Bull’s tail

A bullfight with picadors is a macabre spectacle;
but with some imagination it becomes lyrical
(Eugenio Noel, Nervios de la raza, 1915)

On July 28 Catalonia dared to ban something so topically Spanish as bullfighting. Spanish nationalism, always jealous of its symbols – even when they are harmful to the image of the nation – received this sovereign decision of the Catalan parliament almost as an aggression against the State or at least its deepest cultural foundations, and has been preparing to promote all kinds of measures to preserve forever and throughout all the territory of España, the so-called “national feast”.

It is curious that when the Canaries took the same decision in 1991, it did not provoke the least revolt, and the same Spanish national spirit absolutely did not feel hurt – “a peculiarity of the Canarians”, they must have thought without giving greater importance to the affair. With the Catalans, however, the matter is different: all decisions of their parliament tend to be viewed with suspicion. After the endless quarrel around the new Statute of Autonomy which has so much irritated the centralist media, this new controversy is for them a further proof of the bankruptcy of the state caused by the weakness of the Socialist government, and, above all, a wonderful opportunity to further heating up the spirits and selling the newspapers.

Of course, a more independentist wing of Catalan nationalism has also seen here an opportunity to highlight their differences with Spain, but it should be clear that such reasons motivate only a few persons. Bullfighting has never been something deeply rooted in Catalonia, even though there exists a group of passionate and enthusiastic fans. And the excessive multiplication of ostensive Spanish symbols on such occasions (flags, coats of arms, pasodobles, blankets, combs, with all its imagery completely alien to the Catalans) is for any observer a challenge provoking a response.

Amid all this political noise there are the real promoters of the ban, the associations opposing the mistreatment of animals. But their reasons which in any other country of the world would be the real subject of discussion, here are drowning under the ideological confrontation, revealing once again how fragile the fabric of the old kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula is.

The cruelty of bullfighting has considerably decreased since the early 20th century, when in the course of the “suerte de varas” the bull attacked against the picador’s completely unprotected horse, goring its abdomen and emptying its bowels on the sand of the arena. There were bulls that killed five, six or up to ten horses, leaving the arena and all the actors of the “fiesta” fully covered with blood and filth. We have personally known a venerable and pious old lady who bitterly complained that she had been deprived of the brave spectacle that she loved so much in her youth, of seeing the horses agonizing and treading their own guts.

This bloody entertainment undoubtedly has its aesthetic appeal, just as many other violent activities that may come to your mind if you set free your imagination. And it would be enough to repeat them a few times for being considered by some as an inalienable cultural tradition. The ritual of every moment of the bullfight isolates, transforms and makes almost invisible to the eyes of the fans the act they are really looking at: a human being entertaining an audience that delights in ridiculing and torturing to death another being, inferior to him. From this point of view our human dignity looks quite bad. Nowadays we do not need this lesson of superiority over an animal, however fierce it might be. This ceremony of control and death practiced on a force of the nature such as a brave bull is no longer cathartic or purifying. Its aesthetic, in spite of all the flitters added to the “suit of lights” of the torero, is definitely off in the society of the 21th century, and it is just as sad as industrial whale-hunting, with the aggravating factor that here we have an audience cheering the mocking and slaughtering of the animal.

In Mallorca the tradition of bullfighting is weak. However, the Coliseo Balear has lived quite active times. Last Saturday we went around the square and took these photos. There was no graffiti neither in favor nor against the bulls. Well, perhaps a single shy one on a service gate. They did not let us in, as they were installing the stage for a concert of “The Cranberries”. The building, planned by Gaspar Bennázar (known in Mallorca as “The Architect” par excellence), has been in use for a long time as a scene for concerts, sport events or German TV programs rather than for bullfighting.

The most deplorable aspect of the complete disappearance of the bullfight will be the increased difficulty of achieving bull meat. We would not willingly renounce, for example, of the taste of a fine stew of bull’s tail. But let nobody worry: China seems to save us from this disaster in the future. On October 23, 2004 was held in Shanghai the first bullfight of Asia, and there seems to be an increasing interest in things Spanish there. We suspect, however, that the Chinese still do not know how to properly prepare this delight, so to assist them here we publish our own recipe for a bull’s tail, as we have cooked it many times. These are the ingredients:

1,5 kg of sliced bull’s tail • 5 onions • 4 sliced carrots • 4 garlic cloves • 1 laurel leaf • 1/4 liter of tomato sauce • 1 liter of red wine • cinnamon • black pepper • salt • olive oil • flour

The recipe prescribes a bull’s tail, but you can make it from that of an ox or a cow as well. Cut it in pieces corresponding to the vertebrae. Leave it overnight in a covered pan with the wine (the better quality the wine, the better the result), onions, carrots, some black peppercorns and a laurel leaf. Then salt and pepper it, cover it in flour and fry it in very hot olive oil (not much, it only has to be well browned on the outside). Put it aside. Poach carrot, onion and garlic in a skillet. Add the tomato sauce (made by gently frying ripe tomatoes in olive oil with a pinch of sugar and salt) and braise it all for a couple of minutes. Pour on it the red wine of the marinade, add a pinch of cinnamon and boil it down. Add the fried pieces of tail, cover them with water if necessary, and let them simmer for one and half an hour. Smash the sauce by hand or in a mixer, and then let it boil off if necessary. Put the pieces of tail on a plate, pour the sauce on it, and garnish it with leaves of sage or a sprig of rosemary. You can accompany it with fried or mashed potato.

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