”Boooo!” yells the large crowd from the stone bleachers in Les Arènes, the bullfight stadium in Céret. Spanish and Catalan insults erupt from the crowd as the trio of matadors and toreros follows an enormous bull around the ring. Six minutes after the matador has stabbed the bull, the animal has yet to die. The three frustrated men shake their heads, and the matador, in his colorful costume with gold detailing, plunges a third long saber between the bull’s shoulder blades. As the bull heaves, another saber from a previous attempt pumps in and out, in rhythm with the bull’s breathing.
Céret is usually a quiet town, but every July it becomes a hotspot for debate when the matadors come to town. The Féria de Céret is a five-day festival, esteemed for its music, food and drink. But in particular, the Féria is known for its traditional corrida de toros. In English, the bullfight.
In Céret, the bullfights follow the traditional Spanish style. The bull is first let into the ring, after which it is stabbed in the back by a picador, a rider with a spear, who pierces the bull’s back muscles. Next, banderillos charge at the bull with two long spiked batons each, and stab the bull’s back. Finally, a matador makes what Jean-François Coste, vice president of the Association Des Aficionados Cérétans, describes as “artistic gestures” before stabbing the bull through the heart.
An estimated 35,000 bulls die in bullfights in Spain annually, according to the World Animal Foundation. Younger and smaller bulls are killed in practice sessions for young matadors at bullfighting schools scattered across Spain and Southern France.
“What we reject is the systematic torture, that is always the same against these animals,” said Claudine Dénarnaud, a spokesperson from the Fédération des Luttes pour l'Abolition des Corridas, an organization that fights for the abolition of bullfighting. “It must not be forgotten that during a bullfight there are six bulls that go through 20 or 25 minutes of torture before being slaughtered before an audience.”
In response to charges of animal cruelty, Coste replies, “We respond to these allegations that bullfighting makes up a part of our culture and heritage. Since April, we’ve gone to officially recognize the art of bullfighting part of official heritage of France through UNESCO. For us, its an important step that recognizes bullfighting as intrinsically part of our culture.”
He goes on to say that the earliest evidence of the corridas are paintings that remain hidden in nearby caves, showing men chasing bulls. Bullfights spawned from the Roman trend of man-versus-animal combat. Moreover, Tauroctony, or ‘killing of the sacred bull’ is an ancient concept associated to the Greek and Persian god Mithras. Archaeologists have found meeting sites throughout the region, where stone artifacts were found, depicting Mithras killing a great white bull.
In France, the bullfighting season runs from February to October, during which time Ferias occur each weekend throughout the French Catalonia region and as well as through most of the Spanish mainland. The Féria of Céret is hosted by ADAC, founded in 1988. The association hosts around 46 corridas annually.
Coste says the association’s primary goals are to maintain the long-standing tradition of the corrida, as well as find the best breeds of bulls possible for the bullfights. “In our association, we make the bull our primary objective.,” he says. “Around half of our spectators are aficionados who come from other regions, such as Marseilles, Nimes and D’Arles.”
In 2010, a people’s legislative initiative petition was presented to the Spanish government with the signatures of more than 180,000 Spanish Catalan citizens. After a vote of 68 deputies for and 55 against, a new law will come to pass on January 1, 2012 that will prohibit bullfighting in Spanish Catalonia.
But in France, bullfights and cockfights are the only forms of animal combat that remain legal because of their traditional status.
“For the majority of animals, cruelty is illegal,” says anti-corridas activist Dénarnaud. “No one accepts a picador placing a spike in a dog’s back. Why is it acceptable for a bull?”
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