Date Sixteen – The Argentine Matador

Before I arrived in Madrid I had told Signor28 I would quite like to see a Bull Fight.  The ‘sport’ is open to much criticism, and I try not to pass judgment on foreign customs until I have experienced them.  It was actually a conversation I had with Stitch, who had studied Anthropology that prompted me to ask Signor28 about bull fighting.  He had a similar approach to foreign behaviour, and we had discussed some far more abhorrent scenarios than bull fighting on our awkward night out in Bristol!

Signor28 asked around his friends, and decided the Argentine Matador would be the best man to accompany me to the bullring.  He knew enough about the bloodsport to be able to explain what was going on, but didn’t consider himself a fan of the entertainment.

Signor28 arranged for us to meet at Ventas Metro station, by the matador statue.

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I navigated my way easily enough from the central Sol area to Ventas, and then sat waiting at the foot of the statue, armed with Signor28’s work phone to allow for Spanish phone contact.  Twenty minutes after The Argentine Matador was set to meet me, I worked out how to call him.  He answered brusquely, told me he was running late and then hung up.  Not a great first impression!  I texted to ask how long he might be.  ‘Ten minutes hopefully’ came the curt response.  Twenty-five minutes later (and forty-five minutes late!) my date arrived.

There was no real apology as he herded me towards the arena. I stood awkwardly as he bargained with a ticket tout for our tickets, and then followed him inside.

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From what I could understand, a bull had just been killed and they were cleaning up the arena, and so we weren’t allowed onto the terrace for about five minutes.  We stood chatting in the hallway.  It was a little awkward.  I told him about my time in Argentina, and one of his first questions was ‘why would you spend eight months in South America?!’

Eventually the steward opened up the doors, and we walked out onto the sun-drenched terraces.  There are several standards of seating around the arena.  We were seated up in the gods.  Far away from the action (not necessarily a bad thing!) but with a brilliant view of the entire arena.  The seats are simple concentric stone circles around the arena, divided with painted lines.  Elderly men sat at the front of our section, their legs hanging down through the railings, eagerly watching the action like little kids.

As we found seats in the sunshine (which we soon switched to ones in the shade), The Argentine Matador began explaining what would happen.

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Each fight consisted of four phases.  Before the bull entered, a man would carry out a sign to show us how heavy the bull was.  Then the bull would be sent out into the arena, where three men with pink and yellow capes would tease him and wear him out, taunting the bull towards them, then running behind a shielded gap in the wall so the bull couldn’t get to them.  This would continue for a few minutes, then a horn would sound, and two men on horseback would enter the ring, the horses blindfolded and wearing body armour.

The men with the pink capes would help usher the bull towards the horse.  Then, as the bull rushed towards the horse, the rider would stab the bull in its neck muscles with a knife on the end of a long pole.  If he cut the bull too much, or repeatedly, the crowd would boo.  If he moved around on the horse rather than waiting for the bull, the crowd would also boo.  Sometimes the bull would catch the underside of the horse with its horns and almost push the rider from the horse.  On these occasions the men with the pink capes would run towards the bull and try to capture his attention.

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The horse would then leave the arena, and the three men with the pink capes would take it in turns to stab long darts with long colourful tails into the bull’s back.  The aim being to get both darts in the correct area, and to stay in, whilst also dodging the bull.  Apparently these darts damage the muscles in the bull’s neck, so he lowers his head and can focus properly on the Matador’s smaller red cape during the fourth phase, as this cape is placed lower to the ground in his eyesight.

Finally the band would announce the arrival of the Matador (or in this case, Novillada, as we were watching a trainee event).  He would enter the arena with the expected pomp and majesty, dance with the bull, often driving the animal in circles around himself with his bright red cape (a move The Argentine Matador told me was called the Media Veronica).  The band would signal when there was only 3 or 4 minutes remaining for the Matador to kill the bull.  He would be given a curved sword, the aim being to kill the bull in one clean shot.  Sometimes this was the case, at other times it wasn’t.  If the Matador was unable to kill the bull cleanly, a different sword would be used, to ensure a swift kill.

