Is the Spanish Bullfight Dying?

“¡Abolición!” shouted the banners and placards. Abolition! Adorned with drawings of youths on all fours with barbs in their backs spurting blood they were held aloft by about thirty protesters on the Tajo Bridge in Ronda, fifty kilometres from Marbella in eastern Spain.

“Abolish the Bullfight”, they cried with Ronda’s most important fight of the year beginning in a few hours. The protesters, mostly young Spaniards, were watched by a squad of Riot Police and bemused passers by.

‘Is the bullfight dying?” I asked Paco, a regular in the Bar Maestro, a small place, serving some of the best tapas in town. Named after Antonio Ordóñez, a native son, and many say, the greatest matador ever, his loyal admirers foregathered there with other aficionados of the bulls.

‘No, the bullfight is not dying,’ said Paco banging down his glass on the counter. ‘You cannot get a ticket for the corrida this afternoon, did you know that?’ Paco glared at me and muttered under his breath. I was mortified. How could I re-establish my bona fides with this much respected man?

‘I was fortunate to see el Maestro fighting five times in the 60’s,’ I said. He looked sideways at me. Other heads nodded, voices approved. But Paco raised his glass to some memory of is own.

‘Read “Vanguardia’s” report,’ one called Pepe said quietly, ‘72% of Spaniards has no interest.’

The figures were dramatic. Over the past thirty years interest in the bullfight has fallen from a high of 55% in 1971 to 46% in 1980 to today’s figure of 28%.

Then Rafa, the owner, made a joke which I think went like this: ‘What do the bulls in Pamplona pray for before the Running?’

‘Please Lord, let me catch a gringo.’ Even Paco laughed at that. Paqui, Rafa’s wife brought out small dishes of paella. Good humour, never far away, was restored. I was honoured to be included by these aficionados.

“Death in the Afternoon”, Hemingway’s classic on the bullfight, introduced many of us to it.  This ritual of danger and death, bull running or fighting is central to most annual ferias in towns, villages and cities throughout Spain. Pamplona in July, Ronda in September and Seville at Easter are the most popular.

This year in Ronda the annual September shindig was in full exuberant swing, the town in an uproar.  Crowds milled about; flamenco and the whirling, laughing music of the Sevillana dance blared from temporary and ear-splitting loudspeakers outside the bars. Girls and women of all ages twirled, arms twisting sensuously, fingers coiling, heads thrown back, in dramatic pose. Men and boys clapped the rhythm, shouting ‘¡Olés!’.

Goyesca Ladies en route to the Plaza de Toros
Goyesca Ladies en route to the Plaza de Toros

Ronda, the birth place of the modern bullfight, celebrates the Goyescas, a festival of bullfighting so called as the participants parade in the garb of Goya’s era two centuries ago. Horse drawn carriages with decorous young girls in colourful finery, process through the streets.  Men and youths in the Andalusian style of tight trousers, waistcoats and Córdoba hats stalk about on tall horses before the fights begin.

About the bullfight, V.S.Pritchett, in “The Spanish Temper” wrote: “The Spaniard never lacks the courage to make the heroic gesture.  The bull is admired, almost worshipped, as the horse is in Ireland.  He is admired because he is great and capable of fury, and the Spaniard requires that furious force against which to display his singularity – the most precious of his possessions – and his courage.  Always the extremist, he likes to test his valour and his whole personality to the utmost.”

‘The bullfight is not a sport,’ said our friend Bosco back in the bar, ‘because the outcome is foreseen. It is a ritual,’ he added, believers eyes shining. ‘Primitive, pagan, maybe barbaric. ‘But,’ he concluded, ‘At no stage in the fight is it the object to inflict pain, although it is inflicted.’

Like reading Macbeth before going to the theatre, an understanding of the bullfight beforehand enables one to comprehend if not approve.  Sadly many of them descend into a crude despatch of the animal, the bullfighter being booed by the crowd. But if one experiences, as I did, the gut wrenching, frightening emotion of a great matador’s performance, as Ordóñez delivered to spellbound audiences it will remain etched in one’s mind forever.

Cayetano's Armani Suit
Cayetano's Armani Suit

It costs over €100 000 to stage a corrida with a top matador’s name. They command huge fees and have expensive lifestyles. Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, the Maestro’s grandson, appeared this year in a Suit of Lights, as their costume is called, made by Armani. A whiff of decadence, a foretaste of the fall?

