A tradition which will be lost soon. A Ballet in which live triumphant over death. Many see it as a brutal choreography coming from an archaic and ancient time when the life of an animal was worth nothing. Now in this time we don’t like to see an animal suffer anymore although we know that animals suffer in the billions in slaughterhouses around the world. Who ever saw an animal- transport in front of one of these industrial killing places and looked into the eyes of the poor creatures, has seen what brutality actually means.
Although I have seen many bullfights I have never seen the same horror, the same fear or the same humiliation in the eyes of these bulls. The only thing I saw was something like pride, rage, elegance and of course in the end death.
When I wrote this story a long time ago and I read it in public many people showed me their dislike. I suppose I will see the same dislike on this platform now but it is a story which has to be told.
At first you stand there alone on the Barrera. Watching.
The Torill (the gate of fear) opens, he hurls himself in.
You see each other for the first time.
The others distract him so that you can study him.
You note his movements, you mark which horn he leads with.
The master horn.
You consider his speed, his intelligence and pay attention to his mood.
You take your Capa and go in there, seeking out a good spot.
The rest of them leave.
You are alone with him.
He is big, if he raises his head, he can look straight into your eyes.
He is so heavy that you can feel the ground vibrate when he thunders towards you.
Nevertheless, he is light-footed, as light-footed as death. He moves like a cat but the damage he does is deadly.
You take up your position, erect, perfect, you want to please your public.
You flick your Capa, he thunders up. His breathing rhythmic with his galloping hooves.
He gives a surprised snort when he meets the Capa, pushes it aside and finds nothing
behind it . . .
His anger grows.
Once again, you pass the Capa over him, close to your body. You feel his warmth, you smell his body and feel his tremendous strength.
Again and again you let him pass. Let him circle round you, ever closer to your body, then abruptly you snatch the Capa away, he stands there, rooted to the spot, you turn your back on him and look at the crowd.
They hold their breath.
You relish the moment.
It is quiet.
Nothing to be heard.
Only his breathing behind you and yours.
You make this moment last.
You see women, handkerchiefs pressed to their mouths. Round-eyed.
At the last moment, you turn to him and tempt him once more with your Capa to show a Veronica or a Laterna.
The applause, the Olés, make your skin quiver.
Your heartbeat which was racing before slows down and you feel drained.
You leave the arena and leave him to the Picadors, the first Act.
The Picador takes him on, he places the pica exactly in the morillo, holds it.
His life is at stake and so is the horse’s.
He leans his whole weight against the lance, makes it bear it.
For the first time in this battle, he has something solid to drive his horns into.
His manic aggression is intensified.
In spite of the lance which causes him pain, he butts at the padding on the horse.
Now he is using his full power, the Picador falls, the horse topples over onto its side.
He tries to get his horn under the padding.
He lifts the protective covering with his horn and thrusts.
Your Banderilleros guide him away from the fallen horse and the Picador. He concentrates once more on the Capa and charges again.
The crowd boos.
The Picador has worked well.
Afterwards, he will bow his head but he has forfeited nothing in courage and battle honour, the pic was well placed. The Picador is booed out of the ring.
For the first time, someone stands before him without a Capa.
The second Act has begun.
He sees the body, there is no cloth to annoy him but a living being. Flesh and blood.
The Banderillero distract him with shouts, they advance on him.
He breaks into a trot and then a gallop, fast, faster.
The Banderillero runs towards him, as light-footed as he is, in a wide arc.
They will come together at one particular point in the ring, the crowd holds its breath.
He is certain of his victim, puts his head down, ready to gore his opponent’s body.
Both banderillos hit him, the body springs to the right, out of his field of vision.
Once more, he attacks. Again, the banderillos hit him.
They are well-placed. They stay in, quivering in his withers.
You place the last two yourself.
You choose your position, a good position.
You see every movement. You miss nothing.
He trots around, looking about him, there . . . now he has you in his sight, he stares at you, studies you, appraises you.
Then he comes slowly towards you, then faster. You do not move.
You stand with your banderillos up, graceful, you wait to receive him.
He increases his speed.
You stand there . . . you do not move a millimetre.
At the last moment, you direct him to the left with a slight sway of your hips, jump high with both feet in the air, your torso bending lightly to the right, you thrust the banderillos into his neck as he skids past.
He has learned. Barely twenty minutes have gone by. He understands, slow but sure the knowledge sinks into his consciousness, it is not the cloth he should be fighting. The solid matter behind it is what he needs to attack.
You stride up to the royal box, pull the Montera and ask to be allowed to kill him.
You throw the Montera behind you and dedicate the bull to the crowd.
From now on, you are alone. Only Him and You. Eye to eye. Equally armed.
The Muleta is light compared to the heavy Capa. It lets you make quick turns, cut a fine figure.
You engage him for the first time.
His target seems bigger with the knowledge that it is lurking behind this small cloth.
His attacks will have a more exact target.
You sense that he has changed his direction of attack, fairly close but to the right of your body when you take him on to the left.
As soon as you have twirled yourself into and out of the Muleta, to bring the Farol to a quick and easy end, you hold the cloth behind you and offer him your body.
Slowly, as he once more thunders towards you, you adjust the Muleta so that it is right behind you. Again, he will take it on and go past you very close, leaving his sweat behind on your Traje de Luz. You turn around, you do not release him from your embrace, you turn with him and see the wounds on his back, his mountainous muscles, his sinews, his taut, supple strength, elementary power, nothing distracts you, you are as one with him. You can feel him, you are absorbed in him, think with his thoughts, you see the sand spraying up from his hooves, your feet dainty against his hooves, laced up in fine shoes, skipping and defining your movement. An invisible power compels you – you can see it with his eyes, to accomplish the movement, not to escape from it, to continue to circle around this point, the central point, the only point in this universe. You see with his eyes the broad meadows where he lived, you feel what his life has been like, completely free, without boundaries, free and proud. You feel his nights under the star-studded sky, the intense satisfaction after a good day, the feeling of strength after winning a battle with another bull, the satisfaction rising.
Waking up in the morning, the fragrance of the meadows in the early morning sun, the first drink of clear water at the well, comfort, indolent strength, rested, no plans for the future, timeless.
Your change in direction, your training taking over, brings you back to the Plaza. You have seen with his eyes, felt with his feelings, you are his equal. Resolute in that moment of truth. You have taken up the sword, examined it briefly, kissed the hilt, you hide it behind the Muleta and go to the place of death.
With a swivel of your hips you call him.
You have worn each other out. You are breathing heavily, he is panting. Facing one another, you make eye contact. The last round.
He thunders up.
You attract him with the Muleta, which he no longer accepts. His horn seeks out your body.
You have the sword in your right hand and take him on with the Muleta in your left, hold it low; he drops his head, your body stands between his horns as you position yourself, upright, and lunge forward.
The steel penetrates deep in his flesh, sharp, ravages his body, slashes his aorta and meets the heart.
You let the hilt slide out of your hand and lead him to the left to pass you for the last time still with his head down.
He stands there unsteadily, his legs quiver slightly, his look disbelieving, the front legs fold, slowly as if he is going to lie down, coughing up blood, vomiting, he collapses onto his side.
You have warded off death and are worthy of the Traje de Luz – you bow to the crowd.
It was your first bull today and he was courageous and brave.
Porthleven 04. 04. 2000