Francisco Rivera Ordóñez, born to fame… and to pain
This is the headline of the article by Antonio Lorca, bullfighting critic, in the culture section of El País, Spain’s left of centre national newspaper. Francisco is, along with his brother the matador Cayetano, heir to the greatest dynasty in the history of bullfighting.
Their father was Francisco Rivera Peréz, ‘Paquirri’, killed by a bull in 1984, a death made all the more famous since it was televised, as were his final moments on the surgeon’s table, telling the panicking medical staff that it didn’t matter, to remain calm. The effect of this death on his youngest son, my friend the matador Cayetano, I quoted in my previous post. I am sure his older brother Francisco felt similarly.
How Cayetano feels today I dare not ask: Francisco, who had also taken his father’s nom de guerre Paquirri, was gored by a bull in Huesca in Aragon in north-eastern Spain, a horn entering his abdominal cavity to a depth of 25cm – or a foot – hitting everything from his spine to his aorta in its visceral trajectory. As an admirer who has always found him charm itself in person, I wish him a swift and complete recovery.
In fact, let me rephrase that, as a human being of good conscience, I wish him a swift and complete recovery. Even were I to think the method of killing cattle used in the bullrings of Spain morally inferior to that in our British or American slaughterhouses I would not wish my fellow man anything else.
Yes, the bullfight – as we wrongly translated the word corrida – is a twenty-minute long staged ‘combat’ from the bull’s perspective (it is a dance from the man’s hence it is reviewed as such in the culture section) and some people might think this is worse than queuing for hours with the stench of death in the abattoir, even despite the average fighting bull dying at 5-years-old after living wild in forests while the average meat cow is reared in a corral or pen and died at 18 months, but that arguable ethical stance wouldn’t make me wish death on the practitioners of the art and craft of toreo. I eat cattle on the whim of their flavour, not from any need. This tells me everything about their actual moral status. N.B. All of the carcases end up in the food chain.
Police asked to act against ‘death threats to Fran Rivera on Twitter
However, in some cases an apparent – and loudly asserted – love of animals is actually a device to justify and conceal a deep hatred of humanity, especially of any variations or differences in it, anything that disagrees with your world view: the mask of overt and virtuous love soon slips to reveal skull of snarling, spitting hate beneath. Such as we see in the headline above. Much the same, I suspect, was true in the case of the unfortunate old lion, who people insist on calling Cecil as though he would have come if called, who was illegally shot in Zimbabwe. (I wrote about it in some detail on my personal blog here.)
Anyway, I thought I would write a few words here before embarking on a trip to Spain tomorrow which will see me relaxing in Ibiza before running bulls in the streets of Tafalla and down the mountain goat-path of Falces (August 17th – 20th), before taking in the Prado in Madrid along with running some bulls in its suburb, San Sebastián de los Reyes, and then heading deep into Old Castile, to Cuéllar, with the oldest bull-runs on Earth in which I will be riding a horse, before finally joining Cayetano in Ronda for his corrida in the Feria Goyesca de Pedro Romero, in the oldest bull ring in the world, in his home town of Ronda, on September 5th.
I will leave you with my translation of an open letter written today by another matador – a French one, although he fights on both sides of the border. (Few people realise how popular the Spanish-style corrida is in southern France, where it is legally allowed if a tradition of it can be proved.)
Castella: “Let’s get out of the closet and fill the bullrings. Take the streets.”
The French figura, ‘star’, given that next Sunday is an important challenge for solidarity in El Puerto de Santa María, claims the freedom to go to bullfights in a letter to the editor.
My name is Sebastian Castella and I am a matador de toros. I know that in these times that is not the best business card, but that is precisely why I turn to you now, tired with how bullfighters have been converted into political currency and how our image is vilified every day in the world of the press and internet.
I am French, living in Spain for almost twenty years. I’ve always admired the Spanish as a people that, historically, have defended and fought for their freedom. And now, honestly, I do not recognize them.
Every day I witness with amazement how fundamental rights are violated that, as a European citizen, apply to me: the right to liberty and security recognized by Article 6 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union; the right to freedom of thought enshrined in Article 10 of the same document; the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the arts under articles 11 and 13 of that letter; or the prohibition of any discrimination recognized by Article 21 of that same document.
And if we speak of Spanish laws, as a French citizen resident in Spain it irritates me see how are they are violated daily, when bullfighting is concerned, Article 14 (“Spaniards are equal before the law”), 18 (“It guarantees the right to honor “), 20 (“Recognized and protected are the rights […] to artistic production and creation “) or 35 (” All Spaniards have the duty to work and the right to work “).
Because, in effect, those of us in the world of bullfighting, as professionals or aficionados, are second class citizens, who are we curtailed our freedom of expression and artistic creation on behalf of an alleged contemporary ‘animalism’ that comprises nothing more than political and ideological persecution. It violates our right to honour every day accusing us of being “murderers” and we are deprived of our right to work, closing the bullrings on the whim of those who, flying the supposed flag of progress, believe in the right to snatch the freedom of a people that need governors who govern by and for everyone, including those who like bullfighting, that are several million throughout all of Spain.
The problem, Sir, is that it is frowned upon to say this. But either the time for shame or is finished or we are finished. And first they will take our freedom, and then afterwards will follow much more. For this reason, with these words I want to appeal not only to fans of bullfighting, or those who have ever stepped into a bullring, but all those who want a free country, truly free: let’s get together, to shake hands; we will raise our voice and say with pride that we exercise our freedom to go to bullfights and not be corralled by the gates of the bullrings; to say that we like the bulls without them calling us murderers. Because today it is the art of bullfighting, but tomorrow will be any other art form that does not appear to them to be virtuous.
Bullfighting is neither of the Left nor of the Right. It is not political. It is of poets, painters and geniuses. Of Lorca and Picasso, two artists little suspected of being fascists or murderers. It is of the people.
Let’s get out of the closet and fill the bullrings. Take the streets. They are as much ours as the prohibitionists. And we are more. And we can scream louder.
I’d say it’s time to be indignant, but I will not use words manipulated in advance. There is no greater truth than that of a man in front of a bull. In our hands is that they do not take it away from us.