Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bull Fight at Madrid – 01 June 2013

The overriding principle of ‘experiencing everything at least once’ made most of us watch a bull fight. How, one can visit Spain and not witness a bull fight was the thought, foremost in my mind. None of us really knew how a bull fight would unfold. Our scanty knowledge was from novels, movies and hearsay. My respect for the bovines had increased manifold since the time I saw a National Geographic clip of an African buffalo taking on the mighty lion.

I come from a land, where bulls and cows are revered and worshiped  My childhood days were spent in the playing fields of ‘Bugle Rock’ in Basavanagudi (meaning Temple of the Bull) Bangalore. Adjoining the play field is located the famous Bull Temple of Bangalore. In fact the road is named the ‘Bull Temple Road’. Many evenings were spent visiting the temple and praying.   

Figure 1 – The Bull

The huge idol of Nandi (Bull) stands approximately 15 feet tall and 20 feet in width. This idol is said to have been carved out of a single rock. It was installed in 1537 by Kempegowda the First, the founder of Bangalore and a feudatory ruler under the Vijayanagar Empire. The Nandi is the vehicle of Lord Shiva.

It is also very common to find a decorated bull and its handler parading on the streets of Bangalore. The appearance of the bull is seen as a good omen.

Figure 2 – Decorated bull doing the rounds with its handlers

My only other association with the term ‘Bull’ having reference to the restaurant ‘The Bull and Bush’ in and the bar ‘Cock and Bull’ in

Incidentally bullfighting was banned in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia by a vote of the Catalan Parliament in July 2010. The ban came into effect on 1st January 2012. The last bullfight in the region took place in Barcelona in September 2011.

Figure 3 - Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

I went to watch a bull fight in the ‘Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas’ a famous bullring in Madrid. "Las Ventas" is divided into a ring or arena and a group of zones called "patios". The arena has a diameter of 60 meters. The seating capacity is divided into 10 "tendidos" (group of 27 rows around the arena), some of them in the shade and the rest in the sun. It has a capacity of 23,000 spectators.

Figure 4 - Toreros statue outside Las Ventas bullring, Madrid, Spain

Figure 5 - Antonio Bienvenida a very famous Spanish bullfighter

Figure 6 – The arena

Figure 7 – Waiting in somewhat tremulous anticipation

Spectators arrive in hoards to watch the bull fight. The whole place gets filled up with fans eagerly waiting to see the action - girls, boys, children, old people, make up the scene. Food and drinks are freely available to add to the spectacle. As time progresses the crowd becomes restless and starts cheering. The mood inside is charged and electric. Finally the bugles sound the commencement .The Picadors enter the scene with aplomb and are received with thunderous applause. For the crowd there is no going back – the action has commenced. The crowd enter into a trance – a make believe world reflecting the virtues of human power over animals. It’s not about survival - hunting in the jungle to kill, eat and stay alive. We are not in the Paleolithic age, when man competed with animals to rule the earth. This crowd is now in the year 2013 AD in modern Spain, waiting to satisfy its meanest instincts – to maim, wound, draw blood and kill.

Figure 8 - Picadors enter the scene

The Picadors along with various henchmen enter the arena with fanfare. As in a military parade, they go around the arena waving and saluting. The crowd explodes in approval. Then a man holds a placard proudly proclaiming the details of the bull – mainly its weight.

