We arrived in Chinchón at about half past one and ignoring the edge of town tourist car parks steered the car towards the Plaza Mayor at the very centre of the town. The streets were narrow but not nearly as challenging as those that we had negotiated last year in Carmona and it only took a couple of circuits of the back lanes, including driving up a one-way street the wrong way before we located our hotel, La Condesa de Chinchón (named after a painting by Goya), parked the car with some difficulty, because I cannot get the hang of reverse parking in a left hand drive car, and then presented ourselves at reception and checked in.
The Plaza was only a hundred metres or so from the hotel and when we arrived there we were surprised to find it being prepared for a bullfight. Now, I would like to see a bullfight but this trip wouldn’t have been the best time because Christine is an animal lover and almost certainly wouldn’t have approved. From the signs in the shop windows we established that the event would be on Sunday afternoon and we would be gone by then so we were relieved that Christine wouldn’t be here to get distressed about it.
The Plaza is in a marvellous location with a big irregular shaped square that is used for town festivals and the occasional bullfight; it is surrounded by a hierarchical arrangement of buildings of two and three storeys with two hundred and thirty-four wooden running balconies, called ‘claros’ and shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor all spilling out onto the pavement. It was the location for one of the opening scenes, a bullfight, in the 1966 film, ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ and was also used as a location for the film ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.
We spent a few minutes soaking up the atmosphere and the sunshine and then we compared menu prices in the bars and selected the cheapest on the sunny side of the square and settled down for lunch at tables compressed between the back of the bullring grandstand and the front of an interesting tourist shop selling a miscellany of local craft products.
Sunday was the day of the bullfight and when we went for breakfast the final hectic preparations were in full swing. Mickey saw the bulls arriving early in the morning and in the Plaza red and gold bunting, the colour of the Spanish flag, was being hung from the balconies surrounding the arena. There was a real buzz of expectancy about the place now and it was a real shame that we wouldn’t be there to experience it.
There were to be seven events and the fights involved three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes. All bullfights follow the same pattern and these are the first two acts of a bullfight that are designed to weaken the bull before the final act of the show which always involves a series of intricate moves and daredevil passes by the matador before he makes his final lethal thrust between the bull’s shoulder blades. If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the President of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail. It is not a very fair fight it has to be said and each one comes to its inevitable conclusion with the death of the bull.
We walked through the Plaza and now the horses had arrived and were being immaculately groomed just outside the entrance to the square. I was surprised at just how small they were but they looked strong and agile and by the time the attendants had plaited their manes and tidied their tales they were beginning to look immaculate. The horse is the mount of the picador and is a specialised breed that is bred to work with livestock. It is forbidden by the National Bullfighting Rules to use the indigenous Spanish breed of horse the Pura Raza Española, the favoured mount of medieval knights and later cavalry regiments, for use in bullfights. This is because they are too valuable because, although these days horses rarely get badly hurt, the role of the horse is a dangerous one because it has to take the full impact of a five hundred kilo charging bull.
We returned to the hotel to pack and outside there were two white mini-buses full of men checking in at reception. These it turned out were the stars of the show, the matadors and picadors and all of their support entourage. In Spain these men are like Premiership football stars and they are so popular and famous that they even have their own web sites. Fighting today were two dashing young matadors called Alejandro Talavante and Jose María Manzanares and the reception was beginning to fill up with expensive leather travelling cases, sheathed swords and yellow, magenta and crimson capes. With a last look into the garden from the balcony before Alejandro moved in we could see a man working hard to clean the blood and guts off of the capes that were left there from the previous fight no doubt.