The rivals for the public’s Euros are football and basketball. Spain are the current European Champions in both sports. Tennis and golf have attractive role models also.

Nobody in the bar had been prepared to challenge Paco. But the newspaper’s figures would not leave us. None of us was under fifty-five.  And so it is throughout Spain. The corrida is dying with its ageing followers. No doubt in the midst of the recession, they were thinking of the over 100,000 people employed in the industry and the turnover of 1, 5 billion Euros a year.

Despite the two thousand year old tradition going back to Roman times, leading opponents of bullfighting recently took their cause to the Spanish parliament demanding an end to it. Parliament is currently debating a draft law on animal rights. How bullfighting will escape such a charter I do not know. The League Against Cruel Sports is increasingly active. The Spanish public broadcaster, TVE, announced that it will no longer broadcast corridas. Two years ago, Barcelona declared itself an “anti- bullfighting city”. The closure of the last bullring in Catalonia highlights its political ‘independence from Madrid’.

Protestors in Ronda 2009
However, in Madrid and the southern province of Andalusia the plazas are often filled to capacity. Bull fighting is deeply rooted in Andalusia. Like everything else the Andalusians do they do it with passion. It’s as though they had the caps lock key permanently in the ‘on’ position, the stereo at its loudest. It is in this intense, emphatic and above all passionate atmosphere that los toros, the bullfights, persist, its great exponents revered.

But the inevitable is coming. There will be more protesters. Just as Picasso and Hemmingway supported the bullfight, new names will support the Abolitionists.

My wife, Verne, unsympathetic to the corrida, asked the inevitable question. ‘12,000 bulls a year die in 2000 corridas?’ I replied. ‘And as many as 100 men are killed.’ Her silence said it all. ‘But,’ I said, ‘expect marketing innovations. 100,000 jobs will be defended.’

I see in my mind’s eye a dusty road in Spain trodden by a gaunt figure in rusty armour on a spindly steed followed by a podgy fellow astride a donkey.  One almost sees the white sails of windmills that will surely attract the attention of that wandering knight. For it is none other than my demented hero, Don Quixote de la Mancha and Sancho Panza.  Is it the youngsters on the bridge who are tilting at windmills in the battle of the bulls? Or Paco in the Bar Maestro?

The Author:

Article written by Bearnard O’Riain, a published author who has written an autobiography ‘Running to Stand Still‘, an account of his years as an angry and abusive husband. These days Bearnard runs the MURAL support group which helps other men recover from abusing their spouses and families in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, including the infamous Alexandra township.

Udo Burkhardt Exhibtion at Circulo de Artistas, Ronda

If the opening night of Udo Burkhardt’s newest exhibition of art in Ronda is anything to go by, attendance during the course of the exhibition, which runs from the 12th December to the 20th December is likely to be high.

Udo has chosen one of his most controversial paintings as the poster painting for the exhibition, seen in our photograph Udo (wearing a black leather jacket) and some of the visitors to the opening night.

Depicting an Afghan woman wearing a Burkha, Udo says he aims to highlight the lack of freedom of expression that women in some parts of the world have, whilst those attending his exhibitions in contrast have complete freedoms to express themselves in any way they feel.

In his art Udo rarely crosses into politics, the majority of his art is striking for it’s simplicity of colours and topic, though this impression certainly doesn’t define the artist. A careful examination of Udo’s other pieces underscores a man with deeply held ideas. His series of western horoscope starsigns is evidence of this, each painting demonstrating a thoughtful mind at work as the artist captures the essential spirit of each sign.

Udo with Blue Lynx
Udo with Blue Lynx

On display Udo has included a second series of symbolic pieces representing the natural world out of context, with some quite outstanding pieces to admire. This exhibition is quirky, vivid, and partly controversial, and in Ronda this is rare. Given the number of local artists who paint village scenes or still life, Udo’s exhibition is refreshing for being at once contemporary and unusual.

About the Artist

Udo Burkhardt hails from Germany, where as a young man he was known more for his music. Living in the Llano de la Cruz with his wife Margitt, Udo has exhibited several times in Ronda, including at the Casa del Cultura, the Parador Hotel, Unicaja, and the now defunct Andrew’s Artgalerie.

If you’d like to see Udo’s art on display, the Circulo de Artistas is located in the Casino building at the northern end of Plaza Socorro. Opening hours are 11:00 to 12:00 and 18:00 t0 22:00 every day.

