In honor of August:
On August 6, 1881, Alexander Fleming was born in Scotland. He became a doctor and served in the Royal Army Medical Corps throughout World War I. When he returned, he began to search for new anti-bacterial agents because he had seen many soldiers die of infected wounds.
In September 1928, he discovered that a fungus had destroyed some of his experimental bacterial cultures. By the end of the month, he had cultured the mold and found that it produced a substance that killed many bacteria. Soon, he had named it penicillin after its genus.
It proved hard to grow and refine, but after he abandoned it in 1940, some chemists began to work on it to produce the world's first antibiotic for troops in World War II. By 1945, they had mastered mass production.
Penicillin has saved hundreds of millions of lives. The drug became one of the 20th century's most important discoveries and Fleming one of its most important people.
Why would this matter to bullfighters? They get gored a lot on the job, around once a year. Some injuries are minor, but all are dangerous.
Bull horns are rough and fighting bulls are not bathed before entering the ring, so the horns introduce bacteria and other infectious agents into deep wounds. Recovery can be difficult, but it was much more dangerous before antibiotics.
That's why bullfighters collected money to erect a monument in 1964 to Alexander Fleming. It stands outside Las Ventas bullring in Madrid, one of the biggest and the most important in the world.
Bullfighting has seen better days. Besides an anti-bullfighting movement, which has existed for centuries, the current economic crisis has meant cutbacks. A decade ago, Spain had about 2,000 bullfights a year. In 2010, there were 1,487. While surveys show that most Spaniards oppose a ban, most aren't interested in bullfighting, either.
If Ernest Hemingway were to come to a bullfight today, he wouldn't see many changes, and he wouldn't see many young faces in the stands. That's bad, says Manuel Molés, director of Los Toros program on SER radio. "We can't live without innovation."
Antonio Lorca, a bullfighting critic for El País newspaper, says the fiesta has lost its excitement. "Its star, the bull, has ceased to be a fierce and powerful animal and has become a sickly antagonist who provokes more pity than respect." Fighting bulls are no longer bred to be as dangerous as they used to.
"Today's bull is no good for this eternal fiesta based on thoroughbreds, on the fierceness and bravery of a powerful and challenging animal that creates fear and glorifies the bullfighter who manages to defeat it in passionate battle. But today there is no battle, not even a quarrel. At most, some childish and insipid capework worthy of a schoolyard."
He identifies the culprits: "There are too many ranches, too many bullfighters, too many businesses, and more importantly, too many egos and too much selfishness to allow the purity of the fiesta and the interests of the spectator to prevail."
What should the spectator want? Salvador Boix, a musician who defends bullfighting, says danger is key to the spectacle:
"We live in a society of fear. Fear if it's cold in winter and hot in summer, fear of the nuclear threat, even more fears than society is actually suffering. The bullfighter incarnates the conquest of fear, the respect for his adversary, the will to overcome, qualities that are more and more rare. That's why I'd recommend going to a bullfight at least once. It will put all those fears behind."
Canal+ has video highlights of major bullfights at:
— Sue Burke