Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dance of Death

The Music of the Bulls
Sevilla, Spain

As I take my seat in the arena I notice I am situated directly opposite the bandstand. A chorus of trumpets plays popular tunes and heady Sevillan fanfares.

But this is no concerto, opera or pantomime. It's the music of the bulls. A dance of death.

An excited international crowd is eating snacks, drinking beer and chattering in Spanish, Italian and German. But beneath me, somewhere in the bowels of the arena, I can hear the bulls bellowing. Their hoarse, brutish roar betokens a bloody, inescapable fate, and a lump rises in my throat.

The orchestra's farty noodlings lend an inappropriately comical air to the grisly proceedings which are about to unfold.

As the music builds to a crescendo, I recognize the tune: Another Day in Paradise.

A bejeweled matador parades around the ring then stops directly in front of me. Unspeakably handsome, he seems to belong to a different time. Proudly addressing himself to family members seated behind me, he announces, "I will kill this bull in tribute to the mother I recently lost."

With the heady combination of the music, crowd and vino tinto, it's a surreal, startling moment straight out of Hemingway.

Suddenly a mighty roar goes up as a black mass explodes into the ring.

It's a fearsome, majestic sight, a primal force totally in accord with its nature. In its animal purity the bull is the moral superior of those who would despatch it on this balmy Spanish evening.

I am conflicted about my presence. My vegetarian friends would disown me forthwith if they could see me now. But nothing on earth can alter the fact that six bulls will meet their end in the ring tonight.

The trumpets play a few staccato bursts which signal the entrance of the picadors. They harry and prick the bull to weaken it. Again the flatulent horns before two bandilleros pirourette around the giant beast before spearing him with arrows.

Finally it's man against beast as toro and toreador perform an appalling ballet. The bull is tiring and heaving as dark rivulets of blood course over its huge shoulders and down its flanks. I feel shocked yet transfixed, removed yet somehow culpable.

As the matador makes his final assault - brave, audacious, narcissistic - he grievously mistimes. Not once, not twice, but thrice must he deal the final blow. A chorus of boos and whistles go up from the crowd until finally the animal is slaughtered. The effect is one of undignified bathos.

The bull takes it final bow as its carcass is unceremoniously hauled out of the arena by a team of horses, leaving blood and dust in its wake. Once more the sound of trumpets fills the air as the matador takes his bows and receives the acclaim of the crowd.

The bullring is meticulously raked and manicured. Then the orchestra strikes up a noble fanfare in honor of the next victim.

No comments: