The Running of the Bulls

19 Jan

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I was very wary of the whole idea of Bull Running. Not that I intended to do any actual running (I’d struggle to run for a bus) but it is rather controversial, to say the least. But the fact is that Bous al Carrer (Bulls in the Street) is a long held tradition in many parts of Spain, most famously in Pamplona. Here in Jávea it was reintroduced in 2012 to the streets and squares of the old town after a 20 year break, funded by the local Cultural Bullfighting Association as part of the program of events to celebrate San Sebastian, the Patron Saint.

So was I going to go to see it? There was bound to be the issue of animal cruelty involved. It is obviously linked to bull fighting which sickens me.  There was also the little question of how safe would it would be. Well, yes. For a start, I am a guest in someone else’s country. Lifestyles and traditions vary and that is one of the reasons I want to be here, so I must respect that culture. I try not to be a hypocrite. I eat meat and wear leather all produced in pretty unsavoury conditions as well as using products that are tested on animals. So I can hardly be too judgemental. I’d seen the spectators’ cages and they looked pretty robust. And, perhaps most importantly, I wanted to see it.

When I arrived the children’s running was already underway. This involves “carretones” which are basically model bulls’ heads mounted on wheels and pushed through the streets to chase the kids. And they were obviously having a great time. I confess I did have a few qualms about their obvious introduction into the whole idea but again I tried not to be critical. When the bull’s head suddenly appeared with flaming horns in, literally, hot pursuit of the squealing and delighted youngsters, the safety aspect seemed a bit dubious, though.

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An announcement to clear the square of those under 16 shortly followed by the exploding of a rocket to announce the arrival of the real things soon had them running for the cover of the cages. It was time for the young men to take centre stage. Some of the older guys hovered at the edges beyond the bars, perhaps remembering when they were the ones doing the running, but not once the bull was sighted.

You could practically smell the testosterone. Each competed for the bull’s attention wanting to be boldest, most daring and agile in their attempt to touch the bull’s head or horns and escape unscathed. If one tried something new, something more challenging others would soon follow suit. But the difference between audacious and reckless is a slender one. Finding himself on the ground and trapped against the wall of the church steps, one runner was only saved by the sudden rushing forward of someone standing close by waving a brightly-coloured sheet of fabric. The risk of injury or even death is very real.  

So is it cruel? My impression was less of a wild, ferocious bull raging through the streets and more of a confused and taunted young animal defending himself in the only way he knows how. But the intention is not to wound the bull but to show off the daring of the runners. It is more at risk of injury from the slippery road surface and steps. To compare it to bull fighting, despite its links, is to belittle the horrors of the latter. However, for the evening running, balls are placed on the horns of the bull and set alight to enhance the spectacle. For me, this is a step too far and I won’t be present.

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At the ready. The risk of injury is very real. 

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Not my picture but I thought it captured the action so well that I had to use it. Those are the steps up to the old church and the bull seemed to me to be defending this position at times. 

 

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