Domingo, Day 7 - Beaches and Bullfights

By Sunday, we were ready to just rest. So, as soon as the weather cleared up, we headed out to the resort's beach club. It wasn't quite swimming weather, but it was definitely sunny enough for us to get a bit of color. We still walked along the Mediterranean and dipped our feet in, and also hopped into the pool, just so that we could say that we did. Mostly, we just enjoyed being outdoors, reading our books, and - you guessed it - sipping some Sangría.

When evening hit, we attended an actual bullfight in Marbella. The stands were surprisingly empty, and as the gentleman behind us pointed out, the quality of the toreadors was nowhere near what one would find in Sevilla, or even Ronda. In fact, most of the crowd appeared to be insurance salespeople from Mississippi who had won their trip to Spain by being top sellers, and unfortunately projected the stereotypical "ugly American" persona. (A typical example: the lady next to us approaching some grizzled older locals who appeared to be related to one of the toreadors and asked in a thick Mississippi drawl, "Do you speak English? I didn't think so" and then proceeding to ask them - in English, mind you - to pose for a picture with her.)

Nonetheless, the bullfight was quite an education. Luckily, Dineen had chosen Hemmingway as her beach reading, and between that background, an English-language program we purchased there, and the narrative of the Gentleman behind is who had been to several bullfights in Seville the previous week, we were able to follow the highly-ritualized steps of the fight. First, there is the opening ceremonies, where all the players come out and greet the Presidente (think Caesar overseeing a Gladiator fight) and get his permission to start the first fight. When the bull is released, several toreadors take turns attracting its attention with pink and yellow capes so that the bull will run into one of the several bull's eyes on the perimeter of the bullring (the toreadors hide behind the bull's eyes for safety when the bull charges). Once the bull has been run a bit, the matador steps forward and executes a few passes. The Presidente, by wave of his handkerchief, gives permission for the players to continue with each successive step of the fight. In a big-city bullfight, the next step would be picadors - men on horses - coming out and stabbing the bull three times with their long puyazos (pikes). Our small-town fight skipped the picadors and went directly to the suerte de banderillas, in which the toreadors attempt to thrust three pairs of darts in the bull's back. More than once at this stage, we saw a toreador come scarily close to getting gored by the bull.

After the banderillas, the Presidente gives permission start the death of the bull. Out goes the pink and yellow cape, and in comes the sword and red cape most Americans envision when they think of a bullfight. This is the matador's chance to shine, and he usually struts about exuding machismo and cockiness by this point. After several more showy passes, the matador finally thrusts the sword to the hilt into the space between the bull's shoulders. If it is done right (as it was in the later fights we observed) the bull drops immediately to its knees at this point. If it is not done right (in the first fight we observed) the matador must use another tool to remove the sword and try again. Finally, the bull is mercifully finished off with a quick dagger stab to the brain stem. Depending on the size of the bull, one or more horses on a hitch come out and drag the carcass away, where it is prepared to go to the local butcher shop (all the meat is used).

Crowd reaction is very important. Whistles from the crowd mean trouble for the matador, since they mean the crowd is not at all happy with his performance. Applause and shouts of "Toro!" on the other hand, means the crowd approves. When the fight is over, the people tell the Presidente if and how much the matador should be rewarded for his efforts. Vigorous waving of white handkerchiefs usually mean the matador will be awarded the bull's ear. Continued cheering might result in him getting the other ear as well. In exceptional cases, the toreador is awarded the bull's tail as well. It is also not uncommon for the crowds to throw flowers, cigars, and hats into the ring to show their approval. At the bullfight we attended, the first matador didn't get anything, the second earned one ear, and the last two earned two ears (which, according the gentleman behind us, was a bit of a stretch considering the quality of the fights). The ears often given back to the crowd as a show of appreciation from the matador; we saw that happen too.

As you can imagine from this description, bullfighting is a very testosterone-driven sport, and we thus told the story using male pronouns. Since the fight we were at was somewhat amateurish, the matadors and toreadors were young - probably between 17 and 21 years old. Interestingly, though, the last matador (and, therefore, the headliner) of our bullfight was a woman. Women are just starting to break into this formerly all-male bastion, and Toņi is one of the first of a new breed of female bullfighters.

We don't know that we would necessarily attend another bullfight, but we're glad we got to experience one in person. We saw the movie Gladiator a few weeks after our return, and it became glaringly obvious that the rituals of the bullfight are descendant from the Roman influence. Seeing the bullfight was like having a front row seat to ancient history.

After the fight, we headed into Marbella proper to have dinner at an open-air café at the Plaza de los Naranjos (yes, another Plaza of Oranges). It was there that we finally sampled authentic paella, made with saffron-seasoned rice and all sorts of yummy seafood. We also lucked out by finding a music shop - we picked up the Beatles Anthology to have some more music for the road, since we had already discovered that the trade off of getting wonderful countryside and scenery along the routes we drove was poor radio reception. Oh, and Mike will be upset if we leave out this picture of local color - a doggie so well-behaved that rather than move from the spot where he was ordered to sit he craned his head into an almost unnatural pose for a glimpse of his master inside the store.

- Day Eight -