Bulls meet death at midnight in the floodlit ring

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The Independent Online
FOR ONCE, there was no need to distinguish between expensive seats in the sombra (shade) and the sun-bleached cheapos in the sol usually snapped up by British tourists. It was bullfight by floodlight at midnight as promoters sought to turn the sleepless heat of mid-July Madrid into hard cash.

The first floodlit fiesta de toros in the capital in recent times was deemed a success. The terraces were about one-third full - with some 8,000 spectators - when the Saturday night session opened at 10.30pm, though many had filtered out to catch the last bus home by the time the lights went out for the sixth and final bull before 1am.

With tickets ranging from around pounds 3 to pounds 15, the organisers' gamble paid off. They would have been able to pay off the three novilleros (junior matadors), their aides and the breeder of the three-year-old bulls - two years younger than those fought by graduated matadors - and still come out ahead.

They had been encouraged by the unexpected success of Madrid's recent San Isidro festival, when Las Ventas bullring was full virtually every day for a month despite last year's 'horn-shaving' scandal and recent efforts by Spain's Green Party to declare bullfighting illegal. Also working for the organisers was the windless July heat that keeps many indoors until at least 8pm and turns madrilenos off their late-evening pleasure of gobbling tapas and sinking copas.

The copas were still very much in evidence at the midnight bullfight, the favoured red wine bota outnumbered by beer in plastic cups. Dignity was maintained throughout the faenas, the prelude to the kill, but no sooner had each matador's aide delivered the coup de grace than vendors appeared to the cry of 'hay cerveza' ('there's beer') and 'hay weesky con hielo', the latter from an elderly man lugging around bottles of Cutty Sark, a portable fridge full of ice and a tower of plastic cups.

As for the event itself, there was some confusion over the fact that the bullring president's traditional gesture of a white handkerchief had been replaced by the flashing of a garish light bulb. As for the white hankies among the crowd, used to demonstrate approval, the ratio of silk appeared considerably higher than usual. Madrid's so-called los beautiful, the young sons of wealthy businessmen and women in designer clothes who spent more time scouring the terraces for acquaintances or watching for the red 'live' light of the television cameras, appeared to have found a novel way to see and be seen.

In the ring, thanks to the floodlights, the sequins of the young men in the gender-revealing 'suits of lights' glittered more than ever. The bullfighters won varying degrees of acclaim. Two took home the coveted prize of an ear apiece. But for Cristalero, a grey bull, acclaim for his bravery came too late. By the time he won a standing ovation, he was being dragged stiff and dead from the ring by flag-bedecked horses, a matador's sword having been buried to the hilt.