We told ourselves when we started this trip that we would try our hardest, within reason and budget, to experience life in these new places as a local would. We go to local markets, local restaurants (mostly), and try to attend events that the locals would attend. That’s the point in these extended visits, right? To experience the culture and way of life of the locals.
Most of the time these cultural events are a fun, impressive insight into the traditions or history of the local people. Sometimes they are quirky, but sometimes.. like in Madrid, they are a little confusing and hard to be a part of.
Let’s start with the good stuff!
On Sunday mornings, La Latina section of Madrid turns into a flea market. Not your grandma’s corner antiquey flea market though.. tents and booths and food and musicians TAKE OVER the city. It goes on for blocks and blocks and is seriously CrazyTown.
As you may or may not know, I don’t like crowds. I don’t mind being in big groups of people, but slow walkers are my nightmare. And people distracted by their phones walking right towards me who nearly run into me because they wouldn’t glance at the street in front of them!?!?! ….. I have little patience when in a slow moving crowd. 😉
Still, it was fun to go see the maddness that is El Rastro. There are beautiful, bright colors everywhere and we left with a cool Spanish street tile, so we call it a win!
There are so many places around town to catch a flamenco show! We sought some advice from the Office of Tourism who greatly helped us out. They circled all the places to see flamenco shows on a map and wrote prices and QUALITY for each.
In the end, we bought tickets to a middle of the road show, not the best, not the worst, and still paid $75 to see a small show. It was about 2 hours long, and I’ve got to be honest here… we didn’t love it.
We wanted to love it! I love dance and I love performances and we were stoked to go.. but… eh. We tried to get into it, but the chanting and the slow pace of the first half just wasn’t vibing for us. The second half of each routine got loud and showy and impressive.. but we still were disappointed in how much we enjoyed it vs. how much we paid for it. Sorry flamenco-ers!
Maybe flamenco just isn’t for us? It’s popular and everywhere and all the locals LOOOVVEEE it. Or maybe our venue in particular was just a little.. boring. I hate saying it, but we wouldn’t do it again. The venue was intimate and beautiful, but the performance just wasn’t our cup of tea.
Here are some clips to give you an idea. The one performance we actually did really enjoy was the partner one, with the man and woman. (Video 3)
Here it is. Take your controversial stances now.
Once upon a time, Brad and I were sitting in our apartment in Madrid and thinking, ok when we are done working this week, what should we do this weekend? Let’s find something SUPER Spanish to do.
We did some research and found out we happened to be in town for the biggest Bullfighting Festival of the year, the San Isidro Bullfighting Fair. I was so excited! I was like “omg bullfighting, how Spanish, it’s rooted in their culture! Let’s go.”
Brad eyed me with suspicion and said “Yeah it’s a typical Spanish entertainment, but are you sure you want to go? Why don’t you watch some youtube videos first.”
I was so excited to go and tossed off the youtube idea, but Brad made me sit and watch some anyway. I was SO naive… this sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t actually know they killed the bulls! I thought they teased them with the cape and ran them around the ring and that was that. It didn’t enter my mind that I would have to watch them be killed. Slowly.
But even after learning all about it and watching clips online we decided to go. We decided, “Hey.. this event is going to be taking place whether we are there or not. Let’s at least go see what this traditional event is all about.”
We got there and I had a whole conversation with someone in Spanish, successfully, to the point where they didn’t know I was American. WIN. I was on a high. (You don’t know how excited I was.. seriously.. to not be automatically answered in English because my Spanish was so bad.) We took pictures with the beautiful stadium and got our seats and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Everything was vibrant and alive and the crowd was loud and it was fun. The matadors, picadores, and assistants march around in their beautiful costumes and we were thinking “ok this is really fun, we’ve got this.”
During the first third of the bullfight, the matador’s assistants come out. They wave their muletas (flags) and irritate the bull. The matador watches from the sidelines to “size-up” this particular bull; how reactive he is, how angry, how fast etc.” This part was still pretty fun. The assistants ran around behind barriers and the bull chased them. They tried to get as close as they could with their muletas and it was almost like a little dance, or like watching a rodeo. Fun, and harmless.
Then the trumpets sounded. The Picadores entered the ring. These were some fancy guys in elaborate costumes on horseback. The horses were “protected” by being blindfolded (to not freak out when they see the bull) and by wearing some sort of covering. When the bull inevitably charges at one of the picadores, they take a giant spear with a hook on the end and stab the bull. Not one stab… they jam it into the bull repeatedly until it hobbles away.
The bull at this point is wounded, and spilling blood everywhere. It was the first time I nearly started crying. But then the bull starts running around again, and I recompose myself. Then more trumpets. Oh shit. Not the trumpets.
