Score one for the bulls
I like to think of myself as reasonably sympathetic, but all the same I’m not rushing to send get-well cards to the scores of idiots injured during this week’s annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, an event that egregiously celebrates one of the “civilized” world’s cruelest, most repulsive traditions.
I also won’t be sending sympathy cards to friends and family of Spanish matador Victor Barrio, who bled to death after his chest was impaled by the horns of a half-ton bull — a gruesome spectacle witnessed by thousands of stadium spectators, millions more on live television, and countless others after a YouTube video of the rampage predictably went viral.
I don’t wish anybody harm, but when it comes to bullfighting, I root for the bull. After all, the hapless animal, bred for ferocity, is only trying to protect itself from a sword-bearing human assisted by lancers on horseback and other armed tormentors.
Evidently, many Spaniards don’t share my sentiments. Published reports describe throngs of mourners who cheered and wept as Barrio’s jewel-encrusted coffin was carried through the streets. King Felipe VI and acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey tweeted their condolences, and the 29-year-old matador’s hometown of Sepulveda closed for two days of public mourning.
Meanwhile, a half-hearted protest and petition drive to prevent the mother of the “victorious” bull from being euthanized — another fine bullfighting tradition, supposedly to prevent a murderous blood line from extending — fizzled after it was reported the poor cow already had been put to death.
The centuries-old, nine-day Pamplona event that ended Friday is the most famous of Spain’s bullfighting festivals, thanks to Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”
Just hours before Matador Barrio’s brutal death last Sunday, a bull killed a 65-year-old man in a crowd during a similar festival in the Spanish town of Fuentesaco.
In the past century, records show 13 people have died during Pamplona’s running of the bulls; the mortality rate is considerably higher for the bulls. All six released each morning are killed in the ring later that night. Multiply that by nine days of bullfighting every year for a couple hundred years.
Among those injured this week was Bill Hillmann, a 35-year-old writer from Chicago jabbed for the second time in his decade-long experience of running with the bulls — this time in the butt. That couldn’t help with sales of his book, “How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona.”
Interviewed by phone from his hospital bed by the Chicago Tribune, Hillmann was unrepentant, vowing to run again this week. He also lashed out at critics who posted less-than-flattering messages on social media.
"You're boring, pathetic ... fat dumb people who vote for Donald Trump and have no interests except McDonalds and malls,” he said.
At least Hillmann only got poked in the gluteus maximus; another victim got it in the scrotum. Ouch.
U.S. citizens may like to think they’re far too civilized to indulge in such blood sports, and though all states outlaw bullfighting, cockfighting and dog fighting, government authorities do permit — in fact regulate and in many cases encourage — the hunting of hundreds of species of four-legged and winged prey. Among them are such large predators as bears and mountain lions, but the National Rifle Association list of North American game birds and animals includes sparrows, rabbits and mice — mice!
Tempting as it might be to speculate amusingly on what type of weapon the NRA would recommend for a sparrow or mouse hunt, my father wisely taught me never to make fun of people carrying guns, so I’ll move on to a related topic — the human capacity for conflict with other species, examples of which have been in the news in recent weeks.
Let’s start with the guy who went diving for golf balls in Florida.
See if you can guess what happened to 51-year-old Scott Lahodik at the Rotonda Golf and Country Club outside Tampa last week:
A) He emerged from the pond with more than 15,000 balls, including a Titleist Pro V1x signed by Rory McIlroy.
B) He found a set of clubs that had been angrily tossed in the water by Bobby Knight.
C) A 600-pound alligator latched onto Lahodik’s arm and nearly ripped it off before he managed to escape.
Congratulations! You answered correctly!
Interviewed later from his hospital bed by TV station Fox 13, where doctors had pieced together his mangled appendage with 400 staples, Lahodik said, "He just came and, full blast, grabbed my arm all the way back in his throat and then he started to roll with me. He rolled a couple times and then he still didn't let go so I knew I had to do something, so I started punching him up by the eye and then he let go."
The old jab-in-the-face maneuver also helped a 10-year-old girl escape from an alligator that chomped on her leg while she waded in a lake in Orlando, Fla.
Juliana Ossa told NBC’s “Today” show that when the nine-foot reptile didn’t let go after she first struck the alligator on the head, she remembered a life-saving technique she was taught at Gatorland.
"I stuck my two fingers up its nose so it couldn't breathe — it had to be from its mouth — and he opened it, so it let my leg out," she said.
Meanwhile, a 19-year-old camp staffer who was sleeping without a tent next to a lake in Colorado last week had an equally unsettling experience, wakening to a loud grinding sound. Turns out it was a black bear gnawing on his head.
"The crunching noise, I guess, was the teeth scraping against the skull as it dug in," the teen, identified only as Dylan, told TV station Denver7.
Dylan said the bear hauled him 10 to 12 feet away before he was able to free himself. "When it was dragging me, that was the slowest part. It felt like it went forever."
As if this weren’t enough, this summer there’s been a spate of shark sightings and attacks from sea to shining sea.
Most alarming for us East Coasters are warnings of great whites descending on Cape Cod.
Marine experts predict as many as 150 are lurking not far from shore, drawn by a proliferation of seals. Guess I’ll cross seal-watching by kayak off Chatham’s Monomoy Island from my to-do list.
I also don’t plan to dive for golf balls in Florida or sleep outside in bear country any time soon.
As one who survived a grizzly bear attack in Alaska, a shark encounter off Long Island and a charging bull right here in Connecticut, I think I’m already pushing my luck.
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