Friday, May 9, 2008

The King, Corruption, and Bullfighting.

From Wikipedia – “¿Por qué no te callas? (English: "Why don't you shut up?") is a phrase that was uttered by King Juan Carlos I of Spain to Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, at the 2007 Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile when he was interrupting Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's speech. The phrase became an overnight sensation, gaining cult status as a mobile-phone ringtone, spawning a domain name, a contest, T-shirt sales and YouTube videos.”

This will be the third entry that I have started this week and then decided to talk about something else. So, I have two unfinished entries prepped for next week, one already four single spaced pages long. Like you care about my excuses, right? Give me content Wakefield and shut up!

Wendy and I looked over the bullfighting schedule this year and marked down twelve bullfights we wanted to go see in the next six weeks. Now comes about the matter of gaining tickets. Not a simple matter.

The first year that Wendy was here, gaining tickets was easy. She arrived on the day you are allowed to buy tickets for the “Feria de San Isidro”, usually, the time of the greatest bullfights of the year. There was a small line and the police were taking peoples’ names and giving them a number. When your number was called, you could buy tickets. Based on how slowly the numbers were being called, she used her enormous brain to calculate when her turn would come up and returned home. She came back to the Plaza de Toros early and checked progress. All was going as planned and she shortly bought her tickets.

Last year, we went down at about the same time in the morning expecting to see Police handing out numbers. What we saw instead was six hundred Spaniards standing in line, waiting for their turn. Wendy waited in line for a bit while I went home for comfortable shoes, a snack, a piss, an umbrella, a book and my cell phone. When I returned, it was raining, and Wendy was drenched and shivering. I took over the spot in line and proceeded to stand in one of the strongest rains I have ever experienced in Madrid for the next seven hours. One of the reasons it took so long is the rampant corruption of the Bullring. Line cutters and scalpers are common and the police take a blind eye. The windows probably serviced four thousand people in the time it took a line of 700 people to advance to me.

And it has always been this way. In his 1967 book “Iberia” on page 771 James Michener states that “I once had a full day in which to contemplate the sordidness of the bullring, for at eight one morning I reported to the box office in Seville to purchase a set of tickets for the feria. I was fourth in line. When the window opened, I was fourteenth, men connected with the racket having edged in ahead of me with the connivance of the police. At one o’clock when the window had been open for five hours, I was twelfth in line because all morning drifters had sidled up to the windows with bribes to the ticket sellers.”

The story continues and at four in the afternoon “A policeman finally came up and said “they prefer it if foreigners buy their tickets on the black market. You’re expected to.”

At eight o’clock when the window closed, Michener was fourth in line. He did end up getting tickets though because the policeman went to the window and explained they should sell him tickets because he was taking notes all day and might be a journalist.

This year was similar but in a an entirely sneakier and snarky way. Determined not to stand in the rain for seven hours again, I awoke at six a.m. and was at the Plaza de Toros at six-thirty where there were four police, fourteen men in line, and a TV crew getting footage. Oddly enough, the line started to move forward. Ah! They must be giving out numbers again this year! How great! In short order, I was at the head of the line and received the number six hundred and thirty four.

Excuse me?

Yes, that is correct. When Wendy arrived a half an hour later to ask why, they explained that “Oh, the line was getting long and dangerous yesterday so we opened up and started giving out numbers early instead of today.”



Translation – “The number system worked too well. Not nearly enough corruption and our friends in the mafia and black market scalpers couldn’t get enough tickets. So, this year, we did the number system again, but made sure all our friends on the take would get them a day ahead of everyone else.”

Nothing on the website, nothing advertising the early day, nothing on the news, nothing in the paper, etc. I hate corruption and Wendy and I were both furious.

We get our numbers and go home. I return four hours after the window opens and ask what was the last number called. Two hundred and thirty. I call Wendy and her enormous brain and she calculates that our number should com up tomorrow at around 2:00 in the afternoon. I resolve to return the next morning at ten thirty a.m. to check what number they are on, and I do.

“Nine Hundred and eight” I am told.

“No no, not what is your number, what was the last number called?”

“Nine Hundred and Eight.”


I make my way through the line ("Perdona. Perdona. Perdona.") to speak to a policeman and I tell him my number. He looks at me like I have three eyes. “You are too late. You missed your chance. You can get another number from that guy over there.”

I call Wendy. We agree to give up.