Next the banderillos come out with two sharp, barbed sticks. The sticks are called banderillas and are playfully decorated in what looks like streamers. The bull is wounded, yes, but still PLENTY strong and runs after these guys in a fit of anger. The banderillos wait until the bull is very close and then jab their spears into him. They try to get them into the bull’s shoulder blades as close together as they can. They do this for a while until the matador finally decides to make an appearance.
The matador then comes out and gets to finish off the very weak bull. The bull still runs around plenty with the banderillos hanging from his back. The matador tries to get the bull as close to him as possible. The closer, the more skilled the matador is, and the more praise he is awarded from the crowd and the judges at the end. The matador teases the bull and it’s really fun to watch how close the bull comes to the matador as he moves his cape.
These matadors.. they are some pompous men ha. They were driving me insane with their stuck up demeanor, but I know it’s part of the show. They would taunt the bull and mock it and then walk away with their noses in the air. But that was all ok, until they got out their spear (estocada.)
Then comes the worst part. The weak bull, who has been bleeding all over the place, is about to be killed. If the bull is lucky, the matador will kill it with one clean, swift strike of the estocada. If the matador is unsuccessful the first time, he retrieves another sword called a verdugo. The madator stabs the verdugo into the bull.. as many times as it takes. We saw one bull that the matador stabbed in the head 9 times before it died. I was crying and hiding in Brad’s shoulder.. but I still saw it. (No pics or videos of this round. It was too much for us to even watch.)
The worst part is that this whole scenario is repeated 6 times. 6 rounds. 6 bulls. Each matador has two turns. Sometimes, if a matador showed particular skill and delivered a swift kill, the crowd goes wild! They cheer and if it was a wonderful performance by the Matador, they all wave white bandanas. The white bandanas along with the seal of approval from the judges mean that the Matador has won the highest honor available in the round and as his prize he gets to cut off the ears of the dead bull. This happened in our second round. We watched the bull die. We watched the bandanas and the ears and the prancing around in victory by the matador. He threw one of the ears to a young fan in the crowd. He kept one for himself. I cried some more.
We left at the end of round 5. 5 Bulls were enough for us. I have so many mixed feelings about this event. As you can tell by my shock in this blog post… it is not something I want to see again. But who am I to buck an event so important and traditional to another culture? This isn’t my home, these aren’t my traditions. I can abstain from going again, which I will, but can I judge them for their culture?
The crowd… was not disgusted like we were. They freaking loved it. The woman next to me who kept smoking in my face was screaming “MATA LO. MATA LO, YA!” Kill it, Kill it, already. (That I understood, of course.) It was a packed stadium and they have one of these 6-round events every single night for 21 nights for the San Isidro Festival. That’s a lot of bulls.
Most people would think this is barbaric. A tradition that should be stopped. There are some places in Spain that no longer participate in bullfights, but there are many cities in Spain, Mexico, and Latin America that still participate and love it. It’s Spanish entertainment. Are the people who love this sport bad people? Are the people screaming “Mata lo!” bad people? No, I don’t think so. But I personally could never scream in hopes of harm to an animal. I think these people grew up coming here with their dad, and their dad’s dad, and it’s nostalgic, like a baseball game. But I really don’t know. I don’t know their reason for loving it or continuing it. I can just tell you they do.
I cried for the pain of the bull and said outloud a few times “I hope the matador gets hit by the bull, that will show him!” But then one time he did.. a matador got hit and literally tossed between the bulls horns like a pinball machine ball probably 6-7 times before he was thrown in the air and landed hard on the ground. Tons of people ran out to distract the bull and to help. And then I cried for the matador too. I didn’t want to see a bull die, but I knew I would be destroyed if I actually saw a human die.
It was a evening afternoon for us. We went to a bar afterwards, and Brad and I don’t really drink! ha.
What do you think about this tradition? Tell us in the comments, but nicely 😉 Let’s not cause an uproar or anything.
In the end, we made many amazing memories in Madrid. The flamenco, the rastro market and the bullfight were also a part of our experiences and things we will always remember.
3 thoughts on “Madrid: Cultural Events”
This is one of those social, ethnographic topics that will never reach consensus. And while most outsiders are highly uncomfortable it clearly “feels like home” to generations of millions of Spaniards.
I’m pleased you shared this & I’m interested in the story of YOUR experience, clearly unique (compared to the crowd) and as it should be.
I release intruding bugs back outside; I’d be devastated to witness the fight….but that’s ME, and Madrid isn’t my story.
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Wonderfully said, Jill. Thank you for your perspective
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I feel like modern civilization should have evolved beyond this. Killing animals for food in a quick and humane way is one thing, but to torture and taunt an animal before killing it is archaic. It reminds me of the Romans making sport of throwing Christians and Jews to the lions for sport. Cultural/ historical or not….This should be banned!