Thursday, August 23, 2007

As The World Churns


The "San Diego Union-Tribune" reported that the Socialist government in Spain has done away with prime-time broadcasts of the bullfight.

We suppose that is a blow in the battle, as Bobby Kennedy put it, “to make gentler the life of the world,” but highwayscribery remains ambiguous about the move.

First, since there is no such thing as socialism in Spain, or anywhere else, left parties cling to these symbolic, cultural gestures in an effort at differentiating themselves from their conservative antagonists.

And that’s fine as far as it goes.

The government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which highwayscribery wholeheartedly supports, has said the impetus is the protection of children from visual violence.

The loathsome right-wing Partido Popular said that parents, not the government, should decide if their kids can handle the ancient dance of death, and we are loathe to agree.

the highway scribe saw his first bullfight at eight years old. The corrida included the artful Damaso Gonzalez, the workman-like Paco Camino, and Paquirri, who would go on to legend and then death in the ring.

At 20 he snuck into the ring at Pamplona after running with the bulls to see the surging “Espartaco” and the fading “Niño de la Capea.”

Eight years later, on a cold October afternoon in Seville, he sampled the great Curro Romero and a guy from Jerez de la Frontera named Rafael de Paula (inspiration for a character of the same name in his novel “Vedette”) and struggled to endure the blood and pain.

Romero triumphed and the people of Seville literally cried for joy in the streets. It was something of a shock and stuck with the scribe.

In ensuing trips to Iberia, and during a four-year residence in Andalusia, the scribe went to at least 30 bullfights, alternately fascinated and repulsed by the color, the grace, the blood and death.

That’s the scribe at far right in the photo with the young bullfighter Antonio Torres and his handlers. the scribe was managing editor of a newspaper in Seville that year (1996) called “La Otra Orilla,” which had taken the young man from its home barrio of Triana and given him as much ink as the tabloid would hold.

In “Vedette,” the scribe went with his better angels and made the young flamenca a rabid anti-bullfight activist in the true anarcho-syndicalist tradition. In one sequence, during the short-lived revolution in Cueva del Rio, Vedette reluctantly signs a manifesto against a bullfight, given by her lover Paula, to benefit the revolution of which she is the primary symbol:

“Republicans of Cueva del Rio:

“We the undersigned members of the Iberian Syndical Federation wish to register our disapproval of the corrida de toros to be held day 173, in the name of forging a grand coalition against the sun. We find it undeniable that this event represents a rollback of gains established by the revolution. The animals of this district benefit from a tolerance by humans they receive nowhere else in the world. And that is what we mean by revolutionary.

We know what it means to need land, so we know something of the things they feel. If we could listen to them they might tell us that to call the corralling of an outnumbered animal - for the purpose of slow death by torture - a fiesta, is an insult to life. We are moved in our actions by love and see no reason to stop when the being drops to four feet when walking. The presence of the decadent artist, Espla de Paula, serves to render the spectacle more pathetic still, for we have never represented what the aging torero represents. We urge you to boycott the ritual of agony and join us in protest against the eternal, petrified values of slaughter and sacrifice.”


The second paragraph is drawn mostly from an anarchist poster the scribe read while drinking a manzanilla, Vedette’s favorite sherry, at one of the countless ferias or fairs that spangle summertime Andalusia. These folkloric affairs enjoy a high rate of attendance and are structured around enclosed casetas or tents typically harboring a bar serving booze and food, seats and tables, and a bandstand from which flamenco is played for enthusiastic dancers of the sevillanas form.

Typically, well-heeled families post casetas, but in years after the dictator Francisco Franco died, left-wing parties and unions opened their own so that those lacking contacts in the bourgeois and aristocracy could dance and drink, too.

It was in the caseta of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (CNT), in the coastal town of Fuengirola, that the scribe saw the poster and wrote down its contents on a napkin. And which is how you live in another culture and graft its truths and essences onto your novel.

So why the ambiguity?

The “Union-Trib” article notes that, “While bullfighters may have been national icons decades ago, young Spaniards now tend to idolize stars like singer Beyoncé Knowles or soccer great David Beckham.”

That should be ‘nuff said.

That Spain slowly says goodbye to the bullfight with the passing of generations is probably good karma for the country and its people. That a spectacle dating back to the rituals of Mithras during the Roman colonization of Iberia be replaced with the middle-brow warbling of Ms. Knowles, is another story.

There is something ancient about the bullfight. Its rules cannot be primed to meet the modern impatience. You can attend corridas for years and see naught but gore.

One rainy day in Seville, after what had been a disastrous feria for bullfight aficionados, an ebullient brown bull named “Garabato” rushed from the chiquero and slid to a stop in the slop, drawing a raucous olé. A bullfighter named “Chamaco” kicked off his shoes for surer footing to yet another olé.

The orchestra (the only sport that boasts one) sensed the magic and cranked out a spine-tingling pasodoble. And for 20 minutes 12,000 people were held spellbound in a ballet whose beauty not even the bull could deny.

Or maybe he could, which is why the socialists there are doing what they’re doing, and are mostly right.

What’s sad is making the whole world bounce to Beyoncé while simultaneously passing on the pasodoble. The leveling of all things everywhere to the same monotone gray.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,
i just read o reread a few days ago, with some surprise, that Garcia Lorca was "executed" in 1939, just at the beginning of the Spanish war, together with two "banderilleros" from the CNT!!! - the real, historical one -.
So, that might be another input to your discussion between bullfighting and anarchism :)

Best wishes, j

the highway scribe said...

Thanks j. Good stuff.

pobre banderilloros anarchistas.