Hotel Occupancy Up in Ronda during Recent Long Weekend

Hotel Ronda Room
Hotel Ronda Room

Very exciting news for hoteliers and owners of self-stay accommodation in Ronda as the recent long weekend generated 90% occupancy across all of the Ronda Hotels.

Over four days, from Saturday 5th to Tuesday 8th December, Ronda was at its busiest with thousands of visitors from other parts of Andalucía and further afield descending on the city of the Tajo to enjoy the “puente”, translated as bridge holiday but also known as a bank holiday weekend.

“I had to turn people away, and with so many hotels closed for winter it was difficult to find alternative accommodation for guests”, so said Nieves Lara the proprietor of Hotel Ronda.

Statistics released by the Councillor for Tourism Maribel Morales show that 62.5% of visitors stayed at least one night in Ronda, while the remaining 37.5% were day trip visitors from Sevilla and the Costa del Sol. Most visitors stayed two nights in Ronda, with 11% staying the full four nights.

These figures are encouraging given the depth of recession in Spain this December, though retailers and a significant number of restaurateurs are complaining that takings are well down on previous years.

Reasons to use a Dedicated Currency Specialist

Living in Spain means having to use the Euro as our currency of daily life, compounded when large purchases are made from houses or cars, to renovations, installing heating or cooling systems, medical treatment, paying for satellite TV installation, and a lot of other expenses that may be specific to your lifestyle. Traditionally we use high street banks, without realising they don’t always offer the best rate of exchange.

Furthermore, in this difficult times like we’ve experienced in 2009 and going forward into most of 2010, losing money on currency exchange is easy to do. Did you know that most high street banks, building societies, and Spanish cajas offer the tourist rate of exchange when you send pounds from the UK to Spain, or in reverse, send Euros to the UK.

The commercial rate of exchange, which is what the banks pay is never the rate you pay, and there can be a significant difference between the two. A specialist foreign exchange company is more likely to offer the commercial rate than the tourist rate. This could mean a two to three point difference on the rate you’re offered.

Here’s an example. Right now (December 2009) the Euro is strong, and is hovering around 1.09€-1.11€ to the pound. Now let’s assume the bank rate you’re offered is 1.08€ to the pound. A foreign exchange company might offer you 1.11€ to the pound, I’m sure you’ll agree this is a significant difference, but in practical terms it means that transferring £100,000 to Spain will see a foreign exchange company give you an extra 3,000€.

Considering how often many of us transfer funds from the UK to Spain on a monthly or regular interval, even with smaller amounts we see a significant saving, and with the rate of exchange being so weak every little bit we keep in our pockets is better than just giving it away to banks when we don’t need to.

Foreign Exchange Fees can be Waived

One of the most compelling reasons to use a foreign exchange company though are because they often waive transfer fees that you might pay £25 to £40 per transaction to a bank. Transferring £500 for monthly living expenses and paying a £25 transaction fee amounts to losing 5%, notwithstanding being offered the tourist rate of exchange.

Spanish banks are not immune from taking a small percentage as well, we’ve heard reports of Spanish banks charging fees that can be as much as 1% simply to receive the funds. Admittedly the fee a Spanish bank charges might be a fixed amount that on larger transfers can be ignored, but on smaller monthly payments adds up. Some UK foreign exchange companies operating in Spain have agreements with Spanish banks to waive receiving fees.

So, if a specialist foreign exchange company offers a rate 3 points more favourable than a high street bank, and waives transfer fees, and is able to deposit your money into a Spanish bank without additional fees, then on smaller amounts you could be looking at savings of 4-8%, and that adds up month by month.

Larger transfers initiated through a bank also require registration for each transaction, to comply with UK and EU anti-money laundering legislation. Whilst there is no fee for this it does add to the hassle of currency exchange and means you need to supply personal details everytime. In contrast a foreign exchange company operating in Spain will assign an account manager who is able to process your transactions with information kept on file.

Improve your Currency Exchange Transactions

The rate of exchange fluctuates so much it can be disheartening to watch it from day to day, seemingly never improving, or only briefly when it does. Of course the problem is that when we need to transfer funds, Murphy’s law invariably comes into play and we are rarely able to capitalise on better rates. See our feature on currency exchange in Spain.

