Category Archives: Spanish Culture

Damas Goyescas Stomp Grapes at the Wine Museum of Ronda

It is becoming a popular and enjoyable event within the Pedro Romero Feria, the annual grape stomping to officially kick off the beginning of the wine pressing season after grapes have matured in the summer sun. The arrival of the Damas Goyesca to lend their feet is eagerly awaited.

Aside from stomping grapes in traditional wooden tanks, which is a lot of fun, the day has a more serious agenda as dignataries and visitors are able to sample some of the latest wines on offer, as well as some of the best meats and cheeses made in the Serranía.

For thousands of years wine has been made in the Serranía, ancient Iberian people are understood to have fermented grapes, though the Romans really gave wine making a boost with dozens of warehouses at Setenil supplied by large villas surrounding Acinipo. In fact Acinipo wine is believed to have been in great demand in the larger cities of Iberia and Rome itself.

During the last century vineyards have slowly made a comeback, not achieving much renown until recently, though the pace of change of acceptance of Ronda wines is speeding up with several local wines taking Gold at some of the most prestigious international wine competitions.

The annual wine stomping at the Museum of Wine in an old factory near the Santa Maria church is new tradition, but one that is proving popular with wine connoisseurs and tourists, in fact in 2007 over 4,000 people attended.

Great strides have been taken to promote wines of the district, with a special designation having been approved “Designation of Origin Malaga – Serranía de Ronda”, especially after the great phylloxera tragedy.

Thankfully the days of Ronda wines being shunned are well past us, and great vineyards such as La Sangre de Ronda, Jorge Bonet, Los Aguilares, Andalus, Doña Felisa and many more attracting attention from some of the best restaurants in Spain, and other wines sought ofter in foreign markets, the future is looking bright.

Carnaval Procession in Ronda

Last Saturday saw Rondeños come out into the streets in their thousands for the annual Carnaval procession (cabalgata) which this year snaked it’s way from the top of La Bola to the Plaza de Toros.

Carnaval in Ronda is a small affair due to the Pedro Romero Feria being the big event in our fair city, though the people of Ronda still make a decent effort to showcase their love of having fun.

The cabalgata consisted of several floats towed by 4wd vehicles, including last year’s Goyesca Dames who parodied their formal attire with home-made gowns and extravagant moves to the great amusement of the crowd.

High school students also took part, with a great selection of clowns, cross-dressing footballers and their cheerleading squad, or babies sucking dummies. As well, several employee groups joined the festivities with political messages about how the economic crisis is affecting their livelihood.

But perhaps the highlight, at least for Rondeños watching the procession, was the musical act “Entre los Flores”, who this year became the first Rondeño act in living memory to reach the semi-finals at the Falla theatre in Cadíz, the home of Spanish carnaval. Whilst the Rondeños didn’t win in Cadíz, they certainly did in Ronda, with a crowd that couldn’t get enough.

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.

Pedro Romero Feria Parade 2009

The Pedro Romero Feria in Ronda is the biggest carnival event in Ronda’s social calendar, a week of partying, of live shows, of fairground rides and attractions, and of course culminating in the Corrida Goyesca, the only bullfight to occur in Ronda’s famous Plaza de Toros.

Wednesday the 2nd of September 2009 was a special day, this was the day of the feria parade, a 3 hour extravaganza that departed from Alameda and the Plaza de Toros, and then snaked it’s way up La Bola, onto Avenida de Málaga, before turning down into the fair grounds near the hospital.

Carnival atmosphere reigned in Ronda, well before the parade began balloon sellers were offering large silver balloons in the shape of animals, aeroplanes and other things for 5€, and woe betide any child who let go, the balloon quickly ascended, and reached the heavens, never to be seen again.

2009 was my first year seeing the parade, though I’ve seen other parades in bigger cities in the UK, Germany, the USA, but little Ronda put on a show worthy of the biggest of cities. One can only speculate at the amount of money invested in giving Rondeños such a spectacle, but it was worth it. Despite the gloomy economy, on parade day everyone wore a smile.

Just as the sun set over Ronda the parade reached Avenida de Málaga, a great shout rang around the crowd who had been waiting for an hour or more, and then the first sign that something was happening. The Policia Local quickly cleared the road of balloon and sweet sellers, and leading the parade, a group of riders on horseback, looking resplendent in period costume from the late 18th century.

Corrida Goyesca
It wasn’t long till the great big animals, Tigger the Tiger, and his Disney friends appeared along with 100 children in colourful outfits, then dancers, acrobats, larger than life insects that attacked the crowd, Ronda’s brass bands, and too many other floats to mention.

At last, the moment everyone had been waiting the longest for, the Goyesca Ladies on their float that looked like the Palace of Versaille on wheels, the President atop her thrown, and the other dames waving from balconies below her.

What a parade! Incredible effort must have been expended, and all this in a small town in Southern Spain. 2010 will be a must see parade, and if you have the chance to book a hotel room in anticipation of being in Ronda for the feria, do it now, there is not time to waste.