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A day in Ronda, Spain

September 23, 2016 2 comments

Entering Ronda, a small city in the south of Spain, on a hot, sunny, September Saturday, we were surprised by crowds that made it seem as if everyone in town and the surrounding, picturesque, Pueblos Blancos, White Villages, were jammed into the city streets.
At first we assumed they may be celebrating Santa Teresa de Jesus, whose hands are kept in the Madres Carmelita Descalza convent at the center of the city. Franco, who helped by Hitler and Mussolini led the fascists to victory in the Spanish civil war and ruled the country until his death in 1975, was so fond of Santa Teresa that he ‘borrowed’ her hands to kiss them nightly. The hands, encased in a silver reliquary, were returned upon Franco’s death. But no one was lined-up at the convent, not even to buy the delicious cakes baked and sold by the unseen nuns.
The reason for the crowds was next door, for la corrida, the bullfight. The best toreros and the fiercest bulls were to meet at the Plaza de Toros for what many consider the best bullfights in Spain.
I am not a fan. Bullfights are controversial, even in Spain; Barcelona has already banned them. But as luck would have it, we had visited a fierce bull breeding ranch and learned much about bulls and bullfighting.
The young bulls are raised in a fenced pasture where they lead a life of leisure, eating—4,000 euros per bull yearly upkeep—and sleeping. They are so lazy that their food is placed uphill and their water downhill, to get them to move a bit, leading one to wonder how they develop their tremendous strength, other than by testing themselves against their contemporaries, sometimes with fatal consequences. They never, ever, see a man on foot until fully grown, and at 1,500 pounds, enter the arena.
Bullfighting is considered an art. To become a torero remains the poor man’s dream; the best earn up to 250,000 euros per corrida. But a bullfight is carried out according to tradition and strict rules; the various toreros have very specific duties. The number of charges, just as the number of passes is prescribed. Plus the bulls are very intelligent; after only a few charges at the cape, they will charge the man.
A bullfight is the ultimate reality sport. The fiercer the bull the better, though some are duds, disinterested Ferdinands; no one knows till the moment of truth.
Attending a corrida was tempting. But the small arena sits only 5,000 and with tickets costing thousands of euros and long gone, we settled for people watching and sightseeing—we came to Ronda to see its spectacular gorge and bridge. Everyone was in a festive mood with many, mostly women, wearing colorful costumes from yesteryear and happy to smile and pose, even for a dumbfounded tourist.
It was lucky we were there that day, enjoying the atmosphere and an unhurried lunch of tapas and sangria at a shaded outdoor cafe. A most memorable day.

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