I always end up spending more time than I should in the women’s bathroom in Facultad B. I try to make it quick between my classes, but each time I enter a stall there’s always something new and entertaining written on the walls. There’s boy talk, political messages, inspiring quotations, and even little notes politely asking people to wash their hands after using the toilet … because said hand washing is a highly underused hygienic practice in our building.

But yesterday I went into the stall that houses my favorite proverb:


It means “veganism is justice.” And yes, I did take a photo of it. Hours later, I went to a bullfight.

Although I do enjoy a hamburger once in a while, a corrida de toros is something I probably won’t watch again.

We entered the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas just as the corrida (which means “running” not “fight”) began. It was almost filled to its capacity of 25,000. Ticket prices vary depending on where you sit and who’s in the ring. The most expensive, on the first level in the sombra, or shade, are about 125 euros. We got the cheapest tickets for 4,50 euros in the sol, or sun.

La Plaza de Toros
La Plaza de Toros

A nice old man with squinty eyes tried to sell us cushions for our culos.

“You’ll be sitting on stone,” he said. “You’re going to want something for your culo.”

Later we wished we’d invested the 1,50 euros. We had the ultimate nosebleed seats: the highest level with seats on stone ledges so steep you feel like any sudden movements will tip you off balance and send you plummeting into the ring below. And we were in the sol. Sweaty, sticky, smelly … body odor and beer … men in straw hats, women fluttering fans.

The man sitting next to me commented on how hot it was. We bonded over how embarrassingly sweaty were, and became friends. He was kind enough to explain to us what was going on in the corrida below.

Inside the arena. In Spanish, arena means sand.

Inside the arena. Note the sol and the sombra.

Six men make up the cuadrilla, or entourage: two picadores, or lancers, on horseback, three banderilleros or flagmen, and a mozzo de espada, or sword page. Then there are four auxiliary matadores with pink capes, and the main matador with a red cape. The corrida passes in three stages, each announced by a trumpet.

The tercio de varas, or lancing third, the bull is jabbed in the back with a puyazo. It taunts and agitates the bull before it enters the ring. Then the picadores come out on their horses and stab the bull with a lance. This is to weaken the neck muscles and lower the bull’s head, making its charges less dangerous. Right. The horses wear armor so they aren’t disemboweled by the bull’s horns. We could hear the clashing of horn-on-metal even from our seats. Poor horse. Thepicadores also wear armor on their legs. Then the auxiliares taunt the bull with their pink capes.

Bull charging at an auxiliary matador.
Bull charging at an auxiliary matador.

During the tercio de bandarillas, each of the three bandilleros thrust a pair of barbed darts into back part of the bull. They try to get the darts, decorated with colored paper, as close to the wound from the lance. They run at the bull and fly through the air with their bandarillas. They stab the bull with one smooth motion, and then run for their lives to the edge of the ring as the bull charges after them.

The horses.
A picador on horseback stabs the bull, accompanied by the auxiliares with pink capes. The sometimes auxiliares run behind the fence at the top of the photo if the bulls are charging at them. 

The final stage is the trercio de muerte, or the third of death. The main matadorenters the ring in his traje de luces, or suit of lights, and is alone with the bull. This is said to be the most beautiful, and the most perilous stage. The matador jeers the bull by screaming and whipping his red cape, a sword hidden underneath. He dangerously dances with the snorting bull for a few moments, and then stabs it through the shoulder blades, piercing the heart.

The trumpet sounds, the plaza erupts in applause, thematador takes a bow, and the bull is dragged in a triumphant circle around the arena by three horses. After that, they clean up the trail of blood in the sand.

Dragging the bull.

Then it happens five more times.

We didn’t stay for the entirecorrida. It wasn’t necessary to see six bulls tormented, murdered and bloodily dragged around an arena by men with swords.

And most times the death of the bull isn’t quick. A skilled matador should be able to stab the bull directly through the back and into the heart. Yesterday the guy was not that skilled. The bull had to be jabbed many times with smaller knives to kill it once it was down. Watching a 1,300-pound animal traditionally symbolic of strength and valor drop to all fours after such agony is arduous.

It’s something I don’t completely understand, but can appreciate. Kind of. The man next to me kept saying how elegant the matadorwas, how valiant the bull. In their trajes de luces, thematadores really are graceful – and seemingly fearless. As the bull hurtles horns-first at them, all they do is shift their arm, swooping their cape behind their back. The legs remain planted, the head up, the chest out. They scream “Ha” or “Hey” at the bull, challenging it to attack. After dodging a particularly life-threatening charge, the matador arches his back, puffs out his chest and sharply whips his chin up in supremacy.

It’s a refined series of movements, strategically choreographed to shift at the last second to sidestep a charging beast.

Graceful? It can be. But when the three old men behind you are chanting, ¡Vale, vale, vale, mátalo! ”Okay, all right, kill it!” It looses some of its elegance.

That’s one dance I could never do.

But for the cultural experience I’m glad I went. And I learned that the red color of the capes don’t actually attract the bull. Bulls are colorblind. The red is to mask all the blood. Pleasant, right?