The next morning I awake and Wendy check’s the Plaza de Toros website and finds out that some of the days that we want are not sold out. For the third day in a row I am going to try and buy tickets.

I emerge from the subway and am very pleased to see no line, and ticket windows open. I check the sign that tells which days are sold out and cross off another day not listed on their website.

Nosebleed seats here we come.

In a pleasant surprise to a very unhappy story, I actually was able to obtain tickets for four days of bullfighting, in almost the same seats we would have asked for anyway.

Four days > Zero days.

Far greater.

There is still one day that I am unable to attain tickets for that we really wanted to see, so that night we talk to a waiter in our favorite bar who has black market connections. We are loath to support such a scam but he’s a very nice guy and it’s only one day. He calls someone and tells us he can get us nosebleed seats that normally cost ten Euros, but on the black market, will cost us a staggering seventy five.

No thank you.

(Not to toot my own horn but Wendy thought the following story should be told, hence, this entire post.)

First Bullfight of the year this past Friday. Fighting this day was Uceda Leal, El Cid and Sebastian Castella.

Leal - Whatever.

El Cid – The favorite Bullfighter of my teacher Montse. I like his determination and despite an inability to kill well, he always tries to make exciting passes and gets thrown into air often enough to make it interesting. Wendy thinks he’s okay but not one of her favorites.

Sebastian Castella – Young. Masterful. Brave as a man can be. Smooth. Excellent. Does cape passes behind his back! We love watching him work. It's true, I have a small man crush on him. (Note - Man crush doesn't mean gay, it means I like him a lot and am a little in awe of him. Again - Not gay.)

A very respectable selection of matadors, now if only the bulls are good. Because, you can’t have
a good bullfight without good bulls. Sadly, the bulls this day are timid, tame and pathetic. The rancher should never be allowed to have cows like this in Madrid again. (Yes, more corruption since you can pay a little known rancher a lot less money for his bad bulls than a premium rate for the finest fighting bulls in Spain.)

The whole fight is a disaster with two bulls jumping the fence to try and get out of the ring, two bulls replaced for being lame, and no one cutting an ear, much less two. Nothing the matadors could do with such pathetic specimens. However, on the sixth bull, Castella is doing everything he can with the bull he is given. He is making this the best fight of the day and doing everything humanly possible to make it a valiant fight.

And as usual, this fat idiot in section seven, is screaming “Muy Mal! Fuera! Malo! Malo!” Which is “Very Bad! Get Out! Awful! Awful!”

He is the only one screaming and you can tell it’s annoying everyone. This is the best we’ve seen all day and we’re trying to enjoy some fine work. This is Castella! Trying his best with crap to entertain you! And you know he can’t do anything with the bull. If he was to kill straight away he would complain he didn’t try. When he does try, you scream he should kill it and get out. It is always this way in section seven where all the critics gather to share their love of bitching about anything and everything. We know this is true because we’ve sat there (once was enough, never again) and had them explain why they were complaining. “He’s too far. He’s too close. He’s too slow. He’s too fast. His suit is an ugly color. The bull is lame. One horn is shorter than the other. The bull's giant penis makes me feel small and afraid and yet tingley all at the same time.” It didn’t matter. Every bull that came out they complained, every matador’s work they chastised, every bullfight, all season long.

He stops to take a breath and I bellow across the ring “¿Por qué no te callas?”

“Why don’t you shut up?”

Silence in the plaza for a split second, then roaring laughter and applause. I get a pat on the back from the guy behind me, and three guys sitting close enough reach out hands for me to shake. Women start throwing me panties. (Okay that last part was obviously fiction.)

I'm actually baffled by the reaction, but hey, always glad to entertain. Soon the bullfight is over and Wendy and I are waiting for a break in the crowd. The steps are steep and narrow and since it only takes a couple minutes for the Plaza to empty, we always wait for the crowd to thin so we can walk out slowly and safely. As the people stream past us, men continue to offer their hands and pat me on the back. It was pretty amusing.

(In truth, I didn’t expect a reaction from anyone, I was just pissed. What really would have made it hilarious would be if the King was there to hear me shout his famous phrase. He usually attends on this Friday since it’s a holiday in Madrid and the matadors wear special outfits for the day, but sadly, he had a more important commitment that day.)
Have a good weekend.


  1. Excellent story, Jamie, and well told. :)

  2. You know you've come far when you can effectively insult someone in multiple languages :)

  3. Well done. Great article this week.