Heading for bull country

2008-05-14 00:00

“Before we head for the forgotten island of Ibiza we need to go to bull country,” I said to Brenda.

I have always wanted to stab a bull through the heart and slice off its ears so that I may nail them to my study wall as a conversation piece.

Like in every other city bigger than Fish Hoek, we got repeatedly and hopelessly lost seconds after taking the turn-off to Cordoba. If Columbus had hired a female navigator, Jamaica would be called America today.

Eventually we came upon what the Spanish laughingly call the “historic centre”. Brenda prefers to stay in these areas because they have “character”. Give me a break. Old buildings are like old people. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

I simply cannot stand before one more crumbling edifice heavy with statues of sad-faced people and say, “Hmm. That really goes back.” History has very little significance when one travels without guide books of any kind.

What did intrigue me in Cordoba was the Mesquite. When I first saw the name I thought it was a strip joint and was wondering how I could give Brenda the slip for a couple of hours, but it turned out to be a giant, cavernous structure built, oh, I don’t know, about a million years ago.

It was constructed by the Moors and for a long time used as a place of worship by both the Jews and the Muslims. At some point the Knights of Santiago got wind of this unseemly little arrangement and rode hell for leather to Cordoba where they killed everyone in the name of Christianity and converted the mosque into a cathedral. Today, they charge tourists an entrance fee and warn them against being unduly impressed by the Moorish architecture.

Like the rest of Spain, Cordoba was stuffed to the gills with Catholics. There was no room at any of the inns and the sidewalks were overflowing. Apparently only a damn fool arrives in Cordoba in early May without reserving some sort of accommodation. The city was gearing up for a marathon of festivals ranging from celebrating the cross, the onset of spring and, I think, the ham. These people love their ham. They string it up by its back legs right above your head but it’s difficult to relax when you’re worried about the hindquarters of a pig landing in your lap just as you order your next beer.

The Spanish also love their children despite them being infinitely more worrisome than falling ham. Give me Spanish ham over Spanish children any day. Ham is at least disciplined and rarely speaks out of turn. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Spanish pigs behave better than Spanish children, even as they prepare to sacrifice themselves so that we may gnaw on their scrumptious buttocks.

In Africa, if you come across a lion cub in the bush you run like hell because mum or dad can’t be far behind. In Spain, if you come across a couple between the ages of 16 and 50 you run like hell because their children can’t be far behind. They will be shrieking or crying or doing something that will set your teeth on edge and make you want to commit unspeakable atrocities upon their swarthy little heads.

We have the pope to thank for this appalling state of affairs. Spain would be a far more pleasant country to visit if the men didn’t think they would burn in hell for putting a latex sock over their willies every time they felt the need to breed.

Making matters infinitely worse, Cordoba was also full of latter-day Visigoths. These travelling barbarians might have swopped their swords for ice creams and prefer to think of themselves as Germans, but you only have to look into their faces to know that they come from a terrible place in history.

Seeking refuge in the restaurant at the end of the Mesquite, Brenda amused herself with a jug of powerful sangria while I fired off several frames from the old Nikon whenever something caught my eye.

A comfy chair, cold beers, warm tapas and an endless supply of sultry, underdressed Andalucian women in the cobbled roads. This was travel journalism at its best.

The sangria went to Brenda’s head and she asked me when exactly I planned on fighting a bull. “Fight? I laughed. “Forget fight. Fighting is for sissies. I’m going to eat one of them wild beasts.”

I stared unflinchingly into the eyes of the waiter and said, “Bring me the rabo del toro. Pronto.” The crowd in the restaurant fell silent. Somewhere in the back streets a fiery tempered flamenco dancer rattled her castanets and an old war hero riffed on his 12-string Ibanez. Buzzards circled overhead and a boy with a goat stopped to watch.

Ten minutes later the waiter returned. He set the mound of steaming bull before me and moved quickly for the safety of the bar. As the guitar solo reached its dizzying crescendo, I fell upon my plate and devoured the animal with consummate skill and courage. Not to mention relish and gusto.

Rising up to my full height, which wasn’t all that much since I was sitting, I stabbed my fork into a fist-sized chunk and fell back, exhausted. “Olé!” I cried. “Torero!” responded the crowd. “La cuenta!” shouted Brenda.

After the bloodied remains of my conquest had been removed, I offered to buy Brenda a pair of boots. “We have to eat them and wear them,” I said. “It’s the only way to get any respect around here.”

I found the perfect pair in a seedy shop down a blind alley for just 15 euros. Brenda said she doubted they were made from real leather. “Nonsense,” I said. “I’m talking genuine bull, here.” I explained to her that her bull had probably taken one look around the ring and said, “You want me to do what?” then promptly died of fright. Boots made from gay bulls will obviously be cheaper than boots made from bulls that kill three matadors and two horses, and then jump into the stands and start goring the crowd.

I could see Brenda was uncomfortable with the idea of wearing boots made from an effeminate bull so I changed my story rather than risk paying more.

“Or,” I said, “It’s more likely that your bull walked up to the matador and said, ‘it’s because I’m black, isn’t it?’ Then he refused to fight and was dragged around the back and shot in the head because nobody likes an uppity bull. Think of him as a Martin Luther King bull.”

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