Blood In The Sand

** Warning:  For the uninitiated, this might be too much to bear.  My muse barely made it to the end and refused to listen to it more than once.**

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(read by Angus Wardle)

Usually on a Sunday is when we’d trail in and traverse the crowds at Ventas. There were long lines and brick passage ways and wooden doors and we’d weave and walk our way through all of them to get to our cold, hard, gray stone seats. You had to love blood to be there and both Alec and I did.

We’d wait for the weight card, the trumpets, the opening doors and the large, angry and bewildered black bulls. They were dead, all of them, even the ones in waiting, they just didn’t know it yet but we did. That’s why we were there. I believe it’s called bloodlust. Some call it boxing. We called it bullfighting.

My first, I attended with a pale, blond friend from Oregon. She was my roommate upon arrival in Madrid. She nearly puked after the first bull coughed blood and hung on its tongue. She was visibly shaken and disturbed. She sat silent and speechless except to respond to my repeated inquiries of “Are you ok? Would you like to leave?” She lasted two of three fights before she relented. “Yes, can we go” she said more than she asked.

At dinner afterward, across the street, she couldn’t eat meat. She could barely talk but she was curious to know how I knew which matador would get skewered when they entered the ring and paraded around before the fights. It was then, before we’d seen any of the bulls that I leaned over to her and said “The tall thin one, he’s going to get gored.” He was. She wanted to know how I knew, so I told her…over her cold sliced, uneaten meat. “He looks like I do, afraid but too proud to show anything other than arrogance.” I was right but not really; I certainly wasn’t the first to say “Pride goeth before a fall” just the only one to say it in English that day because in Spain they speak Spanish or they don’t speak at all. They’re as proud of their language as they are their traditions and bullfighting goes way back. If you’ve been in Plaza Mayor and seen the king on his horse you’ve also been inside a bull ring before.

I know why I went the first time. I didn’t know why I went back. I was two parts disturbed and three parts fascinated. People who hadn’t been but had heard about bullfights wanted to know what they were like. “Brutal, bloody and amazing,” I’d always say. There are at least two strikes and there is a lot of blood. After each fight, after each dead bull’s dark carcass was hitched to horses and run out the ring, their blood was raked into the sand. It was as if to hide the evidence, or mirage the memory, or silence the sting of what had just been seen. Why ever it was done, it was done quickly and quietly without announcement or acknowledgement. The man with a rake and a cap worked dutifully and silently. That’s probably why I paid attention to it. I pay attention to most things kept hidden from me. I can’t help it. I’m curious and untrusting…so were the bulls. They raged at red capes.

My British friend and I made a tradition out of this gruesome and colorful spectacle. We’d go often, arrive early, and applaud. I’d smoke Cuban cigars. He’d drink Tanqueray gin and tonics on ice in big, clear plastic cups. We began to be able to see the fights the way some of the elderly and more experienced spectators did, with skepticism and criticism for any matador who couldn’t do his job gracefully, quickly and cleanly, as if slaughtering an animal is ever graceful (it is). In theory, death is clean and easy with a sword through the heart. Rarely is that a reality. Often times the “estocado” or death thrust was repeated unsuccessfully, unartfully and unmercifully. Instead of a sword, death was a dagger to the back of the bull’s neck once its front legs had buckled and it had succumb.

Shortly before our last fight together near the end of the season, four young women joined us. Alec and Emma sat to my right while the other three ladies sat to my left. The fight began and ended as they often do. The bull gasped and wheezed and aspirated its blood. When it dropped, still watching, I asked our friend to the left of me what she thought. She did not respond. As I turned toward her, I discovered I was talking to the back of a brown head of hair. The woman next to me and her friend on the far side were consoling the girl between the two of them. The girl was in tears, tearing through tissue. The two women thanked us and made a hasty exit escorting their friend to freedom. They said they would not return; their friend was too shaken up. “Emma, would you like to leave too?” we asked, half expecting her to join her traumatized and consoling friends. “No,” she shot back unflinchingly staring straight ahead, her eyes intensely soaking up the blood that sunk in the sand, “I have a bit of the bloodlust…” she half-smiled. Breaking her concentration on the arena momentarily, she turned her attention toward us and continued:  “I like to watch life die.” From where I sat, so did Alec and I.

 

*For a closer look and a tour of a bullring along with enlightening commentary, I invite you to visit Behind The Scenes*

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4 thoughts on “Blood In The Sand

  1. A powerful post in a number of ways. And thought provoking as well.
    When I was a teen and taking driving lesson classes, we were all required to view a film put out by the motor vehicle department titled “Death on the Highway,” with hopes of frightening new drivers to drive responsibly. It was a compilation of accidents showing twisted metal and mangled bodies all the result of highway accidents. I as most in the class only caught glimpses of the carnage as we quickly diverted our eyes. That was then when most still retained some sensitivity to death in its many forms. Because we were seldom exposed to it in our daily existence; either in newspapers or TV.

    Today, however, when there is so little censorship is every form of media we have become desensitized through constant exposure to the worst of our natures. And sadly that fact has appealed so much to our baser instincts that too few of us are disturbed enough to turn away. Bullfighting in Spain is somewhat understandable if one understands the culture. Yet the culture in the U.S. regards human life as Spain regards the lives of bulls. I dare say, those student drivers today, unlike those of my era, would not look away from the film.
    -Alan

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  2. Alan, that is certainly one perspective, that we are sadly desensitized to death or that we enjoy gore and brutality. However, it is not uncommon for people to stare at Holocaust photos and I think they do it for an entirely different reason. There seems to be a natural fear/curiosity about mortality. What I was writing about was that. I was trying to be as honest as I could about something so disturbing and oddly, beautiful, at the same time. When my mother died, I did not see darkness or evil. I saw breathtaking, peaceful and natural beauty (I wrote about that experience in My Mother is Dying, My Mother’s Gift To Me and The Miracle of Death) . These experiences continually challenge me to look at myself, my views, my sensibilities and their origins. Often times, I see light and not darkness in death. However, I don’t think I’d see the same beauty in a bullfight if it were to happen here in the States that I do in Spain. Why? I’m left to imagine and examine. 😉

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  3. I am oddly reminded of how when there is an accident on the freeway all drivers seem to suffer from “rubber-necker” syndrome. Must have had to push to write this, but it’s beautifully done. I can well picture the reactions and the gore and the strange feeling of being drawn by it . . .

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    • Rach, thank you for sharing that observation. While I hoped to draw the reader into the experience, I did not intend to captivate them by it; however, I’m certainly pleased to hear I did. Indirectly, asking my readers to find in themselves a similarity or a way to relate or identify is often at the back of my mind. Often times, I feel like I rarely succeed. It’s affirming to know in this instance I succeeded even without intending to. I admire your courage and your honesty.

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