On Saturday, my husband and I went to Aranjuez to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. It's a small city south of Madrid that beckons tourists with its Renaissance royal palace and elegant riverside gardens, as well as its famously good asparagus, strawberries, and restaurants.
Last weekend was also the Fiesta for Aranjuez's patron saint, San Fernando. A common morning Spanish fiesta entertainment involves bovines, so we went to the 200-year-old bullring for the Suelta de Vaquillas, the Release of Heifers.
In this event, a young cow of fighting bull breed is let out into the ring, where she chases people around for about 15 minutes or until she gets tired, when she's replaced. Anyone at least 18 years old can jump into the ring to temp fate, and a few even came with capes. A real bullfighter, dressed in a tee-shirt and baseball cap, was on hand to help handle the animal.
Why cows? They're cheaper than fighting bulls, which cost thousands of euros each. You also shouldn't let a bull observe people closely, then try to fight him, because the bull will have learned too much. Even in places with a running of the bulls like Pamplona (Aranjuez didn't have that), the animals let into the ring after the run are usually female calves and heifers.
Young animals are obviously safer – but not that much. The Spanish fighting bull breed is big, wily, aggressive, and ill-tempered. Even female calves have killed people.
We paid a euro each, entered the ring, and climbed up to the shady balcony seats.
The first vaquilla may have been fierce, but she tired out too fast to tell. The second and third ones had some fight. No one was hurt, by the way, though the bullfighter did lose his pink baseball hat in a kerfluffle and someone used it like a cape to lure the cow, and everyone laughed.
You'll notice the people in the ring are all young men. One young woman came out to challenge the bull with the help of a boyfriend or brother. She enjoyed a good chase, got a round of applause, and left the ring. Women rarely if ever run with the bulls or take part in "dodge-bull" events in bullrings. I know of no female bullfighters working right now. Spanish women just don't do these things. No law stops them, and Spanish women are quite assertive. But they're also not stupid.
I wouldn't mess with these animals. They can kill you. I'm afraid of them. That's one reason why we sat far up in the ring. They can jump higher than you might expect, and once in a while they do.
— Sue Burke