Figure 9 – 460 Kg bull

The most anticipated event of the day happens. All of a sudden, the bull appears in the arena. The animal is totally confused and bewildered not knowing what to do and where to go. It is in a strange and unfriendly environment. I later learnt that the bull has been severely handicapped during the last two days, with the primary aim of making it weak, disoriented and submissive. Only a sick mind can do this. The bull has already been maimed with a short spear marking the spot for further mutilation. Bull fighting has been glorified over centuries as a contest between a wild and uncontrollable beast and a brave Matador. The junior Matador commences his serious business of tiring the animal. The bull runs around the arena aimlessly, tiring itself in the bargain. The brave Picadors safely seated on horseback, wait for an opportune moment to drive a javelin-like spear into the bull’s back. The horse is protected by a metal blanket as the bull stops to gorge. The Picador bravely inserts the spear into the bull and it starts to wriggle free from pain. The Picador is relentless in his pursuit and with single minded devotion continues to stab and gorge the bull. The bull charges in anger and our heroic men take shelter behind a steel wall. The crowd applauds and shows their marked appreciation by waving out white handkerchiefs. As the bull bleeds, the chief matador enters the act, teasing and further wounding the animal with the Banderillas a sharp, harpoon-like barbed instrument. These are plunged into the bull’s body repeatedly. Five to six Banderillas are pierced with surgical precision as the bull staggers and groans in pain. During all this acts of bravery the Matador is helped by Picadors and a number of assistants. The bull has no chance and is cornered. In a final act of subhuman cowardice the Matador plunges a knife into the tired and helpless bull. The bugle blares, heralding the end of a gruesome display of a one sided ugly sport. The bull never had a chance from the very beginning. A medieval sport without any meaning continues to thrive in modern Spain – encouraged by the locals and tourists. I understand a top Matador is paid up to 350,000 Euros for every fight and he does four in a year. As the defenseless and maimed bull falls, he attacks it once again to seal the killing. The worst happens thereafter. The dead bull is unceremoniously dragged by horses out of the arena as the crowds boo and jeer him. Now at peace for the first time, the bull departs the arena after twenty minutes of the most atrocious and unfair treatment by so called civilized men.

The barbaric show is over. We cannot take it any longer. We decide to call it quits and skip the next three fights. We slowly troop out, with heads hanging in shame, guilt and a deep sense of remorse. Never again! Some are bound to say ‘Why the first time itself?

Figure 10 - All of a sudden, the bull appears in the arena

Figure 11 - The junior Matador commences his serious business of tiring the animal

Figure 12 - The brave Picador safely seated on horseback waits for an opportune moment to drive the javelin like spear into the bull’s back

Figure 13 - The bull charges in anger and our heroic men take shelter behind a steel wall

Figure 14 - As the bull bleeds the chief matador enters the act

Figure 15 - Five to six Banderillas are pierced with surgical precision

Figure 16 - Matador is helped by Picadors and a number of assistants

Figure 17 - Matador plunges a knife into the tired and helpless bull.

Figure 18 - Defenseless and maimed, the bull falls, he attacks it once again to seal the killing

Figure 19 - The dead bull is unceremoniously dragged out

On our return to the hotel Jayanti wrote a poem to get the horrid spectacle out of her system.

With a flurry of tradition
The toreadors and other horsemen
Walk into the ring
Flourish their capes
Arrogant and sure
Excitement fills the air
Anticipation fills the lungs
I enter
Look around,
I do not know why I’m here
They have pierced me
and sent me in
My blood boils,
I scent danger
They tease and
arouse my worst instincts
I charge wildly
this way and that
A dance of death-
Dodging me, they wound me
Again and again
Wildly helpless, bloodied and still strong
I charge
The rider on horse back
uses his three headed spear
The Toreador makes his move
Alas! I can take no more
I die as the thundering sound of applause fills the air


Saturday, September 7, 2013

We visited Madrid – 30 May 2013

All of us were really excited to see Madrid, as it happened to be our last place of visit. In 14 days, we had gone around Spain and Portugal and travelled almost 3000 KM in a bus. The journey to Madrid was accompanied by rain and snow fall. Unusual, for this time of the year. The weather was really cold and we were prepared for it, this time around. Cold weather somehow manages to heighten ones mood and people become active and chirpy.

The travel with ‘Trafalgar’ is a different kind of experience. On the plus side – it is meticulously organized, time management is first-rate, choice of hotels is good and the transport and the guides are excellent. Trafalgar covers a lot of ground and we were able to see many cities in the duration of 14 days. David Nadal did a creditable job as our tour director. However the coverage of the cities needs a lot of tweaking. Our stay in Barcelona and Valencia could have been better handled. Most of the good places of visit are covered under ‘Optionals’ for which one has to pay extra.

