What do you see out of your window today?


It was April, 1971, and I was in Madrid, Spain, with a group of teachers visiting on Spring Break. As an English teacher and admirer of Ernest Hemingway, the macho writer, with his descriptions of death in the afternoon at the bullfights, I was eager to partake of one of his favorite activities — as a spectator, not a participant. We had arrived on Saturday after a long flight from JFK in New York. Late afternoon found us getting acquainted with our fellow travelers. This conviviality occurred in the hotel barroom where I first tasted the local wine, Sangria, and consumed copious amounts of the same — much to my future regret. I also signed up for the bull fight which takes place on Sunday. This fight was the first of the season which might help to explain what was to happen. However, I felt excited and happy to finally be able to see what moved my favorite writer so much. The Sangria did not taste as well the next morning but after coffee and some toast, I was able to board the bus for the trip to the arena in the heart of Madrid. Made of stone some three hundred years ago, it looked massive. The courtyard leading to the entrance was wide and long and dotted here and there by people selling souvenirs and poor people pandering the tourists. Music could be heard from the arena and an air of excitement floated through the crowd. We entered the arena through a well-worn doorway and a flight of stairs that took us up to our seats. The seats were made of stone. The regular patrons knew this and carried cushions to help them through the next few hours. I did not have one but we had a great view of the arena. The seats were directly across from where the bulls would enter the dirt-floored ring. There were magnificent horses with gaily-clad riders moving about. People were getting their seats in anticipation of an afternoon of great pageantry. Finally there was a parade consisting of the matadors with their brilliant costumes followed by their retinue and the riders on the brightly festooned horses. The excitement grew as the participants took their places on the sides of the arena. The trumpet blew. From across the way the tunnel door opened and from the darkness came this fabulous creature, muscles rippling and charging across the ring at anything that moved. I learned later that this is the first time the bulls have seen a man not on a horse. From behind the barerro came the matador (which means killer in Spanish) and he approached the center of the ring. He carried a big red cape and moved like a ballet dancer, smooth and almost arrogant. Using the cape, he taunted the bull into charging at him, and then walking away uncaring as the bull brushed his body. At last, I was beginning to see why Hemingway was so enthralled. Here was a man facing potential death alone with that magnificent beast and showing no fear at all. After making a few more passes with his cape he walked nonchalantly away to the side. Then came the picadors. These were men on horseback with big long pointed spears with serrated edges. Their horses were covered in thick padded blankets and blindfolded. Sometimes the bull, in his anger would charge them and throw horse and rider high in the air. The picadors’ job was to cut the bull’s shoulder muscles so that his head would remain down when the matador came to do the final kill. I was beginning to question my hero’s affinity for this ‘sport’, but I figured when in Rome… The picadors keep cutting the bull but to do so , they must get in close so the bull has a chance to take out his anger on the horse. These were not the magnificent animals of the parade but most likely they were old and expendable. After the picadors come the banderillas whose purpose is to dash in front of the bull and stick brightly colored darts into the bull’s shoulders tiring the bull further and bringing his head down. Believe me, there was no way that I would ever get in that ring, but I was starting to feel a bit queasy. The last act is the matador coming into the ring with a sword and a muleta ( a small red cloth draped over a stick). He has the bull make his charges and uses the muleta to control the charge. Finally comes the moment of truth when the matador faces the bull as he charges and reaching over the bull’s horns, he sends the sword home and the bull dies. At least, that is the way it is supposed to work. In this case, the bull stopped and shaking his head sent the sword flying. Not good. The matador has to kill the bull, so the drama starts over and he lunges again, and again the bull throws the sword out. This happened once more. Finally, the matador and the banderillas gather round the bull, and the matador has to cut the bull’s throat with a dagger. At last the bull falls and death has taken place that afternoon. But not magnificently as Hemingway described it. More than the bull died that afternoon. Anyway that was more than enough for me, so I went back to the bar and tried a different drink. RJG

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  Madrid, Spain
Apr 17 1971


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