For French matadors on the sidelines of the major rings and young pupils of bullfighting schools who will never be engaged for public events, private bullfights are their only hope of an audience. Holiday-makers too can live out their fantasy as a "Sunday matador" in between a game of pétanque and an hour on the beach. The slaughter of the bull is followed by a barbecue, music and dancing.
A bullfight needs spectators to be profitable, and so organisers sell tickets in selected tobacconists in the nearest pro-bullfighting town. All that remains is to publish the time and place in a regional newspaper, or on the Internet.
Thus informed, a One Voice investigator attended a private bullfight.
The event kicks off at around 10 a.m. Adults and children gather on the slopes overlooking the makeshift ring. From under a parasol, a local dignitary officiates proceedings.
The first bull is released into the ring. It is a young animal whose horns have clearly been shaved to half their normal size. Unlike at public bullfights, where resin is used to camouflage the bull's illegally shaved horns, at private events no attempt is made to disguise the fact the bull has absolutely no means of defence.
A clearly inexperienced man enters the ring, dressed in a pseudo-Hispanic style of cowboy boots, turned-up jeans and bolero. He waves a pink cape in a grotesque simulacre of a matador's passes.
He is joined by a picador, armed with a lance which he impales in the bull's back to weaken it. His ferociousness is such that some women spectators call out for him to stop.
The bull is now bleeding profusely. It circles the walls of the ring in search of a way out but cannot escape the banderillos. The "matador" waves his cape. The president authorises him to kill the bull. As the "matador" takes his sword, a small boy in the crowd asks his mother, "Mummy, why are they hurting the bull? Why do they want to kill him?" Like a shot, his mother replies, "Because he's nasty."
A slow death
Killing a bull outright is already a difficult task for an experienced matador. For an amateur, it is practically impossible. Despite the sword plunged in its flesh, the bull is not killed. The "matador" gouges the bull eight times before it finally collapses, still alive. The puntillero or executioner enters the ring, repeatedly stabbing the bull in the head to finish it off.
Even after the slaughter, the "show" continues. The dead bull is dragged out of the ring and its body hung from a winch to be cut up there and then. The bull's viscera are spread on the ground. Blood flows. The most basic rules of hygiene are ignored. Dogs eat the pieces of offal they are thrown. A local butcher's van is waiting to take away the carcasses.
It's midday and everyone heads to the barbecue for lunch. In an idyllic holiday scene, children play in the bullring, in the blood-soaked sand now drying in the sun.
The spectators digest their lunch while watching the rest of the afternoon's bulls be slain. As the sun sets on their "day out" they return to their cars whose license plates show that some have travelled considerable distances, even from abroad, to attend the bullfight. To the envy of others, a privileged few drive off with a bull's bloody severed head in their boot.
How many bulls are killed ?
Calculating exactly how many bulls are openly killed in France's bullrings is already a difficult task, but nowhere near as hard as estimating how many die elsewhere, in bullfighting schools, in private and semi-private bullrings, and in fights (practices or other) that are not always publicised outside the very closed circle of aficionados.
The April/May 1995 issue of Tendido magazine hints at the number: in an article about Philippe Delapeyre, who fights under the pseudonym San Gilen, readers learn that, "our compatriot satisfies his passion at the Granier bull breeding ranch. While waiting for opportunities to come his way, he fights and kills more bulls in private than most of his counterparts will ever see." Philippe Delapeyre himself declares, "Between 1993 and 1994 I killed sixty bulls in private."