SEEING RED

BY ASHLEY RUIZ

From the outside, onlookers see a grand arena, beautifully crafted in a perfect ring lined from top to bottom with four rows of arches. Plaza de Toros is a sight to see, especially at night when warm lights make the windowed arches glow. Inside, the sight was not so beautiful.

When I decided to go watch the bullfight tonight, I was hesitant. We don’t have bullfights in California, we have baseball games. Three strikes you’re out, not seven stabs you’re dead.

The glow of the stadium lights against the ornate stairwells and arches made the arena look inviting. But as I climbed the steps to my seat, I was appalled at the scene before me. I knew there would be fighting, but I could never conjure the sight I saw, even in the darkest part of my imagination.

I watched six bulls—one by one, match after match—charge into an open ring, the main attraction of a horrendous sport in which the odds were against them and the crowd cheered for their death. Six bulls charged in; six bulls dragged out, their bodies leaving a deep path in the sand their hooves once tread.

I kept reflecting on a piece of graffiti I saw while walking along a dim street in Valencia. A blue cartoon bull, balancing on two legs and perched against a stick with the words toro tortura scribbled in a cartoon font next to it. Bull torture.

Five men stood in the ring. Two on horses, three on foot. All dressed elaborately in bright red, purple and yellow suits. Their tight, cropped pants cut off just past their knees meeting the tall socks that tucked into Michael Jackson-esque black shoes.

The fight is considered an art by some, a dance between the bull and the human, who move fluidly with—and against—each other. The match consists of three rounds. Round one begins with the picadores, men who ride on horseback and jab spears into the bull. One bull charged a large brown horse. Blindfolded, the horse did not understand as horns rammed its middle, lifting its front hooves off the ground. That’s when the men jab their spears, or picas, between the bull’s shoulder blades. Interestingly, the size and shape of the pica is regulated by Spanish law to prevent serious injury to the bull before subsequent rounds.

One larger bull completely knocked his horse over, hooves in the air as its body hit the ground. Who knows what happened to the picador on top. I could only focus on the helpless horse who lay tipped on its side as six assistants rushed the arena and struggled to pull the horse upright so the picador could hoist himself up yet again.

A handful of older men in front of us cheered and celebrated the fight with loaves of bread, sliced cheese, ham, wine and cigars. One of them said the horse had trouble getting up because of the heavy armor that it wore to protect it from just such a thing.

I caught a glimpse of the bull’s hide glistening under the stadium’s fluorescent lights, but my stomach twisted as I realized it was his blood reflecting the light, the bright red coloring almost indistinguishable against the bull’s dark brown hair—until a drop splattered onto the dirt.

“No gracias,” I mutter as politely as possible to the men in front of me. I would not like some cheese. I can barely keep my dinner down.

The other three men reentered the ring, chasing the bull in attempt to stab their two barbed sticks, or banderillas, between the bull’s muscular blades to further weaken the bull before the last round. They dangled their pink and yellow capes at the bull like candy, teasing him. When the bull charged them, they ran behind the red wall hiding pockets in the arena’s perimeter. But the bull had nowhere to hide.

Now that six banderillas hung from the bull’s upper back, their tops covered in blood, the matador reentered the ring. Decked in the same gaudy outfit as the others, his status was distinguished by the gold embellishments on his suit and his small red cape.

It is a common misconception that the cape is red to further anger the bulls. Bulls are colorblind. Red is  a tradition and a tool to mask the bull’s blood.

The small red cape dangled at the face of the bull who ran in circles to chase it like a dog chases his tail. The matador dramatically lifted his estoque, or sword, and a hush fell over the rowdy crowd. The bull’s stomach throbbed in and out with ragged breaths.

As everyone looked on in anticipation, or in my case disgust, the matador thrust his sword between the bull’s shoulder blades.

At this point, one bull’s legs gave out slightly, and the bull seemed to bow down to the matador before collapsing to the ground. Toro tortura. Bull. Torture.

One matador was injured during the show. When he fell to the ground, five fighters ran to his rescue. When the bull fell, he was stabbed again. The crowd cheered and waved white paper towels in the air. The band played loudly and happily, and I wished I could undo what I’d just seen—the blood and celebration of a prolonged, sadistic death. I will never again contribute to such inhumanity.

 

 

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