La corrida de toros – a cruel beauty!
August 6, 2010

Chris and I spent much of our final evening in Cordoba perched on bar stools in the Café Gaudi. This traditional tapas bar owes much to the artistic style of the renowned Catalonian architect after whom it had been named.

We were the only tourists, surrounded by locals following their typical Sunday evening routine. As we sipped on our Cruzcampo beers, accumulating an impressive pile of empty tapas dishes, it was interesting to observe that in this particular corner of southern Spain smoking is still allowed and la corrida de toros (bullfighting) remains ever popular!

Duels in the sun were being fought out on a large TV screen in the corner of the bar, casually followed by customers, in much the same way as Match of the Day might be in England.

Just before leaving the UK I had read that the regional parliament of Catalonia had become the first on the Spanish mainland to ban this controversial traditional art.  

For many of course it is purely and simply a blood sport and animal rights activists have secured a long-awaited victory. They are now, apparently, setting their sights on the regional parliament of Madrid.

They will be armed with the evidence of recent polls which suggest nearly 70% of Spaniards have little or no interest in bullfighting as a spectacle while 35% are in support of a ban.

Catalonia has a long tradition of staging contests between el matador and el toro, particularly in Barcelona, but it is a region which considers itself quite separate from the rest of the country. Cynics are therefore suggesting that by providing such a high-profile public stance, against what is considered a Spanish national symbol, this decision smacks of political opportunism!       

Through his 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway famously did much to popularise the cruel beauty of bullfighting outside of Spain. During the grey years of Franco’s dictatorship it provided a certain touch of Hollywood glamour which endured into the 1960s and the early years of the international tourist boom.  

There is no doubting the spectacle; the artistry, skill and bravery of the matador dressed in his traje de luces (suit of lights) playing the raging bull with his muleta (cape). There is also no denying the resultant gore, be it of man or beast.

More often than not it is the estoque (sword) of the matador  that deals the estocado (death-blow) but there are huge risks and very fine, potentially fatal, margins of error when a half tonne bull lowers hits horns and charges by within inches of the torero (matador).  

Top toreros in Spain are feted alongside their national football and pop idols. Jose Tomas has demanded fees of up to 400,000 Euros for providing an afternoon of thrilling spectacle for bullfighting aficionados.

He is, however, currently recovering from a savage goring received in Mexico earlier this year. You may recall the TV images of the bull tossing him aside like a rag doll and his bloodied body being carried from the ring!

Apparently the history of bullfighting stretches back nearly 1300 years. It is undoubtedly a cultural tradition that forms part of the Spanish national identity. If its public appeal is on the wane, as polls suggest, it will die a slow death of its own.

In the meant time I suggest that the regional governments allow la corrida de toros to run its natural course and ignore the calls for a ban in much the same way as they appear to have dealt with European smoking laws!

Buenos Dias de Cordoba!
August 1, 2010

Buenos Dias de Cordoba, Espana!

It’s been a hectic few days.

Wednesday: I visited my Dad in Nottinghamshire. Following lunch in our favourite local, the Horse and Groom at Linby, I spent the evening at the City Ground watching Forest take on top French side, Olympique Lyonnais, in a pre-season friendly. Not surprisingly they lost 3-1, however there was no shame given that Lyon were Champions’ League semi finalists last year & beat Real Madrid in the quarters!

When Gemma lived in Lyon, for a year during her university course, I had the opportunity to visit La  Stade Gerland and have subsequently always followed OL’s results. This has coincided with a phenomenal run of three consecutive French Championship titles and the last two seasons as runners-up!

Two of their goals last night were scored by Bafetimbi Gomis (right), a 13 million pound striker who has earned the nicname Baby Drogba. He certainly looks a hot prospect to me and I think we’ll hear more of him in the future!

They also fielded Hugo Lloris (goalkeeper), Jeremy Toulalan (midfield/defence), Jimmy Briand (winger) – all French internationals -and Michel Bastos who appeared five times for Brazil at this summer’s World Cup!       

Thursday: Having stayed overnight in Papplewick I made my annual pilgrimage to the Trent Bridge cricket ground (just across the road from the City Ground!), spending the day in the upper tier of the splendid Radcliffe Road Stand, watching the opening day of the 1st England v Pakistan Test Match.

Having chosen to bat England wobbled against the Pakistan seam attack, losing four wickets for 118 if memory serves! However a splendid maiden Test century from Eoin Morgan (which has probably earned him a place in this winter’s Ashes squad), ably supported by Paul Collingwood, saw England reach 331-4 by the close.

Subsequent text messages, received here in Spain, suggest that Pakistan were on the way to being bowled out cheaply in reply & I guess it could all be over by the time I return to the UK on Monday.

Friday: Chris & I were up at 4.00 am and away to Birmingham Airport for a 6.30 am flight to Malaga from where we took the high-speed AVE train to Cordoba (50 minutes).

We are staying at the Hotel Cordoba Center which I have previously used on a school European project visit. It’s ideally situated, 5 minutes walk from the station and it takes 15-20 minutes down into the old town.

Yesterday we visited the splendid Mezquita, a 16th century christian cathedral built in the heart of an 8th century mosque – an amazing combination of architectural styles and juxtaposition of religions.There are more than 850 columns of granite, jasper and marble supporting the roof which create a stunning visual effect.     

Today it was the palace of the Christian Kings (Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos) built in the 14th century and where Ferdinand and Isabel stayed during their campaign to conquer the moors and take Granada. There are also Roman mosaics, excavated nearby,and  lovely gardens with fountains and ponds.

In between the sight-seeing Chris has been enjoying a few rays on the roof top sun terrace. It’s at least 40 degrees C at the moment. We’ve also enjoyed some excellent tapas, a few local Cruzcampo beers and the odd bottle of local wine.

My 30 minutes are up now so posting ready or not – adios, hasta luego!