Sunday, February 24, 2008

Death in the Afternoon

Don’t cry, Angelita. Tonight I’ll buy you a house, or I’ll dress you in mourning.

~ Manuel Benítez, “El Cordobés” (Or I’ll Dress You in Mourning, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre) to his sister on the day of his first encounter with the brave bulls of Spain

There would be only mourning for the bulls this afternoon in downtown Bogotá. Just as the final bullfight of the year was starting inside Plaza de Toros de Santamaría, a group of young protestors chanted their disapproval of the event on the curb of the nearby, busy street. They looked like hippies. They held signs decrying the inhumane treatment of the bulls. Police watched on foot and on horse from the other side of the street. Cars slowed down as they approached the mass of protestors and beeped their horns in agreement. I have talked to many Colombians who despise bullfighting, yet it remains a part of their cultural tradition.

Like watching a cockfight in the Dominican Republic, it was something I wanted to witness. All tickets were soldout in advance. I talked to a scalper yesterday who was asking for five times the face value of his $45 (U.S. dollar) ticket. What a ripoff, I thought. He had reason. In addition to being the final bullfight of the year, it was the final career bullfight (corrida in Spanish) of a bullfighting legend, César Rincón, who is considered one of the greatest living bullfighters. Born in Bogotá, he is a national hero or animal assassin, depending on who you talk to. I didn’t realize who he was or that he was even fighting until I returned home and searched the internet.

There were policemen and barricades on all the various streets and alleys surrounding the stadium. Plaza de Toros de Santamaría is a beautiful bullring, it’s just a shame that it is only used on Sunday afternoons in January and February. It seems like a waste of property. I took a detour to get to a 32-story apartment building behind the bullring. I asked the security guard at the front desk if I could go to the roof to take photos. He said I couldn’t. I persisted and told him I had been to the top before (which I had last autumn), and that it’d only take a few minutes. He finally gave in. I had the feeling he would.

Since this apartment is one of the tallest buildings in Bogotá, and located downtown, its roof provides spectacular aerial views of the bullring and surrounding city. On the balcony just below a resident was drinking whiskey with his family while watching the bullfight. He invited me down to join him, and the security guard left. He treated me like one of his good friends, pouring me a glass of whiskey as we watched the fight below. Because there are a few tall apartment buildings in back of the bullring, virtually every balcony and ledge was filled with spectators. The crowd threw roses and hats at Rincón as they applauded and chanted his name. I didn’t quite understand it all. Because it was my first bullfight, I didn’t have a real appreciation for the bullfighter’s skill. It seemed too easy. Anticlimactic. Then again, I was watching a legendary bullfighter (torero in Spanish), sort of like watching Larry Bird shoot three-pointers at your first basketball game. What’s the big deal? Just throw the ball in the hoop. Or in this case, just wave your cape and get out of the way. After a little while I started rooting for the bull, but for obvious reasons, did not vocalize this. It just didn’t seem like the bull had a fair shot. At least in cockfighting observers couldn’t be certain on who was going to win. I left halfway through the corrida. I had seen enough.

Some bulls are given a reprieve and return to their ranches. Most, however, die during the fight, while awaiting transportation, or days later at their original ranches. After the fight, the bulls die of dehydration, infection of wounds, and loss of blood suffered during the corrida. There are other styles of bullfighting where the bulls’ lives are spared. Although doctors are normally present at bullfights, veterinarians are not. Maybe I’m a hypocrite. I certainly love hamburgers and don’t think about the cow that was slaughtered.

It is hard to say it is all good or all bad, just like it is hard to judge the fans of the sport. The man who let me watch the bullfight was very hospitable. He gave me his phone number and said I was welcome to return whenever I wanted. I am sure I’ll return. I am just glad I didn’t buy a ticket.


DianaCats said...

I'm one of the people who despise bullfighting, and don't think it should be called a sport. And cockfight and everything that involves animal torture. At least you didn't pay to see Rincón murder a bull.

And where are the pictures? I love the panoramic view to the Santamaría (hopefully without bullfighting inside). I took pictures of it from the Colpatria tower, I hadn't been so lucky to been invited to a apartment near it :)

Brett Garamella said...

Hey Diana, I think you're in the majority but tradition seems to trump public opinion. I just added some more photos ... my internet wasn't working earlier so I couldn't post them. Thanks for checking out my site. Talk to you soon. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Awesome pics!

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