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"2 x 2 = 5" DEBATE.
BARCELONA, BULLFIGHTING ARENA

There are people who openly express their surprise when, accidentally, they meet an "aficionado", a true lover of bullfighting. On the other hand, most fans of bullfighting are rather tired of feeling constantly obliged to give explanations or even justify themselves. This problably explains why Catalan aficionados - whose stand one of the participants in this "2 x 2 = 5" debate describes as truly heroic - have ended up going their own way, disregarding a generally hostile environment and accepting that label of fringe group which local dominant culture and politically correct Catalan way of thinking impose on them. In any event, they are in fact in a rather relative minority considering that Barcelona's "Monumental" is a first-class bullring which accomodates a bigger crowd than Pamplona during the Feria of San Fermin. The Barceloneta district even used to have its own bullring. Therefore, the present debate is not centred upon the question whether bullfighting is right or wrong. All the participants are aficionados who have come to talk about something they enjoy and love - bullfighting - a form of expression which, we cannot fail to remember, is linked to most ancient ritual practices in widespread use over the Mediterranean area.

- JAUME BOIX : The "Monumental" is a first-class bullring and Barcelona used to be a very important bullfighting place. But is it still so nowadays ? Do bullfights attract larger or smaller audiences than in earlier times ? How is the current situation of the "Fiesta" in Barcelona ?

- PERE BALAŅA : Barcelona continues to be a first-class place on the bullfighting scene... Even though it is obvious that the number of performances has decreased in comparison with earlier times : there have been years when the bullfight season consisted of 60 corridas, whereas now it is limited to 30 fights, but this is not a phenomenon that affects only Barcelona. There is no doubt that the bullfight business has undergone radical changes everywhere. One of the consequences or effects of these changes is that, in most towns, formal bullfights are now concentrated and held at fixed dates during the local fairs called "ferias". This means that the bullfighters have heir season schedule arranged many months in advance, just like the professional tennis players who have to plan which tournaments they are going to enter on the established ATP tour. In Barcelona, there is no such "feria" but there is still a "season", which means that bullfights are held every Sunday from April until the end of November. It is actually one of the few cities in Spain that still maintain a real bullfight season. The fact that there is no longer any special feria in Barcelona - although there used to be one in September, a month in which weather conditions are usually unsettled - may, to a certain extent, be a disadvantage. However, July has now become the month that boasts the presence of the best bullfighters in the whole season and, to tell the truth, from 1990 up until now, which is to say over the last decade, the number of spectators has notably increased.

- JAUME BOIX : How many people go to the bullring throughout a season ?

- PERE BALAŅA : It's difficult to tell. It depends on the number of performances.

- JAUME BOIX : Last year, for example. At a rough estimate.

- PERE BALAŅA : Well, let's say that we had more than 200.000 spectators.

- JAUME BOIX : More people than those who attend bullfights in many cities where there is a feria.

- PERE BALAŅA : Yes, of course. For instance, there are less people going to the corridas in Pamplona because, actually, in Pamplona, there is only the Feria of San Fermin, which lasts for 7 days with an average public of 20.000 per day, which roughly amounts to a total of 140.000 people, and that's all. Because there won't be any other corrida until the following year. So, over the year, Barcelona gets more spectators than Granada, Cordoba, Bilbao and many other important bullfighting places.

- SALVADOR MARESCA : I think that we're all very clear about this but, now, I would like Balaņa to answer a question in his capacity as an entrepreneur : if we agree that there is a potential public and if good bullfighters' performances draw large audiences to the ring, why don't you book better "carteles" of bullfighters or good bullfighters more often ?

- PERE BALAŅA : For a very simple reason. Because what my famous grandfather used to do - to repeat good "carteles" and book those bullfighters who had proved successful on several days, advertising the event on a slate at the entry to the bullring - just cannot be done anymore. In earlier times, when a good bullfighter repeated his performance, he used to attract a larger crowd to the ring. Today, on the contrary, a "repeating" matador draws a much smaller audience. It is a result of a general change in people's habits which also affects the world of bullfighting.

- JAUME BOIX : What is it due to ?

- ANTONI GONZALEZ : To the role played by television, most probably. Today, there is no bullfighter who can really be considered a novelty. People have already seen them all many times on television. So what is happening is that more people than ever before are now watching bullfights, but they watch them on television. (...)

- SALVADOR MARESCA : There's a difference though. In Madrid, people share the spirit of bullfighting with stronger feeling than in Barcelona. In the cafés, in the restaurants or in the streets, people live and breath the "fiesta" more deeply than here.