For me this is probably the strongest reason yet for keeping an account with a foreign exchange company. Your high street bank will never let you plan in advance, they don’t offer spot transactions, forward transactions, limit orders, and they certainly don’t offer rate watch services.

Spot Transactions
Buy Now, Pay Now: Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of moving currency from the UK to Spain, or vice versa, is the knowledge that banks offer a day rate, but you and I know the rate fluctuates during the day, and sometimes quite favourably, but the only people who seem to benefit are forex speculators. How often do we see financial news bulletins on Sky mention the pound rallied in the middle of the day, only to settle at days end? Spot transactions with a foreign exchange company eliminate this regret by allowing you to call your account manager and settle a transaction right now while the rate is favourable.

Forward Transactions
Buy Now, Pay Later: Consider securing a favourable rate as much as 12 months in advance by making a small deposit to a currency exchange company. You protect yourself against too much movement in the market because the trader agrees to fix the rate you negotiate. Currency exchange companies love this type of transaction, they’re able to plan further ahead themselves, which makes them more profitable, and we benefit from a known fixed rate of exchange if a major transaction is anticipated.

Limit Orders
Why not place an order for a particular rate of exchange that isn’t conducted until the exchange rate reaches the level you’ve specified. You are protected from negative movement because your transaction isn’t processed until the rate is reached. Here’s how it works, your currency exchange account manager enters the rate you want into their computer system, and your transaction is kept on hold until your rate is reached, then the transaction is processed automatically.

Most currency exchange companies are happy to deal with large and small transactions, there is no reason not to contact them even if the amount seems ridiculously small. Here in the Serranía we know of several retired couples who bought their Spanish homes with cash, and are quite capable of living on just 250€ per month which includes groceries, power, phone, and occasional tapas. Even so, currency exchange companies are the better option over a high street bank. Remembering that most banks charge a transfer fee, smaller amounts are even more reason to talk to a currency specialist.

Christmas Lights and Shop Windows in Ronda

The 4th of December was the day the Christmas lights went on in Ronda, heralding the start of the Christmas holiday season, which in Spain extends through to the 6th January.

Christmas in Spain is unlike English speaking countries. Here the 25th of December is a religious holiday, whilst the 5th of January, known as the three kings day, is the important day for giving gifts. Of course Hollywood’s influence means this is becoming muddled and children in Spain often get presents on the 25th and 5th.

Switching on the Christmas lights is an important occasion, made even more special as this is a long weekend celebrating two holidays, Constitution Day on the 6th, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th.

The streets of Ronda were filled with people coming out to see this years lights, and to mix and mingle with friends in coffee shops, start the Christmas present buying spree, and enjoy the fresh evening air before the cold of winter really hits us.

The excitement was contagious, children were running and playing, calling to each other, staring with wild eyes in the windows of the shops with nativity scenes or Santa decorations, and Rondeños of all ages couldn’t contain themselves.

Several of the churches held special evening Mass services, so many in Ronda were wearing their Sunday best, though many more weren’t, being content to simply walk and enjoy the evening with friends.

The Christmas lights run the length of Carrera Espinel, Calle Sevilla, Virgen de la Paz, Calle Armiñan, Avenida de Málaga, Avenida de Martinez Astein, and are also in Plaza Socorro. The open air nativity is in the bandstand in Plaza Socorro.

While walking down La Bola taking the photos you see below, our friendly local busker was dressed as Santa playing Christmas songs on his accordion while singing “Merry Christmas” over and over again. We wondered if he knew the words and was just singing what he did know. Sadly the battery on the camera went flat and I wasn’t able to capture his Christmas spirit.

ronda-christmas-lights

Ron Morley, Benaojan Artist

Ron Morley, born in London 1938, painter in oil and occasionally watercolour.

Before his retirement in 2005 he worked freelance as a magazine and newspaper designer, moving around Fleet Street, London, in the cut and thrust of tight deadlines and graveyard shifts.

He now lives in Benaojan, Andalucía, and with a complete change of lifestyle, has time to ponder and tentatively paint.

His subject matter is close at hand and all engulfing, and for the moment it is enough to paint simple village scenes, explore the narrow streets, relish the blue skys and delve into the deep shadows.

He loves the medium of oil, working with its richness and depth gives him huge satisfaction and a freedom he never knew in the black and white rigidity of the British press.

More of Ron’s work can be seen at the Hotel Molino del Santo, Benaoján Estación.

Gallery of Ron’s Paintings

To display larger images, click the thumbnail

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