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Sensational Matadors Revive Bullfighting In Spain

Spanish matador Jose Tomas performs a pass during a bullfight on June 5 at Las Ventas bull ring  in Madrid.
Alberto Simon
AFP/Getty Images
Spanish matador Jose Tomas performs a pass during a bullfight on June 5 at Las Ventas bull ring in Madrid.

Crowds of young people recently gathered outside a stadium in Madrid. Many had waited all night in the ticket line. But it wasn't a rock concert that was about to begin. It was a bullfight — with a matador named Jose Tomas appearing at the city's main bull ring.

Just a few years ago in Spain, bullfighting appeared to be on its way out. Many people, especially younger Spaniards, were telling pollsters that they just weren't interested. But the sport is regaining cachet — largely thanks to a new breed of bullfighters.

One of the aficionadas in line wore a stylish red dress with spaghetti straps. She had a small designer purse under her arm. The tickets sold out in no time, so Raquel Campoy grew impatient as she haggled with a toothless old man.


"Do you think I would spend the night sleeping here," she said to the aging scalper, "so that someone could charge me 300 euros for a ticket?"

That's almost $500, which is cheap. Some fans were being asked to pay more than $1,000 for a seat.

Bullfighting was supposed to be a thing of the past. And yet the bull ring had an atmosphere like a hip night club — swarming with what the Spanish insist on calling "Los Beautiful People" — models, celebrities and politicians.

Zaida Padrino, 24, is lucky: She has season tickets.

"Jose Tomas is No. 1; he's the best. He stands where nobody else stands; he fights like nobody else fights; he has it all," she said.


But the star is famously reclusive. Jose Tomas shuns the media and usually refuses to let his bullfights be televised.

The highlights that are played show him so close to the bull, it's as though he wants to be gored. And he often does get stabbed by the bull's horns. It seems the sight of his blood, as much as the bull's, is what excites the crowd.

And it's not just Jose Tomas who's causing a sensation. Elle magazine declared another of the small group of celebrity matadors, the handsome Cayetano Rivera Ordonez, its "Man of the Year."

But a majority of Spaniards still are either not interested or strongly opposed to bullfighting.

One of Spain's most celebrated novelists, Antonio Munoz Molina, says the resurgence of interest makes him feel "ashamed" to be a Spaniard.

He wrote an op-ed in the country's leading newspaper, El Pais, recalling how his father made him sit through interminable fights in his youth, when Spain was a dictatorship.

"Who would have thought," Munoz Molina wrote, "that in this new century, something that repulsed us as one of the worst vestiges of our past would be converted in something modern and sophisticated?"

"Is there really anything noble," he continued, "about tormenting an animal and finishing him off in a repulsive sequence of clumsy thrusts?"

Zaida Padrino thinks there is.

"Of course, it suffers," she says. "But that's what it's bred for. The fighting bull lives free and has a fantastic life in the five years before it goes to the ring."

Some critics say Jose Tomas has it all wrong — that bullfighting is all about gracefully evading the bull. But one leading commentator praised him, saying he shows that bullfighting is about "the beauty of death."

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