Tuesday, May 4, 2010


When we think of Spain, we often think of bullfighting, and many of us think of bullfighting with mixed reactions--part of Hemingway's grand romance with Spain, or a barbaric custom that celebrates cruel treatment of animals.

A travel friend of mine is so sensitive to such issues that she fled the Science Center in Kuwait City at the first glimpse of a lynx, or some great cat, in a small enclosure. The same friend kept us out of Romania for years because of net-legends about the legions of starving stray dogs. And we did see quite a few in Brasov, from which we fled to a somewhat grim, Stalinist hotel in Moldova...

Mark, our ethics teacher here at CC, said that there's a theory that high levels of animal cruelty will correlate with similar levels of human cruelty in a culture, and he suggested I test that out in Spain, because of the bullfighting. (Though I'm not so sure how to measure that--rude waiters? a certain jagged spike on the MMPI? a National Cruelty Index?)

Arthur C. Clarke certainly condemned the whole notion of bullfighting. In his early novel, Childhood's End, the alien Overlords, without hesitation, formed a sensory link between the bulls and the people in the crowd, and the sport ended immediately. But then, that book didn't turn out so well for anyone on earth.

Hemingway, our old pal, savored the sport. His perhaps last long work, The Dangerous Summer, follows rival matadors through the 1959-60 season. (A still dangerous enterprise: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/04/26/spanish.bullfighter.gored.mexico/index.html?iref=allsearch ). And his early novel, The Sun Also Rises, takes us not only fishing in rural Spain, but also to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, at the festival of San Fermin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Running_of_the_Bulls ...Wikipedia is our friend :) ), though Christina, one of my Travel Writing students, reportedly says that "Hemingway makes me ill." Alas.

An Evening student, Thad, has a more direct experience. He tells of growing up in a military family, here and there, including Portugal for a while in high school. There, he reports, a very traditional and strict society keeps the boys and girls apart, and the boys are eager to show off to catch the eye of any lucky girl, so running the bulls is as popular as drag-racing in 50s films. Thad tried once, stumbled, and while not trampled exactly, recalls vividly laying on the ground while hooves and enormous bull testicles passed overhead. He smiles telling this story, but seems just a touch traumatized, even now.

I don't think I need to experience bulls quite as up-close as Thad did, or at best, I might try to catch the annual June "Testicle Festival" that takes place somewhere in the Missouri Ozarks. On our trip, we aren't scheduled for any bull-related activities that I know of, but certainly this is a key/curious piece of Spanish culture. We'll let you know.


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