We watched four ‘fights’.  Twice the Novillada was knocked to the ground, and the other men had to rush in to distract the bull to stop him goring the man.  Twice the bull was clearly too tired or injured after just a few minutes, and so the crowd began to boo and slow clap.  3 claps in a row which to me sounded like ‘Change-The-Bull, Change-The-Bull, Change-The-Bull.’  And this would be what happened.  The men would leave the arena, and a heard of white and brown cows would be sent in to usher the bull out of the ring.  (This was my favourite bit as it meant the bull was being saved!)

We saw a talented Novillada kill the bull in one shot on two occasions.  Not my idea of entertainment, and still pretty disturbing, but at least the bull suffered far less than when the Novilladas were less talented and had to stab repeatedly at the poor animal.

I’m not going to lie, it was far more brutal than I expected.  I don’t think I’d properly thought about how violent it would be, and didn’t actually realise the bull died every time.  I thought it would be a lot more evenly matched (having heard how injured Matadors get) and that the main focus would be the dancing and dodging.  I think I was probably thinking more of the Running of the Bulls, rather than one poor bull being stabbed by multiple men.

I don’t think I’ll be going again!  I winced every time the bull was killed, and the phase with the horse and the darts just seemed really awful – basically they taunt and tire the bull (even though the neck muscle rationale was later explained to me).  As night fell and the lights went on around the ring, you could properly see just how much the bull was bleeding while the Novilladas were ‘fighting’ him.  I also couldn’t really get my head around how much effort must go into breeding an animal for just one fight, and apparently years ago the horses didn’t wear armour either, so often a horse would die during the fight too.

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It was interesting to see the traditions of it all – the regulars all have a series of handkerchiefs in different colours, which they wave for different reasons.  For example when the Matador does a really good job, the crowd wave a white handkerchief.  If the judges agree with the crowd’s support, they allow the Matador to remove an ear from the bull and the Matador can keep it.  Apparently two ears is extremely prestigious, and two ears and a tail the highest honour.

The crowd was really animated, and it was easy to learn what was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ from their responses.  The whole event was definitely a spectacle.  The outfits were ornate, and when the lights went up, all the silver and gold suits sparkled brightly.

After the Bull Fight, we walked down the street and found a bar.  Whilst a very odd date (and I admit, completely my choice!  As the Argentine Matador repeatedly told me every time I pulled a face at what was going on!!), it had definitely broken the ice.  We had chatted a lot during the bull fighting.  I had teased him about constantly wearing sunglasses even after it had gone dark! (they were prescription!), and he had teased me back about some of my English-isms, and the way I told some of my dating stories.

By the time we went for dinner, we were getting on easily.  What also helped was how comfortable he was.  Maybe it was just his way, or maybe it was something Argentinians are more open about, but he was really tangible, which made it easier to relax.  He held my hand as we climbed up and down the arena seats, helped me over turnstiles, and grabbed my hand as we crossed the road, without even blinking.  Often to demonstrate something about the bull he would touch my back or neck to show me where the Matador was aiming.  Granted he was clearly a very confident guy.  He was by far the most traditionally attractive man I’ve dated so far on this challenge, and exuded confidence, in a way that at first had come across as nonchalant arrogance, especially after he arrived 45 minutes late!  However, he went on to explain that he had literally flown back from Malaga that afternoon, and the flight had been delayed.  He had thought he was just doing Signor28 a favour by looking after a visitor from home for the evening so Signor28 could have some time alone with his girlfriend, and so he had almost cancelled on me several times.

Rather than being generally rude, I think he’d just been rushed (and obviously speaking a second language) when he had first answered the phone, and had then been rushing to get into the arena when he did finally arrive.  As he warmed up, it was interesting how much my first impressions of him changed.  He had gone from being a hot arrogant guy, who didn’t seem to want to be there, to an interesting, engaging guy, with such a good grasp of English that we found a common sense of humour and were soon taking the mickey out of each other.

