March 20, 2006

Roberto Galán

(info about Roberto Galán)

The life of a matador

Thomas Kieller

Roberto Galán: Matador.

In a ritual orchestrated since hundreds of year, the Spanish matador confronts the bull in a death ceremony where the risks are obvious. The torero trained to fight surmounts his fear and faces aggressive and determined bulls which can bring him down with his horns. Man must overcome death. It’s in this deadly dance that the matador must demonstrate his style and courage. Roberto Galán has already done sixty fights where he has proven his bravery, his agility and his elegance. This young matador has triumphed by accomplishing beautiful passes with his cape and by delivering dazzling final scenes with his sword. He has aroused many times the excitement of the crowd which has merited him the right to cut the bull’s ear (symbol of success) and to do a ring’s lap in the most prestigious arenas of Spain.

The interview took place on September 23, 2005 at 11:00 in the stands of the bullring of the Plaza Monumental de las Ventas in Madrid, Spain. It was done in English and Spanish with the help of the translator Andres Burgo.

Prelude – Roberto arrives calm and relaxed in front of the main entrance of the magnificent bullring of las Ventas where many citizens of Madrid walk. He leads me to the center of the arena where the corridas and the novilladas are held.

Training of a matador

Thomas Kieller: What do you do as a matador to accomplish your work well?

Roberto Galán: Well, I must train a lot in the countryside and polish up my profession. I must work daily and never stop to fight bulls.

Thomas: What are the technical aspects a matador must learn such as the passes with the cape and the muleta (piece of red flannel stretched on a small stick with which the matador provokes and leads the assaults of the bull)?

Roberto: I think that all of the technical aspects are important. It’s necessary to work at all of them. The sword is important during the killing of the bull. Then there are the banderilleras1 which are important during the "lidia", meaning the running of the bull.

Thomas: How does the matador train?

Roberto: In the beginning of winter, we leave for the countryside where we kill bulls. We also go to the females’ "tentaderos", which are places where one evaluates the bravery and the style of cows in order to determine whether to use them or not in the reproduction of fighting bulls. At these places, we train. Besides, in a house that we have in the countryside, we do lounge fights, by simulating the bull, and this to perfect the aesthetic of the passes of the cape or the muleta.

Thomas: How many days do you train per week?

Roberto: I train every day. From time to time, Sunday is a day of rest. Usually, I train three hours in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Thomas: What do you to do to be in shape and be able to confront the vigorous bulls?

Roberto: I run a little bit in the morning. I also do sit-ups. Sometimes, I walk stairs. Then, I like to go swimming at the pool. During winter, I do muscular training occasionally.

The bull, the danger and death

Thomas: All this training prepares you for the confrontation. Besides, how much does a bull weigh on the average?

Roberto: Depends on his breed. Considering their breed and their physical form some bulls can weight up to 530 kilos (1,165 pounds). A bull of Santa Coloma’s breed, such as the ones of the breeder Victorino Martín, weighs less than others. The Santa Coloma’s bulls are the ones which are used mostly, but there are some bulls which are even smaller and therefore lighter.

Thomas: Are there bulls which are difficult to master?

Roberto: Bulls are effectively with different temperaments. We cannot know, one from the other, how they will behave! I have a small idea of the bull’s bravery in relation to his breed, but all things considered I never know exactly how he will behave in the ring.

Thomas: What are the feelings that you have when you confront the bull?

Roberto (says calmly): Above all, we are afraid. And besides when we are in an arena such as this one, in Madrid, we are under a lot of pressure. At times, we are really nervous. But, as we accumulate experience, we become more confident. Having said this, fear always remains.

Thomas: Is it worthwhile to practice bullfighting knowing all the risks involved?

Roberto (affirms without hesitating): Yes, of course. I am conscious of the risks involved in bullfighting and I am fully aware that he can kill me at any moment.

Thomas: On another matter, what are the emotions that you feel when you miss the thrust (killing of the bull with the sword)?

Roberto (adds with emotion): We all want to kill bulls with the first thrust. It’s better for the bull and for the performance of the matador. Personally, I don’t like too much to bleed the bulls, but these things happen. Sometimes we can see the animal suffer so much when it has been thrust. I am really proud of myself when I kill a bull with the first thrust, because he obviously suffers less.

Thomas: Does it require a lot of dexterity and training to make the thrust?

