Today I went to Nîmes to watch the equestrian corrida of the Feria de Pentecôte 2015. Every year I am a bit hesitant to write about corridas – as I am aware of the ambivalence of some about this local tradition. This year I have decide to speak up. To that end, I have looked for what somebody else might have written on the subject that best would express my sentiment – and I found Robert Elms’ piece in The Independent (here), which I have adapted below.
When I saw my first ever corrida – it's not really a bullfight, anybody foolhardy enough to fight a bull would be a goner within minutes – I was immediately smitten. But I know not everybody is.
Much of the antipathy to the corrida comes from the misconception that it is a sport, and a deeply unfair one at that. But this unique event, which is reviewed in the culture section of Spanish newspapers alongside opera, cannot be considered a sport; the end is pre-ordained, the pattern deeply repetitive and the element of competition almost entirely absent.
Of course there are genuine anti-taurine activists whose convictions are real and valid. Groups of a few hundreds of them sometimes gather to protest outside the Roman arenas in Nîmes where I go regularly, but then again 10,000 fans of the corrida are inside.
Reports that the corrida is dying out are well wide of the mark, as you would discover to your considerable cost if you tried to buy tickets for any one of the 32 consecutive sold-out days of the Madrid fair or one of the great afternoons in Seville or Bilbao, where tickets on the black market can change hands for many hundreds of pounds.
The oft-repeated claim that such rings are kept alive by tourists is ludicrous. Despite the economic recession, the corrida is still thriving. Its top practitioners are huge stars, and its fans, among them a prominent group of British aficionados, intensely devoted, because it is still the very soul of this dark and complex country. As the poet Lorca said back in the 1930s, the corrida is “the last serious thing in the modern world”. And in this even more modern age it is just as serious and just as poetic.
This always potent and sometimes beautiful spectacle is the ritual slaughter of six truly wild animals for your entertainment. Matador just means killer. It is a public celebration of death (a subject we prefer to hide from in Britain) which, when it is done well, becomes a celebration of life. The man charged with the task of delivering a fine end to this fierce and powerful creature will dance with it along the way, laying his own life on the line to create a swirling symbiosis. On the frustratingly rare afternoons when it all comes together, the bulls are strong and noble, the men honest and smooth, the crowd totally engaged. It is the most captivating expression of man's mastery of the elemental power of nature that I have ever witnessed and the most complete art form in the world. That is why I and many thousands of rational, decent people are drawn back time and again.
Those who see bullfighting as cruel are, of course, right. It is cruel that man should breed and kill animals for his enjoyment whether as a dinner or a dance. But to my mind the life of an Iberian fighting bull, a thoroughbred animal which lives to a minimum age of four, roaming wild, feasting on Spain's finest pasture, never even seeing a man on foot, is far superior to that of the many thousands of British bulls whose far shorter lives are spent entirely in factory conditions and killed in grim abattoirs so that we can eat beef burgers.
Our squeamishness means that we prefer death which is mechanical and invisible, while the aficionados along with the Spanish, a people still much closer to the land and much more in tune with nature, and fans in Languedoc and Provence, understand that death is part of a cycle.
The real danger of all the regularly returning agitation about bullfighting is that it could begin to convince those people in France or Spain who are agnostic about the bulls – which may well be the majority, in the same way that most English people don't much care for cricket but aren't remotely opposed to it – that the corrida is doomed to die a slow death, that inevitably it will fade away as Spain or France become more like everywhere else, dominated by gaudy globalism and neutered by the homogenizing forces of technology and accepted taste. It shouldn’t be so.