zI grew up in an era when the people of other nations were characterised by stereotypes; caricatures that provided a shorthand to understanding that these people were “different to us”. Interestingly these archetypes were almost always male too, so the French all wore striped sweaters and rode bicycles with onions hanging from the handlebars, Italians wore shiny suits and sported thin moustaches, and the Spanish? They were all bullfighters were they not?
Even John Lennon’s 1965 collection of stories and drawings A Spaniard in the Works features him in hat and cape in a stylised pose straight out of a pasodoble, the dance associated with bullfighting. (That association stems from the fact that the marching step of the Spanish Infantry adopted a specific double time pace, and that bullfighters entering the ring adopted the same rhythm in the 19th century).
Intent on searching out the city bullring I asked at the hotel reception. They weren’t sure what I meant even when I fished the word “toro” from my non-existent Castillian vocabulary. Whatever they thought they’d marked helpfully on my map, there was no bullring there.
I should state at this point that I wasn’t looking to experience the spectacle of ritualised slaughter; my eldest daughter would probably slaughter me if I did.
Eventually I found it. Built at the height of the city’s 19th century growth it is a magnificent building, and thankfully no longer used for bullfighting as the practice was banned in Catalonia in 2009, so the circular walls now house a shopping centre on the ground floor and basement. Slightly more imaginative is the cinema on the first floor with quadrants of three screens on all sides.
Of course if you want to draw people into your shops you don’t want to make life difficult for the consumer who is itching to part with their euros, so the ground level walls which presumably once contained narrow, turnstiled entrances have been completely removed and huge supporting struts installed in their place to hold the rest of the walls aloft. They’re not the most aesthetic of devices but at least they permit the retention of some architecture that reflects Spain’s Islamic history with Moorish arches and detailed ceramics; craftsmanship that reflects the significance of the arena in the culture of the city when it was built.
Thankfully they didn’t think to demolish it when they abandoned the practice.