On Journalism and Bullfights in Madrid

Hemingway knew bullfighting…and journalism.

Madrileños, unlike most denizens of big cities, are genuinely friendly and eager to talk about their city, Spain, and almost anything else you want to discuss. Our first night here, we had a discussion about journalism and its position as a profession in Spanish society over beers and a plate of olives at an outdoor cafe in the Plaza Mayor with a young man named José Angel. José Angel's girlfriend is a journalist and he's a carpenter, so he allowed as there was some friction with her parents over his “station” in life. I assured him that their positions would probably be reversed if he came to the United States and he'd be welcome to visit us anytime the in-laws got to be too much.

Later, we moved to an Andalucian bar, the Torre de Oro, in another corner of the plaza. Andalucía is the southern region of Spain and is the true home of bullfighting. In this bar, the decor tended toward the traditional. The walls were covered with six bulls' heads and numerous other bits of bullfight memorabilia, including capes, matadors' “suits of lights,” and photos of matadors being gored and the subsequent surgery. Really.

But the conversation tended to that other favorite Andalucian tradition: sherry. Unfortunately, most Americans only know of the very sweet cream variety that your grandmother probably drank after supper. But, if you know a little more about sherry, you know that the type to drink as an aperitif is a fino, a clear, dry version that's as far from cream sherry as any dry Chablis is from White Zinfandel.

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By ordering finos, we confirmed ourselves to the bartender as tourists who might be worth talking to and we ended up discussing the various merits of different vineyards that make finos as we tried a few of them accompanied by some chunks of boiled potato dressed in mayonnaise, red pepper strips and smoky paprika.

The conversation moved along, obviously prompted by the ambiance.

“Have you ever seen a bullfight?”

“Yes, several.”

“Do you like them?”

“Yes, but they're not for everyone, and you have to know what you are looking at. If you are American, you should have to read Death in the Afternoon before you go to a bull fight.”

“Yes, Hemingway was a good friend of Spain.”

There was a photo of Hemingway in the bar. There was one of Jimmy Carter, too. In his picture, I think he was looking at the photo of Hemingway.

We wound up talking about the recent referendum in Cataluña (the region in northeastern Spain around Barcelona) which banned bull fighting there. “The Catalans don't want to be Spaniards,” the bartender told us. “And they really aren't anyway. So, for me, it would be alright if they took their region and had their own country. We won't miss them.”

“Yes,” I said. “The Catalans prefer football.”

“Well, so does everyone else,” he said. “Today, bullfighting is for tourists and old people.”

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