Friday, 6 February 2015

The Horse Passion

Spain has many fiestas, mostly saints' days. The Spanish people are fiercely protective of their right to enjoy themselves and do so with great energy and verve. The carnival of a smallest village, tucked into the hills of the Sierra Nevada, does its best to rival that of any. South American city. The costumes are magnificent and inventive, from monstrous walking clocks with working parts, to giant scorpions. I marvel at their ingenuity. One of my favourite fiestas takes place around the end of March when a temporary bull ring is erected in the one-time fishing village of La Herradura where I live for part of the year. The ring is fashioned mostly from plywood and scaffolding, with hard plank seats and no shade from the hot sun. The weekend is devoted to two quadrupeds: the bull and the horse.

On Saturday there is a bull fight. Ernest Hemingway maintained that in order to write in depth about death, it was necessary to witness it first hand. This may have been true for Hemingway, whose novel 'The Old Man and Sea' is one of the greatest ever written and most of whose other works deal with death in many forms. I had a younger brother who died a quick violent death aged 16 and a father who died a lingering one at 42. I was there for both. Indeed, now that I'm in my seventies I seem to attend more funerals than christenings or weddings. I feel no urgent requirement to witness death of man or beast in order to make my fiction believable and I certainly cannot any add further insight to the mystery we must all face one day. I am no Hemingway and would not wish to moralise on a great writer's opinions, even though they differ from my own. Hemingway won the Noble Prize for Literature and were he still with us I'm sure he would not care what others felt about bull fighting.

Sunday, ah, Sunday. The ring is put to a very different use. On Sunday there is the Pasion de Cabellos, the Horse Passion, when riders and their mounts put on a show that is truly magnificent. Firstly, there is the pageantry. Each male rider in his colourful traje corto - waistcoat - a doma vaquera jacket and tight, high-waisted  pantalon caireles. Then there are the slim, poker-backed haughty Andalucian women in culottes skirts, those short-brimmed calanes hats tipped to one side, looking down at any passerby with an unsmiling expression. (Oh, how I love those superior females! High boots, cold eyes, postures worthy of a queen.) The skill of both sexes on horses with silken manes and tails flying, the muscles beneath their gleaming coats rippling with each walk, trot or canter, would astonish a Parthian warrior. These horses have prancing hooves and dancing eyes, and seem have entertainment in their bones. Beautiful beasts in the eyes of men, whom they have served since antiquity. I would not like to say for definite whether they enjoy giving a performance to a crowd of excited humans, but it would certainly appear so. When riderless they trot around the ring, nodding and giving the odd sideways flick of a hoof, as the applause showers down on them.

Perhaps there is something a little hypocritical about avoiding a bull fight, yet enjoying watching a horse being forced to carry another creature on its back? We humans have complex minds and even more complex emotions. There may be beauty in both, but one is about pain and death, and the other about energy and life.

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