“In bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger. Belmonte, in his best days, worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy.”
– Chapter 18, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Nowadays when people think of Spain and sport, they think of the World Cup champions and the famous tiki-taka style that starts with Barcelona. But the time was when people thought of bullfighting. Now on the wane because so many people find it needlessly cruel and uncivilized, there was a time when it was a huge spectator sport, complete with TV analysis and fights of the week. Whether la fiesta taurina draws the same interest as in the past, I think we can see its courage and daring in display on the soccer fields of Spain, especially el Camp Nou of Barcelona.
If you get the chance to see game footage taken at ground level it is amazing how fast and violent it is. Like NFL football and other sports, from a high shot it can look like a dance but close in, it’s a battle:
Bullfights always result in death. Usually the bulls are dispatched but there is always the possibility that the torero or one of his team will be injured or killed. The horns of the bull pass very near the groin of the bullfighter, and typically a goring will result in a rupture of the femoral triangle including the femoral artery. It’s this knowledge that creates the edge, and frisson.
Watching the diminutive stars of Barcelona, a milder version of this excitement is always part of the spectacle. Everyone knows that players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta are only about 5′ 5″ tall and often combat defenders much larger and stronger like the 6′ 0″ in Martín Cáceres, here.
To outplay an adversary who possesses physical superiority is baked deep in to the Spanish mindset. As mentioned elsewhere in these pages, an archetypal character of Spanish culture is the pícaro, as famously depicted in the Lazarillo de Tormes. Being smaller and weaker, he has to outsmart his enemies and absorb a lot of physical punishment.
Messi is no stranger to this. Every day he plays, he outmaneuvers and opponent and collects a kick in the legs for his trouble. He is unfazed and is noted for saying “Something deep in my character allows me to take the hits and get on with trying to win.”
Here are some clips of Iniesta braving the odds and scenes from bullfighting:
This is Sebastián Castella:
Courage in the face of a stronger force. Intelligence and clever thinking to overcome the adversary. The willingness to risk injury or death to prevail. Whether it’s tauromaquía or tiki-taka, it’s in the Iberian blood.