Tuesday, 27 September 2011


They always were a strange lot, the Catalans: not content with force-teaching their children a language for which they will have no use in the outside world, they have now compounded their autonomy from the rest of Spain by banning bullfighting.

I know many of you will be clapping and cheering at this news . . . and that is your prerogative. Bullfighting has always been a contentious subject: never the Brits’ cup of tea – more like the Spaniards’ jug of sangria - BUT it is as much a part of Spain’s rich culture as flamenco, sun-drenched beaches, medieval cities and a bottle of full-bodied Rioja drunk in a noisy taberna with a plate of jamon Serrano and some garlic-infused olives.

The ancient art form dates back to prehistoric times when bulls were worshipped and then sacrificed. Later, the Romans staged many human-versus-animal events and religious festivities and royal weddings were celebrated by fights in local plazas, where noblemen would compete on horseback for a royal favour.

The populace enjoyed these displays so much that Spain introduced the practice of fighting on foot around 1726. Bullfighting then spread to Central and South America and in the 19th century to France, where it is now more popular than ever.

But back to Barcelona. Yes, it’s a fabulous city with its gaudy Gaudi architecture and unfinished Gothic Cathedral. The streets heave with tourists all the year round. But if the Catalans had their way, they’d cut themselves off completely from the rest of Spain and float the province out to sea – the equivalent of Cornwall disassociating itself entirely from Great Britain and banning cricket in the process.

Many Barcelona-based aficionados are now robbed of their right to watch their fiesta nacional on their own doorstep. They will have to travel far and wide to support their favourite matadors. They’re not best pleased about this. The vote only just scraped by in parliament. Fans are distraught that their freedom of choice has been taken away in what many see as a political move. And the Catalans still indulge in the much more barbaric practices of bull baiting, taunting and torturing than the artistry and tradition of la corrida.

Barcelona's 18,000-seat bullring was completely sold out last Sunday. Tickets changed hands at thousand of euros apiece. Those who couldn’t get one slept on the streets hoping to pick up a last minute day seat at the gate.

The closure of the city's two bullrings (Las Arenas - The Sands - is now a shopping mall) enrages more Spaniards than it pleases. La Monumental where the final fight took place on Sunday would have Juan Belmonte, the founding father of today’s style, spinning in his grave. . .

Sobbing spectators grabbed handfuls of sand as they left the ring to save for posterity. They hope to throw it back in one day if the ban is lifted.

I don’t wish to argue the point as to whether bullfighting has a place in modern society or not. The brave and beautiful bullfighters who face death every afternoon have bigger balls in every sense than the higher-earning footballers which whom they compete for the front pages. Their successes and failures are reported on the Arts pages though, not the Sports pages.

I have a vested interest in the subject as my first novel BLOOD ON THE SAND is about to be released on Amazon Kindle.

Based on my experiences in the 1960s as the girlfriend of the world’s most famous matador, El CordobĂ©s, it’s a visceral love story between an innocent, young English girl and a hot-blooded Gypsy matador set against the backdrop of AndalucĂ­a.

I saw my first bullfight at the age of nine. I was immediately captivated by the colour, the pageantry, the music, the drama and the depth of feeling between a heroic man in a satin suit of lights and 600 kilos of raw killing machine.

Spain has soul. Spain has passion. The bullfight has gore and it has glory but those who don’t want to watch it don’t have to buy a ticket.