Our first full day in Madrid we focused on two items: the Prado musuem and a bullfight.
The Prado museum is among the premier in the world, with a variety of famous works by Goya and Valazquez. We enjoyed free Sunday admission and I bought an audioguide to help enjoy such stunners as Las Mensinas. Though crowded, the layout was logical and staff helpful. As with all my museum visits so far, my experience has been a mix of old art history class knowledge that, somehow, still exists in my head, and new perspective and appreciation. The quality of the audioguide can really make a difference to a largely ignorant art spectator. The Prado guide contained the right amount of detail for me and made it easy to choose which paintings to stand in front of for a few minutes versus just pass by.
In the evening we headed to the famous Madrid bullfighting arena Plaza de Toros. I will admit upfront that I had mixed emotions about going to a bullfight. I’m not a big rah-rah-rah animal rights person — and I like eating meat — but the thought of violently killing a bull to 50,000 cheers didn’t appeal to me. The Madrid collisium is in its own right a beautiful setting. An old, red brick exterior and stone seating throughout the interior (think Roman coliseum). The atmosphere was surprisingly sober; I expected hooligan crowds, jeering, alcohol, etc. Far from it. The event started promptly at 9 PM with all people involved parading out and engaging in a very ritualized introduction which is described on the Wikipedia Bullfighting page (along with all other relevant details). Then, the first bull came tearing out and the matadores jumped out from their protective walls and waved pink flags at the bull. This lasted for a few minutes. Then, with the bull tired, a man on a horse entered the ring, baited the bull, and at the right time stabbed the bull in the back with a massive spear. Here, blood starts gushing from the bull. (I looked away during most of this — truly disgusting.) Then various other matadores came out and essentially just fucked with the bull, showing off their skill in avoiding injury. None of the humans got hurt. Finally, a couple assistants stab the bull with long knives that don’t come out and then the main matador stabs him with a sword. By this time the bull is gushing blood, squealing noise, and all the matadores then waves all their flags to confuse it (ie it doesn’t know which direction to charge). The bull collapses, the crowd cheers, and a man comes out and cuts off its ear, attaches a poll to its head, and it’s dragged off by horses. All in all, this happens six times in a row for two hours.
I’m not a fan. It was definitely fun to be in the scene but I didn’t see much "culture" to make up for the utter cruelty and violence. The man sitting next to me, I learned, has been coming to bullfights for over 50 years. He comes every Sunday all year, and every night during the two months of the year when it’s a daily show. Whew.
After the bullfight Austin and I went to an outdoor cafe in Plaza Mayor, drank Sangria, and I ate a Spanish tortilla (a small cake-like, flour-filled munchable). A lovely setting.