Going on your own with time on hand is undoubtedly the best way to travel. Our trip to Greece with Nair and Sudhi was excellent. We visited Athens and Santorini. With Athens as base we went to Delphi, three islands cruise and places around Athens. I suppose, it largely depends on the country one visits – it’s better to go on an organized tour in China – may be the same holds good when you visit Vietnam and Cambodia.

Whichever way one decides to travel, the bottom line should be –travel extensively. It breaks monotony, you stand to gain knowledge and return wiser. I personally feel that travel makes you a better person.

Spain and Portugal took us to a different Europe.Only when you travel you realize how vastly different countries in Europe are, in spite of their small size and closeness.'I visited Europe' makes absolutely no sense.One has to further qualify by saying Greece,Italy or Denmark  - the same holds good with India. We are very vast and each state is different.I think there is nothing wrong in people demanding a separate state to enhance their identity - be it Telengana,Gorkhaland,Vidharba etc  

Figure 1 - Drive up to Madrid

Finally we reached Madrid and moved into a very stylish hotel ‘Novotel Madrid Puente De La Paz’. The inner lobby immediately catches your attention. A series of wall paintings and well appointed furniture makes up the place.

Figure 2 – The painting in the recess gives an additional appeal

Figure 3 – A well appointed sitting area

Figure 4 – Cannot keep the bull away

Figure 5 -   Senora with a bull

Figure 6 – An excellent anteroom to wind down after a hectic day

Madrid is the capital of Spain and its largest city. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million. The city is located on the Manzanares River.  We went on a city tour in the afternoon. The city is full of parks, trees and avenues. The central part of the city is very pretty and well preserved. The rest of the city is modern with brick and cement structures. Madrid was once a village and it was very common then for farmers to take their cattle for a walk in the centre of the town. One can see the cattle paths even today. The city was founded by the Muslims in the 9th century. In the 16th century palaces were built to attract the nobility. Finally the capital moved from Toledo to Madrid. The city population has grown from a meager 20.000 to 600,000 inhabitants to become one of the best destinations in Europe.

When the clock tower in Madrid strikes at midnight on the new Year eve 31st Dec - people in Madrid eat 12 grapes for 12 gongs.This event is show on all TV channels.Imagine millions of people eating grapes at the same time.

Figure 7 – Plaza de Espana

In the center of the plaza is a monument to Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes saavedra, designed by architects Rafael Martínez Zapatero and Pedro Muguruza and sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera. The tower portion of the monument includes a stone sculpture of Cervantes, which overlooks bronze sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Next to the tower, there are two stone representations of Don Quixote's "true love", one as the simple peasant woman Aldonza Lorenzo, and one as the beautiful, imaginary Dulcinea Toboso.

Figure 8 –  Bronze sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Dore and Lalitamma – Many memories.

After i had taken this photograph,Dore walked up to me and said 'I will always cherish this photograph".He thereafter went on to recollect a piece of family history. This is what he had to say 

"When we were all appreciating the huge & impressive statue of Don Quixote, I recalled the contribution of my late father D.V.Seshagiri Rao,Professor & Author, in making this unique character known to Kannada readers. Apart from some original work to his credit,he added  translations of a few well known works from a couple of other languages to the Kannada literary wealth. Included in this was, his translation of Don Quixote by CerVantes. Pity not a copy is available now. But, if I remember right, published sometime in early 50s. He didn't know Spanish.Obviously, he translated from an English translation; but am not sure which one was it, as it appears, there are more than one.

