Paseando por España

The fiesta happens once a year in every pueblo and town, and we wouldn't spend any time on it here but for the fact that it is a revolt -- albeit a well-ordered and creative one -- by a people who at last give themselves the life that they want, and once a year, for a limited time, set aside the life that they have. The Spanish fiesta makes amends for a long all-the-year-round patience.

It is one of the communal creative activities that people who are used to holidays-with-pay have lost sight of, tourists go in search of with considerable enthusiasm; and indeed the exalted feelings that the occasion gives rise to seem to be generally spontaneous, both with the peasant who is making the fiesta and the tourist who is re-discovering it. Every town and village has its own way of doing things, its own decorations and its own history. But though in some places the fiesta is more extravagant than in others, its general pattern is the same everywhere. Once a year, life stands on its head. Everyone eats, spends money, drinks, and dances; no-one sleeps. They kill boredom, and they kill death. One of the attractions of the fiestas -- and in this they are sometimes surprisingly good -- is that they give the popular imagination a chance of expressing itself from year to year, from generation to generation. So the way that a village dramatizes itself becomes a focussing of its experience. In certain districts, the struggles between the Moors and the Christians remain inscribed in the images and symbols out of which the fiesta pageants are built up. Historical allusions remain; so do religious memories.

But at the centre of the pageants, which vary in ornateness, there is always one constant: the ritual act of putting the bull to death. In actual fact in the poor villages the young men, in a spirit of bravado, content themselves with playing the cape in front of an animal which, after having thus served their whims several times, is all the more dangerous. But in the towns or districts that are prosperous enough to have a plaza de toros (bull-ring), the public assembles at five in the afternoon to witness the ritual killing of the bull. The phenomenon of tauromachy should be regarded in its proper setting, which is the fiesta. The matadors go from fiesta to fiesta, like the Gypsies and horses; and like the idle aristocrats who throw their proprietary glance on what is called the fiesta nacional, and forbid anyone who isn't, as they say, 'of the planet of los toros' to take an official part in what is after all the national art.

Today, interest in bull-fighting seems to be decreasing. Not in quantity, because there have never been so many spectators before, but in quality. Some Spaniards, disregarding the Rôle played by a primitive myth and handed down until it has become an art, contrast the old aficion with the new enthusiasm for sport, notably football. Even here we are back on the quarrel between the upholders of tradition and the countryside, and the advocates of urban life and modernism. But is there a quarrel? The corrida as you will see it from the balcony heights if you are going to the bull-ring for the first time, or from the barrier if you aren't afraid of the blood or the expense, is a primitive myth presented in a modern form. It has both its history and its evolution.

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