“Spanish Bombs, yo te querio infinto, yo to querio, oh mi Corazon
Spanish songs in Andalucia, Mandolina, oh mi Corazon
Spanish songs in Granada, oh mi Corazon."
Remember hearing that Clash song, what imagery, what romance, it inspired me to get to Spain. Joe may have flown in “on DC 10 tonight”, 40 years past. It was Joe’s words that inspired a Spanish trip, it look years longer than expected, but once touched down, Andalucía stole my heart. It still casts that magical spell, that sense of ‘other’ place, delightful mysteries, captivating histories, and hidden delights, special sights, magical spaces. I’ve returned tons of times since that first excursion.
2022 and it’s an early flight - Toon to Malaga, Airbus Air 280, Vacc passports, new rigmarole, process and delays, my first flight post Covid restrictions. Apprehension, taxi whisked me to my local airport, heart slightly faster beating, mouth slightly dry, yeah first holiday nerves, it’s been almost THREE COVID scared years since I’d last taken off and touched down abroad.
Malaga airport, train station, AVE to Cordoba, underrated jewel of Andalucia’s great Cities. Hotel check-in, stroll out, 28c sun and shadows, bar, coffee, and relax, ah the old routine, and I’m back in stride, back to those Southern nights and delights. Best of them, the Mesquita, cathedral, to mosque, to cathedral, the real draw, and what a draw too, no photo can capture it’s scope or grandeur, it’s magic, it survived the reconquista, when Christian indignation led to destruction, reconstruction, and planned insulting re-use, in a some cases as a bullring. BUT none of that here.
Mesquita “No photos can capture its scope or grandeur”, I reflected on that as I took, and then deleted 50 photos. The downside of digital I realised, was the devaluing of memories and meaning. I’m gonna take one image a day I think. One good one.
A Bullfighting Bar in Cordoba
Cordoba was absolutely packed, frantic, excited and frenetic. Palm Sunday is the start of Semana Santa, Holy Week in UK, mostly ignored, until Good Friday, but in Spain it’s street processions, it’s meetups, it’s family time, it’s solemn, it’s booze, food and street parties. Extravagant, then sombre, it’s exuberant, it is a breathtaking spectacle, it’s claustrophobic, streets are full, the bars are rammed, food bookings only. As a singleton, no chance of a table, or even a space at a bar. Semana Santa is probably thee national festival here, especially in the South, a whole week. Think Hogmanay in Scotland, Thanksgiving in the USA, Christmas in England, Independence day in any ex-colony and then double it. It starts on Palm Sunday, EVERYTHING is packed out, not even a manger would have had space.
Wandering in hope more than expectation, I came across this place, empty, except for one old sad man, sat in the window, red wine in hand. Let me be clear, I am not a fan of the bullfight, it’s rarely even much of a fight, BUT it’s popular in some of Spain including here in the South. I’d seen these bars occasionally before, but not really paid attention. But this hot day, the space, and the calm, and a spare seat drew me in. There were the photos, the sherry barrels, the bullring posters. TV was off, there was no fight. ( at least 10 years ago the Spanish Govt took bullfight coverage of National TV), it’s now on subscription channel, how Spain has changed.
Sipping my chilled Manzanilla, never natural, I wondered how many of us, or friends, openly, or secretly hankered after those Hemingway Images, evoked in “Death in the Afternoon”. Hemingway’s musings must have inspired thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, to try Pamplona’s Bull run, held a thousand kilometres to the North. Of course he may well have bar stool sat, Navarra wine sipping, pondering the bullfight. In the Mid ‘30s there was none of today’s outrage and protests, and I’ve been in towns with the Corredia taking place, and seen avid, committed Spanish youth leafleting, with varying degrees of success.
I haven’t done a Spanish Package Holiday in 40 years, then a bullfight was a “Spanish experience” on offer, and no I didn’t go, and no I never bought a bullfight poster or card, though have seen them in people’s home, a memory of Spain that they may actually have never had, just seen the poster and seen their “heart of Spain”. But here, sat in a shaded bar, I did wonder, again, how those people who did, and many still do, adulate, and emulate Hemingway, and they do go to the Bullfight to see “ A death in the afternoon”. How do they equate their own feelings, with the ritualistic brutality, how do they balance their liberal hearts, and follow Ernest, as liberal hero into this violent, and murderous world, of the bull murderer.
Sat there, bar stool perched, wine sipping, surroundings seedy, slightly desperate, I had the feeling places like this are a dying breed. A good thing probably, No certainly, there’s no glory or romance in ritualistic slaughter, no matter what a great novelist, war correspondent thinks or writes. But the images will live on, in novels’ pages, on holiday cards, in faded wall posters, as images of a slightly exotic, more brutal nation, that promotes animal cruelty. Mind you, I pondered, as the last chilled drops of manzanilla’s silver nectar kissed my tongue, it was NOT that long ago the UK hunted Foxes, and only a couple of centuries earlier that Bear baiting died in England.
Glancing at the photos on the wall, I realised, with something of a shock, that whilst the bull ALWAYS dies it does take occasional matadors (Bull murderers) with them to their own grave, and there’s regular goring’s in the ring. Not a defence, not a justification, more sense of occasional raw justice gained by a bull. Again I have no sympathy for the Matador, they know, see, and experience the risks. Do they get what they deserve? Well that depends, yes there’s mortal injuries, but alongside this, must be considerable financial rewards, otherwise why take the risks, it can’t just be macho bravado.
However you cut it, Bullfighting is a reality in Spain and enjoyed in Andalucía, the Plaza del Torres remain open, and Bull fighters continue to take up the role. In Marbella and similar resorts the Bullfights are major events for the Spanish and numerous tourists. Plenty of other tourist destinations have animal welfare issues too. Snakes with mouths stitched up, bears caged and ill treated, tortured to dance for us. Again, not a justification for Bullfighting, a context of sorts.
If you see these bars, usually easy to spot, wall photos, Spanish colours, current posters for the local fights and memorabilia wall mounted, they may be an attractive island of calm, they may the only place a singleton can get served on a murderously busy festival day, but if you’re tempted, make sure the corrida is not on, judging by the table and barrels in the place it’ll be rammed, remember what it is, and why it’s there. Of course I could lie here and say that I’d raised the issue of bullfighting at the bar. But apart from my Spanish being utterly inadequate for such a task, not too sure that approach would work. Strange Spanish reality here, Bullfighting is not a “sport” in Spain, the reviews appear in the “arts” pages. I’d read that in a guide book and was amazed to find it’s true.
More generally, should this be a reason to deny yourself a trip to Southern Spain, I’m making no comment, for me I am prepared to travel there, just as Tourists visit Turkey with animal welfare issues, Gulf Nations with Human Rights abuses, the USA with it’s widespread use of the Death sentence, and increasingly poisonous anti-abortion stances. Sat in the bar, I started to reflect that many parts of the world present problems for us tourists, morally and politically. I put on my cloak of moral relativity. Is there an easy solution, a simple justification? We each make those decisions ourselves, and like Hemingway’s followers, we have to face our own hypocrisies.
The experience was one that made me look at the images on sale, the plastic bulls, the horns made into art, and of course the post cards of posters, sent to friends, framed on walls, and then to think of the popular presentations of Spain, Flamenco, and sherry. Incidentally huge black bulls regularly appearing on the roadside, are often as not, any sort of celebration of bullfighting, more likely old adverts for one of Andalucía’s really special sensations, Sherry.
Next time the “Silver Nectar of Sherry” and Southern Spain.
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