Instead of giving the usual title ' Don Quixote ' he chose " Ailuveerana Sahasagalu".Roughly meaning " The Adventures of a crazy warrior ". I believe the book was well received. In fact, after reading his Kannada translation,I was tempted to read the English version also.It is no easy job to bring out in a translation, the nuances and unique features of the original work with the same effect. But, my father,instead of resorting to literal translation,brought out the essence and typical characteristics of the hero, I believe, in a telling way appealing to the Kannada readers. Evidently, a lot of effort on his part.Watching the statue was really a nostalgic as well as a memorable event.

A truly remarkable achievement 

Figure 9 – Statue of a bear and a mulberry tree at the Puerta Del Sol Square

Figure 10 – On the day we were in Madrid there was a big football match between Germany and Spain.

German supporters are in yellow. The atmosphere was electric with the square reverberating with noise, shouting, catcalls and the rest. Smell of beer was omnipresent.

Figure 11 – A very trendy shop

Figure 12 – Meet the meat

Figure 13 – Police ready for any eventuality after the football match

Figure 14 – Part of the inner city

Figure 15 – A beautiful square

Figure 16 – Part of old Madrid. Cannon marks are still visible on the wall.

Figure 17 – Modern city image

Figure 18 – Sky Scrapers of Madrid

Figure 19 – A very imposing government building

Figure 20  - Public parks adorn the city

Toledo. Next morning we visited Toledo. It is known as the "Imperial City" for having been the main venue of the court of Charles I, and as the "City of the Three Cultures", having been influenced by a historical co-existence of Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is also known as ‘City of Tolerance’. Toledo is very famous for its steel. Toledo steel, known historically as unusually hard and has been a traditional sword-making, steel-working center since about 500 BC, and came to the attention of Rome. Soon, it became a standard source of weaponry for Roman legions. Toledo water in which the steel is tempered gives it the unusual strength.

Figure 21 – Cheers to Toledo

Figure 22 - Toledo’s Alacazar palace now houses a museum of military history

Figure 23 – City of Toledo

Figure 24 – City square

Figure 25 – View of the church

The cathedral has four entrances – one each for the King, nobility, the rich and finally for the common people.

Figure 26 – Where ever one goes the windows steal the show

Figure 27 – Another example

Figure 28 – Yet another square

Figure 29 - The city straddles the Maumee River

Figure 30 – A very clean walkway

Figure 31 – Sanctum Sanctorum

Figure 32 - The Smiling Virgin in the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, Spain

Figure 33 - Vaulted ceiling, high altar, and Reja of the main chapel

Figure 34 - The retable of the Cathedral of Toledo is an extremely florid Gothic altarpiece; it is one of the last examples of this artistic style.

Figure 35 - El Transparente

One of the most outstanding features of the Cathedral is the Boroque altarpiece called El Transparente. Its name refers to the unique illumination provided by a large skylight cut very high up into the thick wall across the ambulatory behind the high altar, and another hole cut into the back of the altarpiece itself to allow shafts of sunlight to strike the tabernacle

Figure 36- Jai enjoying the morning

Figure 37 – Nuns making marzipan

Marzipan is a confection consisting primarily of sugar or honey and almond, sometimes augmented with almond oil or extract. It is often made into sweets; common uses are marzipan-filled chocolate and small marzipan imitations of fruits and vegetables. According to one version, marzipan was invented by nuns of the Convent of San Clemente in Toledo.

The Convent supposedly came up with this delectable stuff in the 16th century, when there was a famine on. Almond trees grow like weed in and around Toledo, so the nuns ground up the almonds, mixed them with sugar, and hey presto – marzipan.

Figure 38 – Some are tired, some lost in their own thoughts, others confused and the rest waiting for the beer time

Figure 39- Remotely operated stumps to keep the tourist vehicles away. The local have electronic remote to lower them

We went to a local restaurant to spend the last night of our stay in Spain. The wine and food was excellent.

Figure 40 – A befitting closure to our long trip

Figure 41 – Kats and Nair with an heightened sense of overall well being and happiness.

Figure 42 - Madrid–Barajas Airport is the main international airport. Departures – Terminal 4.

Finally we bid good bye to Madrid on 02 May 3013