Bullfighting – A Bullring Tragedy

Ventas, Madrid – 25th August 2015

Before the 25th August last year I had been a fence-sitter when it came to bullfighting. I attempted to legitimise it as a cultural practice and therefore an indelible aspect of Spain’s living cultural heritage. Now, to me, it seems ludicrous to claim this cruelty as central to Spain’s identity, in order to legitimise its continued practice.

I had not seen anything die before, aside from the occasional snail, and nothing as gory as this. Despite the distress and ensuing vegetarianism I am glad that I went and challenged – and ultimately changed – my beliefs.

In just 45 minutes I witnessed the slaughter of two bulls. I had to leave very shortly after the second as I had begun to sob loudly and had no tissues to stem the tide of snot and tears flowing down my face. I probably looked a bit of a site and could imagine people watching me thinking, “well why the fuck is she here? She must have known it would be like this!” The truth is I had no idea I would find it so repulsive and unsettling. I had naively imagined that it would be a clean and respectful practice. Now a thought that seems utterly ridiculous.

My first bull was jet black all over. He was subjected to the veronicas and picadors, by which time his jet black coat was red with blood. Then the Banderilleros entered the ring to perform a crude game of pin the tail on the donkey. They plunged their banderillas into the back of the bull, who was now bleeding profusely. Eventually the Matador re-entered the ring for the faena, a series of veronicas accompanied by the estoque, culminating in the death of the bull. The estoque slid through his hide between his shoulder blades, severing the aorta. He began to sway on his feet, encouraged to the floor by the Banderilleros and Novilleros. 

The second bull was brown. He bled far more than the first and it was after this that I had to leave. The bull would probably have been around three years old – the age fought by novilleros (beginners). His death was not clean and skilful. The novillero pierced him high on the neck, blood gushed from his mouth and nose. Swinging his head wildly the bull sprayed the sand around him and anyone who came within range. It was brutal. He slumped to the floor, drowning in his own blood, his killers just watching. When his life finally left him, four horses entered the arena and he was tethered to them and dragged away unceremoniously by his horns.

These were not evenly weighted fights. There was no way that either Jet or Brown would have survived. Bullfights are rigged from the start, like WWE wrestling, but with very real pain and blood. It seemed a fitting comeuppance for me that the Rabo de Toro of the previous night had made me ill that day.

 

 

Travelling Through Time With Music

 

 I am zooming through the English countryside on board a train, squatting on the floor as there are no seats and quietly humming along to my music. ‘What Can I do’, from The Corrs’ 1998 album ‘Talk on Corners’ pops up on my ‘ancient’ first generation iPod Shuffle. Miraculously it still works, no matter what I do to it.

I am shunted back through time. Thirteen year-old me is perched on the bottom shelf of my childhood bedroom, back in Wales. My face is wedged between the CD player and tape recorder on the top shelf. I am making a ‘love tape’ – my toes curl slightly at the thought. I was planning to secretly slip it to the boy I was ‘in love’ with at the time, his name escapes me now. But I know that I felt I would never not be in love with him, my love was alarmingly eternal. It is a late summers evening, sunlight is bouncing off the whitewashed walls of the driveway and slipping in through the slatted blinds on my window. I sing some sections of the lyrics into the tape recorder whilst dancing around my room, enjoying the heady sensation of teenage lust. 

I don’t think the recording worked – what a bloody relief! Well, at least there is no hard evidence, only the immersive memory triggered by the song. But despite the blush provoking circumstances, the feelings garnered are those of happiness and hope. When I was in my early teens I don’t think anything mattered to me as much as love – or my fantasy of it – and summer sunshine. The Corrs lifted my spirits at breakneck speed and it took all my self-control not to sing along and dance through the train carriage. The joy was almost uncontrollable, I was travelling through time through music. 

 

Their video is SO emblematic of 90s music videos. But, to be honest I probably imagined myself singing in a bathtub on a hillside.

Don’t Just Sit and Listen.

I had a phone conversation with my dad last Sunday, I was feeling very low, small and useless. Distressed by my lack of ability to change things and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of our shifting political landscape here in the UK. We spoke about music and how it made both of us feel, immersing ourselves in it as a distraction but also drawing on it as a source empowerment. His advice was to listen to my emotional response to music and immerse myself in it. Use it as a cushion against the decisions made by the political elite in this country, but also as a tool for expression.

We are almost constantly listening to music, it surrounds us, just take a minute can you hear any music right now? What is it? How does it make you feel?

 

Stop, listen, feel. 

 

It could become ubiquitous, but it hasn’t (well not all of it). We just need to be reminded of the deep emotional and physical reactions music can provoke. How it can be an uplifting or crushing force.

Myself I can find music incredibly freeing and distracting as I tend not to think too much (well too deeply) whilst listening. I like to be moved by music, whether emotionally or physically. What prompted our discussion was a gig at the Barbican, Martinho de Vila, and the proof that samba is good for the soul, well my soul at least.

 

“Do whatever you want, but move in your seat”

 

The Barbican could have been an ill fit for samba. Music that makes you want to move and groove. But it turned out to be incredibly liberating. It started slowly and tentatively, like good sex, with Martinho teasing the audience with naked vocals gradually building the texture as slowly ‘the kitchen’ joined him on stage. Rapidly my gentle swaying became more erratic and enthusiastic taking over my entire body in my seat. Restricted, seated, but dancing. As Martinho belted out the old favourites his audience became more enthusiastic, couples leaving their seats to dance together, others swinging their limbs wildly. We erupted out of our seats.

It was my first experience of Martinho’s music and honestly I don’t want to stop listening. I might have to have him as a constant soundtrack to stop myself slipping into deeper blue water than I already have over the state of Britain and the decision to leave the EU. Samba can save me! Samba can save us all.

I would place a hefty bet that I was one of a smattering of non-Portuguese speakers. So I was almost completely lost during the in-between song chatter, relying entirely on my Brazilian friend Carla. But my lacking language skills did not prove a barrier to enjoyment and understanding of Martinho’s music. Music is a language unto itself. Carla reminded me that we listen to music with our whole bodies, not just our ears.

 

Listen with your body, not just your ears.

 

Music taps into your emotional intelligence, through the intonation and tonal quality of vocals, the timbre of instruments or the underlying beat and even in its silences. At risk of sounding a little bonkers, in this way music is truly tactile.

At the end of the set Carla revealed she knew one of the producers of the gig and we could go back stage and meet Martinho and ‘the kitchen’, if I wanted to. Of course I did. This was a first for me at a venue like the Barbican, I had a little explore of the area, which seemed like it hadn’t really left the early noughties. Meeting Martinho was like meeting a family member, one that strikingly reminds you of a small, reliable, well-loved teddy that’s slowly loosing fluff around the edges with a raspy but soft voice.  And his daughter, the pianist, had the most fantastic raspberry-red tights on and the biggest smile I think I have ever seen. I felt welcomed even though I had no idea who anyone was, but I guess the free beers helped.

My one recommendation to you. If you are feeling a bit down in the mouth pop on some Martinho de Vila and you will be grooving and beaming in no time!

 

Website is a little dated but the music is brill! – http://www.martinhodavila.com.br/

Check it out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1RQWPJxWXE&list=PLm9qhWgG3f9J4tSpVCV41r3hu96EUXD0e

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