Promise of death in the afternoon keeps bullfighting alive for fans
Bullfighting is facing a decline in attendance and a ban in Catalonia. But its advocates insist this Spanish tradition can survive its current crisis due, in part, to the unique risks it presents.
The bull struck its horn deep into his thigh. Seconds later, the same horn speared his neck. Before thousands of anxious eyes and terrified faces, Luis de Pauloba was rushed out of the bullring and into the infirmary. From there, an ambulance hurried him more than 150 kilometres from Cuenca to Madrid. Even after Pauloba had received four litres of blood transfusions, the doctors weren’t optimistic.
“They told me that I was going to die because it had almost touched my brain,” Pauloba says. “It was a very unpleasant wound.”
Remarkably, in less than five months, Pauloba was back in the ring.
“I always had the mentality that after that wound I was going to bullfight. Physically, of course, I had to learn how to breathe, learn how to speak, learn how to eat, and the truth is it was very taxing,” he says. “I weighed 54 kilograms and after everything I weighed 48 kilograms. I was a toothpick. But I recovered.”
Once healthy, he continued to bullfight for 17 years. Today, the survivor of that gruesome injury contributes to the survival of bullfighting, which recently became outlawed in the northeast region of Catalonia (the ban taking effect in 2012). Pauloba now works as a coach at Seville’s bullfighting school, preparing the next generation of bullfighters. One of those hopefuls is 17-year-old Paco Lama.
“If I don’t bullfight, it’s like something is missing in my persona,” says Lama. “Something I can’t live without.”
When a student enrols in bullfighting school, he or she not only makes a career choice, but elects a lifestyle as well. The program consists of three-hour practices that meet three times per week. Once Pauloba and the other coaches believe a student is ready, they bring him or her to the countryside to joust with cows. Currently, nine members of the school are fighting cows in the countryside, while five have begun to fight young bulls, known as novillos.
“There are kids that make it and there are others that don’t make it because they can’t do it,” Pauloba says.
Lama can. He has already won two competitions and has aspirations to become a professional by the time he turns 24. It’s a desire that alienates him from his generation, which is mostly apathetic towards bullfighting.
“ think that I am crazy because I don’t live a normal life,” Lama says. “I don’t get drunk on the weekends and I don’t go out. They see a bullfighter — someone dressed as a bullfighter — as someone that is unapproachable, someone that they can’t communicate with.”
Seventy years ago Spain was divided by bullfighting allegiances, but today loyalties lie with soccer teams. Lama insists the glory days of bullfighting will return once again, as soon as his generation understands the ceremony he loves.
With prohibition in Catalonia and decreased attendance and interest throughout Spain, the glory days that Lama envisions seem a fantasy.
But those connected to the bullfighting world in Seville aren’t worried for its future, at least in the south of Spain. Álvaro R. del Moral, bullfighting journalist for the Correo de Andalucía, is one of those believers.
“Only ago right here in Seville, a bullfighter was seconds from bleeding to death. That is the truth, the great authenticity of bullfighting. That is what will allow it to continue to live,” he says. “If it were a ballet or something prepared, trained, it wouldn’t have the same punch it has.”
It’s the authenticity that Pauloba is familiar with, and the punch that he hopes Spain’s younger generation will admire.
“If you came [to practice] to waste time, you’re wasting your life, your youth,” he says. “We came here to be someone important in life.”
And as Lama and the rest of the bullfighting world hopes, someone important in the eyes of Spain.
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Published: Apr 11 2011
Category: Culture, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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Tags: barcelona, bullfight, bullfighter, bullfighting, bullfighting ban, spain, spain news, spanish news, toros