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Journal 22 - A weekend at the fair

May 1 , 2006

Every spring Andalucía begins to celebrate the year’s fairs.  Sevilla holds one of the most famous and earliest, and from there each town takes their turn celebrating their week-long fair.  The roots of the fairs celebrate the year’s livestock, and today the tradition of bullfighting and the display of fine horses are still an important part.

On Saturday, I went with a local friend to Puerto de Santa María for the afternoon to see what a feria, the Andaluz fair, is like.  The fairgrounds are typically a little outside of town, and we took a short bus ride leaving behind the quiet town and arriving at the event that brought thousands from the Puerto and beyond.

They was energy and color everywhere, from the big fair doorway that stands at the fair entrance, to the elaborate flamenco dresses that they women wore, to the decorations on the horses and carriages.  You might say there is are traditional and modern halves to the fairground.  The traditional side is lined with tents that serve the local tapas and wine while people try to dance the sevillanos to the live music.  Apparently the sevillanos are somewhat complicated, but the inexperienced and experienced alike join in the dance, which looks something like a mix between flamenco and a line dance (at least to someone who really doesn’t understand the dance world).  The “modern” half of the fair includes all the rides, games, and snacks like cotton candy and donuts.  In either half, every corner is filled is people, music, and the air of the feria.

The bullfight of the week was on Sunday afternoon.  I had bought my ticket in advance, but the turnout was small and made the 12,000 seat stadium look pretty empty.  Apparently the Puerto’s Plaza de Toros is the second largest in Spain.  The summer bullfighting season begins in June or July, and more turn out for those weekly events.  For the fair, the bullfights of the day would be a little different than the typical style where the bullfighter stands in the center with his red cape.  Instead, Sunday’s event was on horseback, so the bullfighters would need to be masters of two animals at the same time.  

The match begins as the bullfighter rides his horse out to the center and they release the crazed bull who races around the ring.  The bullfighter wears him down by running back and forth and soon begins to stab these decorated batons into its back.  It doesn’t take long for it to become a bloody event, but the idea is for the bullfighter to kill the bull with ease and style.  He tries to finish the bull off by using a sword into his back at the end of the match.  If the bull still doesn’t fall, the bullfighter dismounts his horse, gets the bull to stand still and bow his head, the bullfighter sticks the bull in the back of the head and the bull collapses.  According to the applause of the audience and the judgment of the balcony of directors, they may award an ear, two ears, or at best, two ears and a tail for the bullfighter’s performance.  

Outside the stadium is some graffiti that reads “¡Toreros Asesinos!” and “¡que vivan los toros en el campo!”: “Bullfighters are assassins!” and “Let the bulls live out in the field!”, respectively.  I might have to agree.  I understand that bullfighting has been outlawed in Barcelona’s province, but in most of Spain the tradition is still alive and well.  It’s certainly an icon for Spain, and that doesn’t seem like something that they would give up easily.