There are an awful lot of bulls around in August during which every village dedicates one week to a nightly bull-teasing. Having experienced this traditional annual event from afar over the last four years, I finally actually started to go to see some of them this week. Why had I not before? Well, dislike of cruelty to animals mostly. I had visions of pointed spikes being pushing into their flanks, and all that other gory stuff you read about in Hemingway books.
However, my mission here in Castellon is to know all and that includes bulls, especially as I have been asked at least four times every day IF I AM GOING TO SEE THE TOROS! After all, the toros are the raison d’etre of every fiesta and without them the days would stretch empty and long.
My first scrape with bulls occurred when staying at a hotel situated in the beautiful hilltop town of Vilafames. I needed to get up at the crack of dawn the next day to catch an early morning flight from Valencia and therefore was looking forward to a peaceful night’s sleep. However, come midnight, the cobbled streets around my hotel began to echo with the alarming noise of bulls banging against metal. It also seemed that the young people were doing the same. Suddenly Vilafames was awash with bands, cries, screams and, much later, jarring dissonant discos. When all this finished, at 4am or so, a particularly piercing brass band marched triumphantly around the town. I could hear its volume rise and fall with its progress up and down the steep streets of Vilafames.
Eventually at about 5.30 am I emerged bleary eyed and sleepless into the dawn to see men tottering around like the inebriated zombies they were. Some were sitting on curbs, their heads in their hands, and others were simply prostrate. Tinned music still gushed from the mostly empty bars. Quite frankly, it looked like hell.
After this I avoided any town that indicated a bull-do like the plague. If I entered and the protective industrial-like gates were going up to block off any side streets, I left. That is until this week. From various vantage points, on three dark nights I witnessed them being teased and taunted by “ganaderos”, the young men who own them and do most of the provoking. The bulls ran all over the place in response to the incitations while the men climbed and darted around platforms, lunging at them with long harmless spears. Occasionally the bulls got so frustrated that they charged the bars, whatever and whoever they could see – whoever darting nimbly through the carefully calculated gaps in the metal barriers out of harm’s way. In the meantime ladies, men with sense and children viewed the proceedings in stands set above the bars.
Just before the nightly “show”, tortuous metal paraphernalia is strapped to their horns, topped with oil-soaked balls, and then set alight. The bulls then proceed to charge around like drunks – this because they actually cannot see very well with a pair of blinding fires on either side of their eyes. Though it might not appear to be the case, it is actually more dangerous when the fires eventually die out and they then regain their vision.
So I have been, I have seen and I have photographed. The one good thing I can say is that these poor maddened creatures are not killed anymore, and nor are they prodded with spikes. After their week’s performance they are put back into special bull boxes and transported to the next village. At the end of August, they are returned to their fields. I am not sure what kind of life they have, but seeing them at these bull-teasings is truthfully kind of sad. Up close they do not look ferocious at all, actually more bewildered and, dare I say it, drugged? It has been pointed out to me that they serve no purpose to mankind other than as performing bulls for the fiestas for their meat is not good. So if the annual bull runs were banned, the bulls would no longer be bred.
I like to think that August is the only month of torment for these poor creatures and that the rest of the year they live in luxury. I really do.