The Last Bullfight in Catalonia

Lluís de Nadal Alsina

The bullfighter, who only minutes beforehand faced death with grace and fearlessness, covers his face and begins to cry. He is the triumphant hero of a collective failure.

Kneeling in the middle of the ring, the Catalan matador Serafín Marín crouches to kiss the sand where he has just fought what is to be the last bullfight in the history of his region. The 18,000 people that crowd Barcelona's Plaza de Toros Monumental chant "freedom, freedom" in protest against the bullfighting ban recently passed by the Catalan parliament.

El torero, or the bullfighter, who only minutes beforehand has faced death with grace and fearlessness, covers his face and begins to cry. He is the triumphant hero of a collective failure. Outside the ring, police try to mediate the heated confrontation between animal activists and bullfighting fans. For one side, an atrocity has finally been abolished. For the other, an art form.

Serafín Marín

"Bullfighting is the only art in which everything is true," says Salvador Boix, a musician and the manager of José Tomás, one of the best toreros of all time and a main attraction at the final corrida de toros. "In a world in which truth is denied to us, bullfighting is an act of purification. The matador confronting the bull mirrors our own human condition, our own struggle for survival not only through courage and skills but also through art. A bullfight is like a tragedy."

For Francisco Leal, president of the Party Against Cruelty and Mistreatment to Animals, the only tragedy is that suffered by the bull: "The bulls have a right not to be tortured. If our ancestors fought against slavery or for women's suffrage, then we defend the right to humane treatment for all animals."

Although a respected cause, the ideals of animal protection are perhaps not the principal reason behind the prohibition. The ban has been, above all, a defense of cultural identity. Catalan nationalists view the toreo as a symbol of Spanish culture imposed upon them by Franco's fascist regime. The veto does not extend to correbous, a Catalan tradition similar to San Fermines in which lit flares are attached to the running bulls' horns, causing them strong stress and fear.

"We have been victims of the hypocrisy and cynicism of those who want to wipe anything bothersome off the map," comments Albert Rivera, president of Ciutadans, the Party of the Citizenry, who opposes the ban. Though not an aficionado, in Parliament he has defended the right to freely enjoy a spectacle that "although indefensible from a rational point of view, should be preserved for its aesthetic and ancestral value."

What holds true is that the final sword thrust at the Monumental is the close to a chapter in history that, although precipitated for political reasons, would have arrived sooner or later due to social indifference. In a 2008 poll, only 22.5 percent of Catalans surveyed responded that they were interested in toreo. Though Barcelona had been the only Spanish city with as many as three plazas de toros, it has long ceased to play an important role in Spain's bullfighting scene. In the ‘30s, as many as 50 spectacles were staged in the Catalan capital each year, but by 2011 not even ten corridas took place, and almost always to a half-empty stadium. Soccer, movies, and videogames have become more compelling pastimes for the newer generations.

That is not the case for Alejandro de Benito, however, a 19-year-old apprentice matador who, since childhood, has dreamed of becoming a torero. While his friends were hooked on Play Station, a young de Benito stood in front of the mirror imitating his idols, the mythical matadors Finito de Córdoba and José María Manzanares. In place of a cape he used a towel. And instead of a bull, his German shepherd.

"Nowadays there are many ways to entertain yourself, but nothing is as authentic as toreo. In soccer you can win by deceiving the referee, but in lidia -- the art of bullfighting -- there is just you and the bull." Though his affinity for the art has little to do with the concerns of the majority of boys his age, there is one thing he shares with them all: "All of my bravery vanishes when I talk to a girl."

De Benito has the same calm, clear and humble look in his eyes as Juan Mora, the third matador of the afternoon. In Mora's hotel room, only a half hour before entering the Barcelona bullring for the last time, he is dressed by his son in the suit of lights, the traditional bullfighter's uniform, which has remained essentially the same for the last 200 years. His son, with a side part and loafers reminiscent of Spanish movies from the ‘50s, lights two candles and places them in front of an improvized altar decorated with holy cards. The matador, already donning his manoletinas, shoes named after the most legendary bullfighter of the 20th century, Manolete, slips into his jacket and stares at himself in the mirror.

In this moment a phrase from Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon comes to mind: "Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.” Eighteen thousand people await Juan Mora. They don't expect perfection of him, only that he do the best he can, and that he pursue immortality through beauty and bravery, by coming as close as possible to death.

Dudalegre, the last of six bulls to be slaughtered in the ring that afternoon, is a negro mulatto bull of 1,250 pounds who bears the burden of history. As he falls his death is the end of the fiesta itself. With the stands empty, the lights go out forever at the Monumental.

Lluís de Nadal Alsina is Catalan journalist. He’s worked for four years at Public Catalan Television, and now serves as a reporter at the private TV station, 8TV. He’s also co-founder of the emerging photography blog The Invisible Project.

Anna González-Huix is the photographer for this article, and the other founder of The Invisible Project. She has also contributed to the Wall Street Journal as a European correspondent.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.