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Running of the Bulls: Study abroad edition

As an American, I didn’t see the glory and honor in slowly torturing six bulls to death. The Spanish culture glorifies it. It’s everywhere.

It was some sort of Spanish bucket list I had in my head that talked me into going. Seeing a bullfight was right up there with flamenco dancing and eating tapas. It was clearly my first week.

Besides fear, there was no reason not to go. The ticket was free. My roommate and I, anxious and apprehensive, decided to ask Eva, our host mom to give us a briefing of the whole ordeal. We were told to stay, to prevent being disrespectful, and enjoy to the best of our ability, focusing on the art and skill.

As far as we were concerned, a torero enters the ring, trots around and teases the bull, and then stabs it, blood squirting every which way like a victim in a Quentin Tarantino film.

In reality: less blood, more action. In fact, it was a grand production. The crowd was elegantly dressed and the orchestra played dramatically. I had the mindset that I was watching an artistic spectacle, not a bloodbath.

Each round consisted of three parts, beginning with a trumpet sound. Each round the bull got more and more aggravated. Each round more girls from my study abroad program left the ring in tears.

After the first trumpet, the first bull was released simultaneously with a group of men, one on a large, blindfolded, armored horse. The bull, angered and confused, lapped around the ring, chasing the men. When he got close to pinning one up to the wall, they would hurdle clean over it. The bull ended up slamming into the wall, the horns colliding with barriers made a booming echo throughout the ring. Ultimately, the man on the horse speared the bull, grinding up his neck muscles.

Trumpets.

The second obstacle the bull had to endure was three men in the ring with a barbed stick in each hand, eager to imbed them into the bull’s shoulders. A river of blood was beginning to cake on to the dark pelt of the bull from his first stab wound. His head would snap back and forth, scheming about which intruder he would lunge at.

Trumpets.

The bull was weakening, but was too prideful to show it yet. The blood loss was making him sluggish but, in spurts, he would viciously charge at the colorful capes that were teasing him. He would grunt and his frustration was visible in dirt clouds behind him, from how often he was kicking up his hind legs. My heart pounded with frustration, how did an arena of cheering people encourage an animal to be tormented to this extent? They were truly cheering for this defenseless creature to be drained of its blood and slaughtered.

I couldn’t figure out why the torero got all the credit, it seemed like all he did was enter the ring with a red cape and a sword and make the final stab. The men yelling “olé!” in the crowd guided my eyes to each movement of the cape. He was prompting the bull to follow him. It was about more than killing the bull; it was about the skillful series of passes before the final stab.

The bull was audibly enraged and vulnerable, his blood visible on his own coat as well as the torero’s. The torero made about five passes before plunging the spear between the shoulder blades, right to the heart.

The stadium erupted in applause, but I just sat there. I still couldn’t see the accomplishment. I saw the bull slow its pace, and when it could no longer stand, lower its front two knees to the floor. The bull was quickly overwhelmed and surrendered, collapsing on his side.

I cringed watching the final routine. A man slipped into the ring with the shortest sword I’ve ever seen and made a swift, final stab, establishing the bull was no longer suffering. The deceased mound was then tied to a handful of mules and dragged around the entire ring, cueing another burst of applause, and apparently this was to honor his body.

All I could think about was Aslan, shaved and tied, lying dead on the Stone Table. And then I watched it five more times.

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