Saturday 16 July 2011

Chasing bulls into the sea in Spain

This is not Hemingway; not high drama with death, courage and honour in a heady cocktail.
Today I say the local fiestas in Denia, Alicante, Spain, which include the traditional sport of chasing bulls so that they fall into the sea. Yes this is today, July 2011 and yes this still happens… more of the argument later.

 Basically there is a bull ring constructed so that the fourth side is the harbour. There are stands where I was joined by about 4,000 more spectators, paying the magnificent sum of I euro to watch the spectacle. Others chose to watch from the water, basking in the sun on a luxury motor boat or simply relaxing in the water on a float.

Another group watched from ground level, protected by iron bars a couple of palm widths apart: these turn out not to be 100% safe, as a teenager found to his peril when he was gorged by the third bull and  had to be taken way in an ambulance.
Those who are really keen don’t sit on a boat or up in a safe seat, like me: the really keen ones stand in the arena and wait for the bulls to be released from their pen, one at a time. The object is then to chase and taunt the bull so that it falls into the water, where a boat recovers it and returns it safely to dry land. Right, you’re asking: if that’s the point, what’s the point?

If you ask that, you also expect the whole thing to be called off when someone gets injured, right? Wrong.  When the teenager was carried away to the ambulance, the whole thing resumed as if nothing had happened. Health and Safety is a concept that has yet to invade these traditional fiestas, so the young men, and a tiny number of young women, take part wearing mostly just shorts and sneakers. Their bare torsos make them very vulnerable to the sudden twists and turns of the bulls, but they seem to enjoy the excitement of chasing and taunting the bull. Truth is, 90% of the “mozos”, the men who chase really do nothing but stand next to the water, and jump in as soon as the bull gets anywhere near. I expect this does not stop them telling great tales of bravura to their friends over a few beers later in the day.. and the next day …. And many days after, until next year’s fiesta.
On 15 July I wrote about a ground breaking design shop in the super-cool Barcelona. I have written other posts about events in Madrid, including concerts and opera shows. How can you reconcile the sophistication of Spain’s leading cities with these traditional fiestas?
On a positive side, I suppose you could say that Spanish creativity grew out of its traditions, the bravura and risk taking that is played out year by year in village after village and town after town around the country. On a negative side… well it’s fiesta time, let’s not be negative.
It is very significant that when the regional government of Catalonia passed a law banning bull fights, they stopped short of banning these typical fiesta events, like chasing bulls through the streets and the seaside version like the one I saw today. In the rest of Spain both bullfights and these typical events are here to stay. There is an almost 100% chance that I will be able to see the same scene acted out in July 2012 here in Denia, Alicante, Spain
…. Hemingway did not eat here….
I have written about the Easter procession in Denia:
Here are some links to tourist info about Denia:

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