Roberto: Yes. Actually, it is a very complicated action that I practice daily. We have a cart built with iron and straw with which I practice the thrust. There are days when the sword does not go in, but it still is one of the things that I like to practice.

Team work in bullfighting

Thomas: A matador does not work alone, he must form a team. How do you choose the members of the team?

Roberto: When he begins, the first thing a torero must do is to find an agent. It’s he, afterwards, who finds the bullfights. He talks to promoters, makes the contacts and then we start to hear about the torero. If we have a good season and we work a lot, than the matador chooses the members of his team: three banderilleros, two picadors and one sword attendant (member of the team who stays behind the barrier and who takes care of the swords, capes and muletas in order to have them to the disposal of the matador).

Thomas: What are the roles of your teammates (picadors and banderilleros)?

Roberto (explains energetically): When the bull leaves the bullpen2, I stop him with my cape. Then, arrives the moment to pike him. Two picadors enter. They are on horseback and they place themselves, one facing the entrance of the bullpen, the other at the place where the bull stands. The latter spears the bull. He delivers to the bull a blow with his pike to put him in a favourable state for the matador to fight, otherwise it will be impossible to fight him. He is so strong. It’s necessary to weaken him. After the picadors, the banderilleros arrive in order to put in the banderilleras with the harpoon extremity. They plant them to excite the bull, because after having been struck by the picadors the bull falls into a state of lethargy. It must be revived.

Thomas: Is the picador’s horse trained to be calm even under the great stress exerted by the bull onto him? We know that the bull can charge with violent blows.

Roberto: The horse is not without protection. To avoid that the bull hurts him, we put on the horse a caparison which cover his body but leaves his legs and head free. Then, under the caparison, we put on him rubber panels to protect him from the bull’s horns. Besides, we cover one eye of the horse. Of course, we must train him. He must learn how to move with the caparison and move away when the bull charges. Imagine a horse which receives the charge of a 642 kilos bull (1,105 pounds) and with great speed!

Thomas: In bullfighting, are teamwork and communication important to reach success?

Roberto (confirms with enthusiasm): Yes it’s important because we cannot see everything during a bullfight. Sometimes the banderillero will tell me: "Not from this side, he comes from the other!" or as well: "Kill him in another way!" Between us, the communication is very important.

Thomas: Is the leadership of the matador predominant for the success of the team?

Roberto: Yes, certainly. These days, one must cut the ears off and, if you don’t cut off them, you are not invited in other events. In short, the triumph of the matador is really important for him and for the members of his team, because they also work more and obviously make more money!

Bullfighting seen differently

Thomas: Why did you choose to be a matador rather than another job or sport?

Roberto: It’s something which came from my childhood, because I was attending a lot of bullfights. My father brought me to this very place at las Ventas and I don’t know, little by little I started to interest myself in bulls. It was that simple. At my dad’s village, the folks organize also bullfights. I went there.

Thomas: What is your best moment as a matador?

Roberto: One afternoon, here in Madrid, things went very well for me and, even if I could repeat this feat many times, I would never forget how I felt at that moment. For me it was very beautiful, very special. I cut an ear off a bull then I did a lap of the ring. On top of this, it has served me a lot. Following this, I had a lot of contracts. It was a great day.

Thomas: In which towns can we see you in action?

Roberto: Everywhere that I am hired to bullfight. In Spain, I have fought bulls in Saragossa, Olmedo, Valencia, Madrid and its surroundings. Outside Spain, only in Mexico.

Thomas: When a visitor comes to Madrid, why should he see a bullfight at the Plaza Monumental de las Ventas?

Roberto: In Spain, bullfighting has a very old tradition. It has been a long time that we do bullfights. It’s a part of the Spanish culture.

Thomas: Is it a good spectacle?

Roberto (insists on the fact that toreros like bulls): Yes, as much as we know what it is about. There are some factors which can dissuade people to attend bullfights. For example, the suffering inflicted on the animals. But I don’t think that the word suffering is well used here, because the purpose is not solely to make the bulls suffer. One should also understand the care with which we breed them. I think that only a torero can experiment the love and intense fascination for bulls.

1. Banderilleras: Darts decorated with multicolored stripes that the banderillero thrusts into the bull’s neck at its shoulder.

2. Bullpen: Place where the bulls are kept before a corrida.