Alicante notebook: A bloodless kill
At a bar in Alicante, Spain: facing a tapa of meaty cuttlefish (sepia) in a thick, sticky pool of its ink. Warm—it’s emerged from the microwave behind the bar—congealing slightly as it cools, deep with coppery saltiness, like the taste of blood. Per —my husband—doesn’t want more than a bite, and I admit, it’s a tad gory, too murky a concentration of flayed sea life for me to finish.
Later, in our hotel room, in a thick-walled arcade ringing the plaza in front of the ayuntamiente—the town hall—looking out onto a crude baroque clock tower, I flick on the TV before leaving for dinner—it’s a bullfight, a glimpse of the San Ysidor Festival, Spain’sWorld Series of matador-dom.
A boyish matador in tight turquoise pantaloons and a pink cape gaudy as paper roses: curly dark hair, handsome and sinuous, like gay guys we’d see around La Chueca in Madrid. Junk taped down, probably, like a drag queen’s—sexy and at the same time sexless. He’s ripe and precious, petulant as he prances gracefully in the ring.
Cutaway to an older torreador in a wide-brimmed hat, advancing with elaborate picks to stab the bull, already sprouting a plume of ribbons from where it’s been gored, taunted. Cutaway to the crowd in the stands: celebrities, politicians, the monied—in delicate straw hats, expensive-looking clothes and tans, a superhyped whiff of anticipation, the sleek turquoise ass of the boy matador, a delicious suspension in the load of ritualized violence about to drop.
The bull—El Pelillo—is following a predictable trajectory of impulses; the announcer lauds the beast for its bigness, its magnificence and courage. Like a climax prolonged to amp up its pleasure, the grave-faced, handsome old torreador slowly advances to El Pelillo.
But the deck is stacked against El Pelillo. He’s fucked—it’s all been a distraction. A picador on horseback deftly advances from behind the pissed-off bull, makes a deep, fatal stick. El Pelillo turns, tries to gore the blinkered, well-padded horse. Now the old torreador is running, drawing the bull away from the horse, and tries to make another stab, picks fluttering white ribbons; they wobble in El Pelillo’s shoulder, heave, fall to the ring.
The matador advances, wields a curved sword like a ballet student executing a move, but the bull’s done: El Pelillo collapses, like a dog laying down in the heat. An then it’s over—the TV cuts to smiles on in the crowd, the finely molded beauty in the matador’s expressionless and yet triumphant face, then a cut to a commercial about toilet paper or chocolate biscuits or some shit. You don’t see the enormous, twitching black carcass dragged across the ring, the smear of blood in the dirt.
As for Per and me, we’re off to dinner. Well, that’s Spain for you—like the sepia I can still taste, lurid reality shows up mainly on the plate. —John Birdsall