- PERE BALAŅA : I don't agree. This only happens during the Feria, which last 15 to 20 days. When, in the mid nineteen eighties, the Feria of San Isidro and the Autumn Fair started livening up, the organizers said : now, we have to go further and promote the season. However, after the performance of the secong good "cartel" of bullfighters - and it was a really good one, with Manzanares, Julio Robles and still another bullfighter whose name I can't remember right now -, the season was over, because there were very few spectators. I insist that, in cities like Madrid, Sevilla or Valencia, people do not go really to the bullring, they go to the feria. In Barcelona, however, people go to see bullfights more regularly.

- J. HERNANDEZ PIJOAN : Nevertheless, the media coverage of the Feria of San Isidro is considerable, and so is the response of the public. Here - I agree with Maresca -, it's not the same, there is no excitement, no special atmosphere surrounding corridas.

- SALVADOR MARESCA : Could anyone tell me why, in the edition on sale in Barcelona, Madrid-based newspapers cut out the better part of the pages allotted to bullfighting ? Here, I see that there are twenty pages of football news and they don't interest me; but I don't feel angry or offended, I just don't read them. So, who would feel offended if there were a couple of pages about bullfights ? Readers can skip these pages if they want, but why should they be cut out ?

- ANTONI GONZALEZ : This is quite clear. So, what's going on in Barcelona ? The fact is that, in our city, being a lover of bullfighting has never been considered a social virtue. Barcelona residents don't usually boast about going to see a bullfight, regardless if they actually go or not, whereas, in Sevilla, people boast about being bullfight-goers, even if they seldom attend any corrida.

- JAUME BOIX : Has it always been so in Barcelona ?

- ANTONI GONZALEZ : I think that, if we except the time of Chamaco, yes, it has.

- PERE BALAŅA : In the nineteen fifties. Except for that period, attending bullfights has never been well looked on.

- ANTONI GONZALEZ : On the contrary, what happens in Madrid with bullfighting is something similar to what happens here with opera. To say that there are many lovers of bullfighting in Madrid is like saying that there are many opera lovers in Barcelona. And this is not true. Catalan bourgeois are not real connoisseurs of opera, they are connoisseurs of their "Liceu"... Likewise, the bourgeois of Madrid are not real connoisseurs of bullfighting, they are connoisseurs of their Feria of San Isidro.

- SALVADOR MARESCA : Well, wait a moment... There have been great connoisseurs of Wagner's music in Barcelona, real experts.

- ANTONI GONZALEZ : Only a handful in all Barcelona, only a handful.

- PERE BALAŅA : The first time the Feria of San Isidro was held, in 1947, it consisted of three fights only. And it was organized by a company that had almost gone bankrupt the previous year. They must have thought : why don't we organize a feria like they do in smaller towns ? It might prevent us from loosing so much money... So they got down to work and planned that three-fight feria. However, two days before the show was due to start, Pepe Luis Vázquez, whose manager was then Marcial Lalanda, decided to withdraw from the "cartel" because he thought that the public would not come and the feria would turn out to be a disaster. Today, such a decision may sound incredible, but things were very different fifty years ago. Today, the bourgeois of Madrid attend the Feria of San Isidro but, the rest of the year, they don't go to the ring to see bullfights. (...)

- JAUME BOIX : Has that unfavourable social climate worsened since the Catalan nationalist government came to power ?

- PERE BALAŅA : I think that we have now reached a kind of cooling-off point. I would say that bullfighting leaves the great majority of the Catalonians indifferent, but they do not have a belligerent attitude toward it. They just don't interfere, they accept that there are people who love to see bullfights without making a fuss about it. And this is the way it should be.

- SALVADOR MARESCA : The Parliament of Catalonia has ruled that children under 14 years were to be refused entry to the bullring.

- PERE BALAŅA : This has to do with a juvenile protection law that was passed a few years ago. And there is a special resolution, supported by the Parliament of Catalonia, urging the Generalitat's Autonomous Government to issue a decree forbidding children under 14 to attend bullfights and boxing matches.

- SALVADOR MARESCA : But this is not a consequence of the authorities' concern about young children's hypothetical exposure to cruelty, but rather a result of the nationalistic obsession of the Government of Catalonia that makes them confuse bullfighting with fascist ideology. They don't take into account the fact that in the Basque Provinces such as Pamplona, Bilbao and San Sebastian, as well as in Valencia, people have always defended the cause of bullfighting.

- ANTONI GONZALEZ : I would dare to say that this is not a problem that has to do with the nationalist government only. It is a widespread attitude. I think that, in socialist as well as communist circles, there are also many people who are opposed to bullfights.

- SALVADOR MARESCA : But they keep quiet about it.

- ANTONI GONZALEZ : Well, I would not take it for granted ! Besides, the people who opposed the passing of the law on the prevention of cruelty to animals in the Catalan Parliament because they were defenders of bullfighting were members of the Esquerra Republicana party from the Ebre region. And they are staunch nationalists.