News that the meat factories in Ireland are closed prompted thoughts about the cattle that would spend a while longer grazing in fields, or chewing silage in sheds. The factories always seem an ignominious end to the lives of very fine animals, animals that are slaughtered before reaching the age of thirty months.
It always seems odd that those who happily buy joints of beef in the supermarket would recoil at the idea of bullfighting; it is a touch hypocritical, and I would count myself among the hypocrites.
To appreciate bullfighting, perhaps one needs to be present in the heat of a day in Spain or the French Midi, among the tens of thousands who fill the narrow streets; perhaps one needs to physically sense the moments, to see, hear, feel, scent, even taste the excitement; perhaps one needs to be able to sense the delight felt at securing one of for the ring; perhaps one needs to have something other than an English sensibility toward the treatment of animals.
A bullfight seems a very structured affair. The corrida involves three matadors who each fight two bulls over the course of the evening. The matadors have their own teams who are responsible for the opening stages of each fight; the team members include picadors, who are on horseback and are responsible for piercing the bull’s neck with lances, and bandilleros, who put banderillas, spiked wooden sticks, into the bull’s shoulders. After the preparatory phases,the matador steps in, initially with a large purple and yellow cape, and then with a smaller red cape and sword. The matador aspires to meet the bull with elegance and skill and to kill it quickly and cleanly. If the crowd judge he has done well, they wave white handkerchiefs and encourage the president of the corrida to reward him with one or two of the bull’s ears or with its tail.
It is mystifying. The corrida is often part of a festival where tens of thousands of people might gather for music and food and celebration; there are traditions running back centuries; tickets that are almost unobtainable; elegance and style and careful choreography; and it all ends with a bull, bleeding from previous wounds, being stabbed in the heart with a sword. Yet bulls at corridas are from particular breeding lines, raised strong and well for four to six years.
The thought of attending any corrida is too much for the sensibilities of most people in these islands, but, short of becoming vegans, and giving up meat eating altogether, it is hard, without more than a hint of hypocrisy, for anyone who will be pleased at the re-opening of the meat factories, to condemn those who throng the bullrings.