Further Reading: “The Blind Faith of the One-Eyed Matador”

Further Reading is a new blog feature in which we take a deeper look at topics from stories featured on Longform. It is produced along with Pitt Writers.

Last week, Longform picked a piece from GQ’s Karen Russell on the comeback of Juan Jose Padilla, a Spanish matador left partially blind after being gored through the face by a bull’s horn. Russell explores the cultural tradition of bullfighting and the dangerous glory it promises its toreadors. Some readers, however, found more compassion for bull than fighter:

Here’s some further reading on matadors and the ethical arguments around bullfighting, plus a pair of dispatches from the most famous writer to explore the sport: 

Juan Jose Padilla the day he left the hospital after being gored.

The Last Matador
Alexander Fiske-Harrison • GQ UK • Sep 13, 2012

A mentee of Juan Jose Padilla before the goring that would take his eye, Fiske-Harrison offers an intimate post-injury interview with the bullfighter, along with an exploration of the changing business and ethos of bullfighting in modern Spain.

As Spain’s financial woes keep unemployment up - despite a recent £80m bailout plan - politicians are looking to bullfighting’s working-class heritage to instil in voters a sense of nationalistic pride, hard-fought nowadays in a country split by its economic debt. It seems to be working. Earlier this year, the people of Guijo de Galisteo, a small town in western Spain, voted to turn their back on austerity and use the £12,000 cash pot collected by the town hall to hire bulls for their summer festivities later this year, rather than to pay local people to carry out odd jobs about the municipality.

Is This the Beginning of the End for Bullfighting?
Alasdair Fotheringham • The Independent  • Sep 26, 2011

As Karen Russell mentions, bullfights were not shown on Spanish television between 2006 and 2012 and were banned completely from Catalonia at the beginning of this year. Following the region’s last bullfight, a look at changing attitudes towards the cultural tradition:

Recent polls show that more than 60 per cent of Spaniards now express a dislike for bullfighting, although only half of those are in favour of outright prohibition. There has also been a drastic drop in the number of bullfights, figures reported by the El Pais newspaper show. Even in the bullfighting heartland of Andalusia, the number of fights fell by 50 per cent between 2007 and 2010.

Only the Bull Is Safe
Bill Barich • Sports Illustrated • May 2000

In California, Portuguese-Americans are keeping the tradition of bullfighting alive—without killing any animals.

Pinto brought out the cape known as a muleta for the fight’s last act. It was made of red serge and was smaller than his first cape. He teased the bull into a series of charges, stamping his foot and crying, “Eh, toro, toro!” but the bull was growing tired, and Pinto finally walked away, his back to the horns in defiance. Some cows with clanging bells trotted into the ring to lead the bull back to the pen, accompanied by two cowherds. That’s how a fight ends in Portugal. The bull dies at a slaughterhouse, not by a matador’s sword in front of the crowd. In the San Joaquin, the bull isn’t killed.

La Matadora Revisa Su Maquillaje (The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup)
Susan Orlean  • Outside • Dec 1996

On Christina Sanchez, the professional female matador who caused a sensation in Spain.

Before she started training to be a matador, she had worked in a beauty parlor and then as a typist at a fire-extinguisher factory, and both jobs drove her crazy. She is a very girly girl—she wears makeup, she wants children, she has boyfriends—but she says she could only imagine doing jobs which would keep her on her feet, and coincidentally those were jobs that were mostly filled by men. If she hadn’t become a matador, she thinks she would have become a trainer at a gym, or a police officer, or perhaps a firefighter, which used to be her father’s backup job when he was a bullfighter, in the years before he started advising her and became a full-time part of her six-person crew. She didn’t become a woman matador to be shocking or make a feminist point, although along the way she has been shunned by some of her male colleagues and there are still a few who refuse to appear in a corrida with her. Once, in protest, she went to Toledo and instead of having a corrida in which three matadors each killed two bulls, she took on all six bulls herself, one by one. She said she wants to be known as a great matador and not an oddity or anecdote in the history of bullfighting.

The Justin Bieber of Bullfighting
Lawrence Lowe • Details • Dec 2010

Michelito Lagrevere is a 12-year-old Mexican matador renowned for his bull-killing abilities and cool attitude in the ring.

Though he stands just four feet ten—short, even for a kid who is about to turn 13—Michelito has become internationally renowned for his exploits in the ring. By his own estimate, he has already put the sword to 300 bulls. Ask him if he remembers his first kill and he says, “It was October 27, 2005, in my mother’s home state of Tabasco. I was 6 years old.” Four years later he tried to set a Guinness World Record for novice bullfighters (novilleros) by slaying six bulls in a single appearance—and succeeded, but Guinness refused to recognize it. (“We do not accept records based on the killing or harming of animals,” its website explained.) This past June, Michelito became the youngest matador ever to perform in the world’s largest bullfighting arena; he was such a hit that he was invited back in August. That time, Michelito got knocked to the ground by a big black bull by the name of Manguero—coming dangerously close to catching its horn; but he managed to pick himself up, then to thrust his sword between the bull’s shoulder blades.

Bullfighting Is Not a Sport, It Is a Tragedy
Earnest Hemingway  • The Toronto Star Weekly • Oct 1923

What would a look at Spanish bullfighting be without a nod to Hemingway? Here’s his account of seeing his first bullfight, in Pamplona.

I had noticed Villalta. He was straight as a lance and walked like a young wolf. He was talking and smiling at a friend who leaned over the barrera. Upon his tanned cheekbone was a big patch of gauze held on with adhesive tape.

“He got gored last week at Málaga,” said the American.

The American, whom later we were to learn to know and love as the Gin Bottle King, because of a great feat of arms performed at an early hour of the morning with a container of Mr. Gordon’s celebrated product as his sole weapon in one of the four most dangerous situations I have ever seen, said: “The show’s going to begin.”

Tancredo Is Dead
Ernest Hemingway  • The Toronto Star Weekly • Nov 1923

On a man who made his name in the bullring, but not as a fighter.

No. He was neither an opera singer nor a five-cent cigar. He was once known as the bravest man in the world. And he died in a dingy, sordid room in Madrid, the city where he had enjoyed his greatest triumphs.

For many years Tancredo was famous throughout the Latin world. For ten minutes’ work he used to get $5,000. And he worked early and often. But a woman impersonator came along and spoiled the whole game for him.

-Laura Clark


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