If the date taught me anything, it’s that you really can’t read into phone calls or text messages (in the way I did with Enigma before I met him too).

The rest of the evening was great.  We walked back to Signor28’s apartment (where I was staying), stopping at bars and restaurants along the way.  We chatted about the challenge, which I told him about, and he asked me about my best and worst dates so far.  He took the mickey out of me a lot, and then told me about an Argentine blog about a ‘chubby girl’ who overheard her mother saying she would never get a date to a family wedding.  The girl started a blog to find a guy, and it was turned into a TV show in Argentina.  When I joked about him drawing the parallel to a ‘chubby girl’, to me,he replied ‘Don’t be stupid, you’re beautiful, and you know you’re beautiful’.  (Probably a well practiced line, but I’ll happily take the odd ego boost from a hot foreign guy!!!)

He also came out with a brilliant line (when we realised it was nearing 1am, and he was meant to have been home at 10 to Skype his niece and nephew back in Argentina).  He had shrugged, ‘There will be other Children’s Days (an annual event), there won’t be other evenings like this, here with you.’

Cheesetastic, but it worked for me!

I’ve never been on a proper date with someone who isn’t British before (The Booby Prize was originally from Bath), and I’ve never been on a date with someone who speaks English as a second language, so it’s hard to tell whether it was the situation or just The Argentine Matador.  By the way, his name includes Argentine, because apparently ‘Matador ‘is too Spanish and he wanted people reading the blog to know he was Argentinian!  He’s a rugby player, and the Argentine rugby team are called the Pumas, so we had discussed the nickname The Puma, but it also means a younger Cougar, so I figured it probably wasn’t he best nickname!  Apparently a Matador in Argentina is an expression used for a ladies’ man or player, which also made it more amusing, as he was clearly not shy with women!

Anyway, talking to someone who spoke English as a second language was a little difficult at times, especially because my Spanish is really rusty (and I felt bad that the whole conversation rested on his grasp of English … though he did make me finish the date in Spanish!)  But it meant conversations went differently to my standard dates, which made for some interesting variety.  It was really interesting speaking to someone who was living abroad, and had travelled a great deal for work.

The Argentine Matador was a really interesting date.  I imagine in normal life he’s probably a complete player (or Matador!), but as a one off date, where he knew he wasn’t getting laid at the end of it, he was really charming, funny and interesting.  I had a really great date.  The Bull Fighting was definitely a one-off, and probably not something I would recommend for a date normally, but in so far as a unique sight-seeing experience, with an interesting informative ‘local’, it was really different, and the Argentine Matador managed to make the evening fun.

I obviously came to Spain to visit my friend for the weekend, but the Challenge was tied into the holiday, and I know if I’d just come here for Date 15 on its own, I would have been a little disappointed.  Bull Fighting was a date I could only have done abroad, and it was a really fun evening – far more in the spirit of the challenge than my evening with the Booby Prize.  The whole point of this summer is to open my eyes to new opportunities, and do things I would never have done if it weren’t for the Henley Boy situation.  And so this date, my proper Spanish date, was a proper landmark in my challenge, and definitely one of the dates I will remember the most when I look back on my crazy summer of conveyor-belt dating!

We met – at the Matador statue by Ventas Metro

I wore – a floral skirt, black vest top, flipflops and sunglasses

He wore – a t-shirt and shorts

We drank – water, shandies, Tinto de Verano

We talked about – Argentina, South America, Spain, travel, working and travelling, rugby, extreme sports, dating, one night stands, my challenge

The date lasted – 5 and a half hours

The date ended – In very rusty Spanish, when he walked me back to the door of Signor28’s appartment

Marks out of Ten – A decent 9/10.  I had a really fun time.  Miraculously The Argentine Matador managed to undo the damage caused by turning up 45 minutes late with hardly any communication!  The evening was informative and interesting, and I went on a date I would never have been on if it wasn’t for this challenge.

My thanks go to Signor28 and his girlfriend for hosting me over an awesome long weekend, and helping the 30 Dates Challenge go international!

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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