Plazza de Toros

The guidebook said that a Bullfight always starts on time, so with only a few moments to go before the appointed start, we were surprised to find the ring empty, and most of the audience seating empty.

The Marbella Bullring is, like most bullrings, reminiscent of a roman amphitheatre, a circular arena in the middle with tiered seating about it. Come 7:30pm the band, previously unseen at the top of the stadium directly opposite us starts up with a pasodouble. Not just any paso, but the Spanish gypsy dance. We all started to clap out the familiar rhythm, and I know I felt the urge to get up and dance, feeling the strong posture and powerful  hapes that define the dance based on the bullfight.

As the music builds into the first verse the toreros enter the ring, lead by a single overseer on a black horse. They cut a strong, striking image on their beautiful white horses, followed by three rows of three matadors, in tradition embroidered costume with pink and yellow capes.

The opening ceremonies continue for a short while, behind the scenes the master of the bulls is checking the animals, and drawing lots for which bull will be used for which fight. Before long, the president of the fight waves his white handkerchief and the first bull is released. Three of the toreros are waiting, and the angry bull charges into to the ring, and towards the first one he sees. He steps behind the wooden gate as the bull makes it anger known as it loudly clashes against the wooden gate, its irritant standing just inches from it, yet separated by solid unbreakable wood.

The toreros take it in turns attracting the bull’s attention, making it charge at them, before stepping behind their wooden shield, or occasionally standing their ground and using the cape to misdirect the bull. While they have its attention the main gate opens and the matador enters on his white horse, brandishing the long spear known as a picador. Before long the bull is left to notice the horse, and sees a new target. It charges but to no avail, the horse can easily outrun the bull. Each time the bull approaches the horse simply steps out of range. Again and again the matador urges the horse to within range of the bull, only to trot it in front of the bull. The bull is running flat out at the horse, which can keep a safe distance without even breaking into a sweat. The matador tries to keep the horse close enough to the bull for the crowd to feel a sense of danger, but the crowd is not fooled. It’s clear that the horseman is in charge, and before long he tempts the bull into a side-on charge at the horse. Its reward is the insertion of the spear into its back, and then a futile chase the flag that unfurled from the spear shaft, still in the matador’s hand, after the spear made impact into the bull.

This spectacle is repeated another two times. Until the bull has 3 ribbons on his back, each marking the entry point of an attached spearheads. The toreros attract the bull’s attention while the matador leaves the ring, and changes onto a fresh, well rested horse. He renters the ring, draws the bull’s gaze, and draws it into more fruitless charges. It’s easier now. The bull is tired, and the anger has started to fade. Again and again it charges, and again and again the matador inserts banderilleros, shorter, heavier spears that stick whole in the bull. The blood from the bull is thick down its flanks, heaving with each breath, and a red pool is forming under the bull’s feet whenever it stands still. Once again the matador leaves the ring, again changing his horse, and again returning. This time his weapon is a shorter spear, almost knife length. When the bull charges this makes the matador lead farther over it, before pushing the blade deep into the bull. It is still clear the horse if faster, the matador carelessly lets the bull reach the horse, but it’s filed down horns only grazes the horse. 

The bull is loosing its anger. Its charges are less aggressive, and it starts to ignore the matador. He shouts at the bull, which simply turns his back on the matador. He circles the bull, trying to get its attention. It doesn’t want to know, its anger is spent and it’s in pain. It’s bleeding heavily and not interesting in a tormenter it can’t reach. The matador tries again and again to get its attention, but no matter where he approaches from, the bull turns its back on him. He gets closer than ever before. If the bull was still alert there would be a danger of it goring the matador, or his horse, but in its weakened state there is no hope. But even so it responds to the threat of a horseman so close, it charges, and finally having goaded the bull into aggressiveness, the matadors’ code of conduct allows him to again skewer it.

The matador leaves the ring for a final time, returning with a long spear. The charade of the bull ignoring the horseman is repeated, and the crowd are not impressed, the mocking whistles of the amphitheatre ring out and the matador is humiliated, and forced to go closer and closer to the bull. The bull is still not interested, it’s only when the horse approaches with a foot or two of its head that it will attempt the pretence of a charge. Its reward is a spear, deeply inserted into its back. This spear is not left, but withdrawn. With the whistles of the crowd forcing him on the matador again faces the bull to charge, and again slides the spear deep into the muscle and innards of the bull. His task complete, the matador leaves the arena, and the toreros emerge from their wooden shields.

Four of them converge on the bull, capes in hand. The bull finally sees a target that does not overshadow its size, and realises here is an irritant it should be able to do something about. It charges with a renewed aggressiveness, but the cape flashes to the side, and the bull follows it, not coming close to man wielding the cape. The bull turns and finds the next man in his path. Again the charade of a charge is performed, but again the bull does not come close to finding his target. Again he turns, and finds himself facing the third cape. Around and around the matadors pass the bull, charge, miss, charge, miss, and finally, after seven or eight such charges the bull falls over; utterly exhausted and unable to even regain its feet. The final torero, dressed in black approaches the bull, with three knives in his hand. He tiptoes up to its head, and then slowly places the point on the bulls head. In a swift lunge he presses the knife deep into the animal’s brain, the bull twitches and lets out a low of pain. Again the knife is thrust, and this time the bull dies. 

While the man in black, who administered the final blow throws his arms in the air to celebrate his victory over the vicious beast, and large cart hose is brought into the arena. The horse slowly drags the dead bull out of the arena. The sands and raked, hiding the blood, and the bullring is again an unbroken circle of soft yellow sand, ready for the next fight…

By |August 27th, 2006|General|0 Comments

I don’t want to think in just one domain

I have a passion for combining ideas. Towards the end of my PhD I started to realise that what I had done, at least in my own mind, could be explained by talking about different “traditional” subjects. I had several different areas of computer science (performance prediction, scheduling, security, and a few others), economics, philosophy, mathematics, biology and even a bit of politics.

In most of these subjects, someone with even an undergraduate degree in it would quite possibly have laughed at the immaturity of each piece of work. That isn’t the point though. To my mind, what I really got my PhD for was for combining each of the different areas. For example I showed that a fairly trivial model of biological evolution, stolen by computer scientists in the 60s can actually be used to solve one of the “hard” problems in micro-economics. A problem that most of the economics text books I read will only solve for really easy cases, and then do so with 5-6 pages of maths, making it look really hard.

I see a common problem in the world today. Intelligent, bright educated people simply revert to scared uneducated people when faced with a problem from a subject they don’t feel they should know. Often the problem is so simple that knowing its subject is not necessary, simply being able to think, something we are told is the benefit of the university system, is all it takes to understand it. But that rarely works as expected. The person in question cannot do this, for whatever reason.

Take computers for example. Not complex actions like sending an e-mail, or browsing the web. But simple, simple actions, like pressing the on switch, or the reset switch. This terrifies many people. Urban myth is full of stories of people who ring their PC vendors support line when the computer won’t work, only to eventually inform the support line that there is a power cut. They simply can’t transfer the knowledge that “electrical devices require power” and “a computer is an electrical device” to come up with “computers require power”. Either they are stupid, something which you can normally discount within 10 seconds if you talk to them about another subject, or, they are scared by computers, a new idea that is, or at least, can be, very complex.

For some reason, I love this sort of cross domain thinking. It formed the basis of my thesis after all. You will often find me reading introductory books in new subjects. While I read these books I often think “this is just like an idea from somewhere else”.

I want to write about these ideas, I want to suggest them, probably often wrongly, but sometimes, maybe, I might hit onto something really interesting.

By |August 6th, 2006|General|4 Comments