It is the last week of April in Madrid. The day has been cool and rainy, but now a bright sun gives warmth to the evening. I take the metro from the Príncipe Pío station, switch trains at Opera, and take the red line to Ventas. As I leave the metro station and come to the street, the front tower of the stadium looms ahead, with banners flying.
The Plaza de Toros has its gates open, and hundreds of people are entering the stadium. The ticket offices are designated SOMBRA and SOL for whether the reserved seats are in the shadow or the sun, but equal numbers of people are lining up in front of each of the ticket windows. Because it has been such a chilly day, I want to sit in the sun.
Cigarette smoke is drifting around the stadium. The seats in the stands are long, wet benches of stone. Vendors are selling portable cushions for people who want to sit in more comfort. Many rows are empty, but the front-row barreras are well-filled by men smoking cigars. Many people are standing in the highest rows of the balcony at the top of the stadium.
The bull charges into the center of the arena, and the sun gleams on its horns. The bull is black and brutal, proud and threatening, majestic and malevolent. The beast is an incarnation of raw strength; as it charges across the ring, it seems to represent an unconquerable brutality.
Accelerating with terrifying power, as it races toward the pink cape waved by the matador, the bull misses its target, and is not able to stop before it crashes into the wooden barrier that encloses the arena. The crowd is stirred by the powerful impact of the bullís head against the wall.
The bull is overmatched, and is tiring slowly. A picador moves toward the bull, and draws its attention. The picador is carrying a long lance, and is mounted on a horse which is blindfolded and wearing protective padding. As the bull charges and lowers its head, the picador drives the lance into the back of the bullís neck, sending blood spurting into the air. The bull charges again, and the picador again stabs the back of the bull. Blood streams down the flanks of the bull, as the wounded animal uses its horns to try to knock the picadorís horse to the ground.
After the picador has left the ring, the bull continues to look for a new opponent, as three banderilleros take their turns at running away from the enraged beast. Each of the banderilleros skillfully dodges away from the bull, as they successively stab darts into its back, and then evade its attempt at retaliation.
A new matador comes forward, waving a red cape, and evading the bull as it charges across the ring. The matador is dressed in a splendid uniform, with gold trim on the front of his vest and on the sides of his pants, blue tights on his lower legs, and low-cut black shoes. The matador holds his red cape in his right hand, and takes out his sword. He tucks his sword under the top of the red cape, and moves the cape closer and closer to the bullís head, as he beckons the bleeding animal to come forward. The bull stands near the edge of the ring, steam blowing from its nostrils, and its belly heaving, as its breathing becomes more labored.
As the beast becomes more reluctant to respond, the matador takes the red cape in his left hand, and holds the sword in his right hand. He lifts his sword high, aiming its tip down at the upper back of the bull. At the same time, he moves the cape lower and lower, so that the bull lowers its head as it aims its horns at the cape.
The matador suddenly plunges the sword into the back of the bullís neck, but the bull jerks its neck and flings the weapon up into the first row of the stadium where people are seated. No one is hurt. The matador walks over to the barrier, and is given another sword by an assistant. He calmly returns to the bleeding animal.
Two other matadors circle around the bull, waving their capes to distract it, but the bull is too tired to charge forward, and lowers its horns toward the cape that the main matador is lowering to the ground. Again, the matador tries to stab his sword into the back of the bull, but the animal again jerks back its neck, preventing a clean kill.
The bull becomes more exhausted and weakened by its bleeding wounds, and the crowd starts to stir impatiently. The matadors try to finish the bull, but the animal is becoming a pitiful victim as it suffers its last agony, and the crowd whistles loudly.
Finally, the matador makes a clean stroke with his sword, and the drama is over. The bull falls on the ground, and the matador makes sure that it is dead. The banderilleros remove their darts from its back, and two horses wearing harnesses and pulling long ropes are brought to drag the dead body out of the ring.
A few minutes later, another contest begins. The next bull that enters the ring is slightly smaller and faster. The ritual is promptly renewed. The bull kicks its front legs, and charges through the cape waved by the matador, and the crowd starts to yell approvingly as the matador evades the bull four or five times before the bull stops to rest. The contest continues, but this time the bull is a less resistant target, and the finish is cleaner and less prolonged.
After a brief interval, the third fight begins. The bull that appears in the stadium is a thrilling and menacingly powerful beast. The bull is wearing a green ribbon tied to its back. The proud beast runs swiftly around the ring, looking for an adversary.
The picador comes forward, and the bull responds by trying to flatten and destroy him. The bull crashes its head into the padding on the side of the picadorís horse, and then shifts its weight onto its front legs, and pushes with its back legs, waving its tail.
After the bull has been stabbed by the picadorís lance, and then by two or three firmly-placed banderillas, the matador appears, waving the red cape. The bull turns toward the matador, but does not run forward. The matador has to bring the cape very close to the bull before it will respond, and after the bull has charged two or three times, the bull waves its head and catches the matador between its horns. The matador is thrown upward on the head of the bull, but is able to leap away, and lands unhurt. The crowd cheers loudly, and the matador resumes the contest.
There is no doubt now, for the crowd, that the matador, by his courage, deserves to kill this bull. The crowd urges him on, as he makes a gliding stroke with his sword, and buries it to the hilt into the back of the bull. Blood starts gushing from the bullís mouth, and the defeated animal lifts its head. Then it stands motionless, as if it has somehow recognized the inevitability of death. Another fountain of blood spurts from its mouth, and then the bull falls over dead.
I feel troubled by the cruelty that has been inflicted upon this magnificent animal. It seems as if human cruelty has matched the brutality of the bull's attack against the picador who was relentlessly harassing it. As I leave the stadium, I wonder whether the matador, by his bravery and skill, or the bull, by its courage against inevitable defeat, was the true winner of the contest.