Hero or Victim?
When a young Australian couple arrived at the hotel the other day, we suggested they might like to take a dip in Cartajima´s swimming pool as it was a warm day. She, Ash, said she would but he, Josh, demurred. “Just had stitches out and I can´t,” he said. Being of an inquisitive nature, I ventured to ask if I could inquire what had happened. And it was then that we learned that he had fallen foul of a bull on the streets of Pamplona. Was he a hero or a victim?
Scooped up by four men grabbing a leg or an arm each, he was carried quickly to one of the conveniently parked ambulances where he was rushed to a hospital only too accustomed to such injuries. He confessed that his greatest fear was what sort of treatment he would get which is interesting. It is an opinion we frequently hear from guests – they don´t realise that Spain is a modern country with a fantastic, best in Europe health service. Whilst I feel a bit insulted sometimes for criticism of my host country, I also like the fact that Spain is still seen by the rest of the world as being a bit on the edge, rather exotic and strange!
Josh had emergency surgery and was kept in for four days. He said the treatment, the food, the care was second to none, better even than Australia. The news of his goring went around the world, the Australian press picking it up first and sending a reporter. Here´s their report. With gory photos!
So after it went public, Josh came in for a lot of stick online. He was not seeking publicity. He was languishing in hospital. But people still felt entitled to criticise him for taking part in a Spanish cultural festival of which they knew nothing except that it involved live animals.
Mediterranean countries´association with bulls goes way back to ancient Crete and the Minotaur and even back to the painted walls of Lascaux. It would be satisfying to draw a clear line from then to now in Spain but that isn´t possible. Although online sources claim to trace bullfighting back to 711 AD, my trusted source is The White Wall of Spain by Allen Josephs, a scholarly well-researched and very dense little book about Andalucian culture. The Romans had bullfighting in their Spanish cities such as Merida but it was a simple man vs bull to the death fight. According to Josephs, bullfighting didn´t begin in Spain until the 17th and 18th century and when it did it encapsulated a lot more about the Spanish culture and epitomised the belief that “death gives life meaning”.
“Death has meaning. In fact, death is what gives life meaning. That’s the story of the corrida: death gives life meaning. But there’s something beyond that. There’s something that has to do with the sacrifice itself. With the dispensing of the death. With being the high priest. You know the matadors are really the only high priests from the Pagan days that we have left.”
The Future of Bullfighting
Before Spain joined the EU and was helped to become the modern country it is today, it was a poor peasant society where any animal was expected to do its work. There were no pets. Donkeys carried things, dogs hunted and kept thieves away, cats caught vermin.
With affluence has come the notion of having a dog or cat as a household pet and it is this transition, I believe (and it´s just my theory so don´t rely on it!) that has brought about a feeling of revulsion for the cruelty in the plaza de toros. But it is big money and there are powerful forces at work to keep it going so it´s not going away any time soon.
There are areas of Spain where it is banned such as Galicia.