Stoic Bravery and the Bull Economy

The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain? Not when I’m there it doesn’t, then it follows me about. In this case all the way up to Santa Maria de la Alameda in the Sierra de Guadarrama.

Santa Maria de la Alameda
Quite a gloomy picture. We were up there interviewing the president of a local cattle farming organisation for some work related to my PhD. Earlier in the week we had been talking about bullfighting, and Raul had pointed out the large stones found in each corner of town squares, one on either side of the road, with large holes cut through them. The purpose of these holes is to hold wooden poles across the road, closing the square for the corrida de toros. As we waited for el presidente to arrive we sheltered from the rain in the porch of the ayuntamiento. Looking at the bullring’s cornerstones and the balconies that would allow spectators to overlook the confrontation, the town square reminded me of a story retold in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. On that occasion it wasn’t a bullfight, it was a civil war a massacre.

Hemingway’s leading characters display stoic bravery becoming, in Lawrence Broer’s view, “manifestations of the Spanish matador”;

The bull was on him as he jumped back and as he tripped on a cushion he felt the horn go into him, into his side. He grabbed the horn with his two hands and rode backward, holding tight onto the place. The bull tossed him and he was clear. He lay still. It was all right. The bull was gone.

He got up coughing and feeling broken and gone. The dirty bastards!

“Give me the sword”, he shouted. “Give me the stuff.”

Fuentes came up with the muleta and the sword.

Hernandez put his arm around him.

“Go on to the infirmary, man”, he said. “Don’t be a damn fool.”

“Get away from me”, Manuel said. “Get to hell away from me.”

He twisted free. Hernandez shrugged his shoulders. Manuel ran toward the bull.

There was the bull standing, heavy, firmly planted.

All right, you bastard! Manuel drew his sword out of the muleta, sighted with the same movement, and flung himself onto the bull. He felt the sword go in all the way. Right up to the guard. Four fingers and his thumb into the bull. The blood was hot on his knuckles, and he was on top of the bull.

The bull lurched with him as he lay on, and seemed to sink; then he was standing clear. He looked at the bull going down slowly over on his side, then suddenly four feet in the air.

Then he gestured at the crowd, his hand warm from the bull blood.

[from Ernest Hemingway, The Undefeated]

Down on the plains of Madrid below Santa Maria, the rain has stopped and the attitude seems more ‘spirited optimism’ than ‘stoic bravery’. The Spanish economy is booming, with GDP steadily rising year on year.

The environs of Madrid feel positive, the attitude is ‘go-ahead’. Cranes are everywhere, more than in London probably. Apartments being thrown up rapidly. New roads and motorways being constructed apace. It’s been like that the last few years I’ve been visiting.

Further out, within range of the commuters (going into Madrid) and the day-trippers (coming out), economic change is modifying the landscape. The agricultural sector is in decline and as the younger generation seeks out employment in manufacturing, construction and service sectors. Talking to people in my study area it seems such employment is desired as it brings more stable working hours, more benefits, greater leisure time and a more ‘modern’ lifestyle. The environmental consequences of these shifts are still playing themselves out however. For example, such a lifestyle is likely to require more water, a precious resource in the Mediterranean. Environmentalists still campaign against large dam projects and the environmental impacts of tourism along the Costa del Sol and the Balearic Isles are well known. Maybe James ‘The Bringer of Rain’ Millington should spend more time in those places…

My particular interest is the impact of agricultural change on wildfire regimes; will the spirited optimism have to be tempered by some stoic bravery in the face of increasing wildfire risk? I’m nearing the end of my PhD research now so I hope to be able to comment on that with more authority in the near future.

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