringed in red, burns beneath the Andalucian sunshine. As the brass band begins to play, a black ball of fury rages across the yellow earth, a dark comet crossing the sun, a solar storm. The bull snorts and thunders his way across the ring, thrusting his horns dully into the leather-clad, blindfolded horses, great big sandbags of beasts who stand dumbly as their riders, the picadors, stab the bull in the back of his neck. The comet whirls around, charges another horse, lifts him off his feet, but falters, weakened, by the lances to his neck. Bright red drops begin to fall on the ochre ground, the ebony fur matts, the torero approaches with his gold-and-pink capote de brega, which he swirls to provoke the bull, the movements inciting snorting rage.
The bull falters, stumbles, the audience jeers as his damp, black bulk crashes to the yellow albero. The sticky fur now flecked with ochre, he picks himself up again, and again. He faces the torero squarely, the capote has been exchanged for the iconic scarlet cape – the muleta. This is for show, just as much as the ochre earth with its red rim and the torero’s jewel encrusted “suit of lights”; the bull is dichromatic; he cannot see red.
But the audience can – in the blood that pools as the trumpets reach their crescendo. They know how this match will end; the torero did not tempt fate when he entered the ring. Rather than tossing his black cap into he air to see how it would fall, he placed it upside down in the sand, open to the sky, a horseshoe-like symbol of luck. If the hat had fallen brim-down, he would not win this fight. The animal snorts the brightest of blood.
The bull cannot see red, but he also cannot see the sword that the muleta hides as the torero advances. A single, deep thrust between the shoulders severs the aorta, and ends the show. The spectacle ends with a spurting fountain of blood, drops sparkling in the Andalucian sun, a bloody firework hailing the torero’s predictable victory. The bull, slumped, is defeated; his black fur is caked yellow and red. His hot blood seeps into the sun-scorched earth, seeking out the traces of his ancestors who collapsed in this same, bright circle of death.
This piece is not intended to glorify bullfighting. It is a creative piece on the theme of colour – which seems particularly poignant in the context of a bullfight, where the colours are so overwhelming – yet the bull himself is effectively colourblind.
From 2003-2005, I lived in Seville, Spain. I did my best to immerse myself in the Andalucian culture as quickly and profoundly as possible; learning Spanish, sampling all the tapas, dancing Sevillanas and even buying a flamenco dress to wear to the annual Feria de Abril.
I was in two minds about seeing a bullfight, a Corrida de Toros, and decided that should the opportunity arise, if I was offered a ticket, I would say yes. Inevitably this happened, and I was offered a free seat with “sombra” – in the shaded half of the Plaza de Toros, the most desirable (and expensive) spot.
For the first few minutes I was stunned by the spectacle, the awesome size and power of the bull, and the unsettling sensation that things could take a rather nasty turn. But breeding bulls for size comes at a cost; their bulk was too heavy for their stumpy little legs, they were neither nimble nor agile, and they could not chase the torero. The crowd jeered, and demanded a new bull; the obligatory vet dismissed this request with a wave of his hand. And so fight after fight took place with the massive lumps of bull staggering around, stumbling to the ground, before the picadors had even weakened them.
What shocked me most was not the blood or brutality, in the end, but my indifference, By fight number four, I knew the plot. I grew bored. That was not an emotion I ever anticipated feeling at a bullfight. I am not condoning the brutality by admitting this, it just happens to be how I felt. Six virtually identical displays not only cease to entertain – they cease to shock.
I wouldn’t go back to the bullring, beautiful as it may be with its yellow albero and red painted lines and black bulls and whitewashed architecture, beneath a sapphire sky. It is cruel and unfair, yes, but it also numbs you to bloodlust in a shockingly short space of time. And while each bull’s death became ever more predictable, my own response – of indifference – is not something I could have foreseen.