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Episode 87: El toreo de hoy (Bullfighting of Today)

By Duolingo on Thu 10 Jun 2021
Photo by fotoeventosde2en2

Juan Pablo grew up fascinated with bullfighting, a tradition in his home country of Spain. But when he discovers recorte — the art of bull dodging — he sees it as a thrilling, more humane alternative. He throws himself into the dangerous sport, risking his life every time he faces a bull.

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Transcript

Martina: Hey listeners, a quick word on the Spanish spoken by this week’s storyteller, who comes from Spain: the “z” is pronounced like the “th” in the English word “think.” So instead of “cabeza,” you’ll hear “…cabetha…” Sometimes, the letter “c” can also be pronounced like that. Also the “j” is often pronounced like “kh,” so instead of “jamás,” you’ll hear “…khamás…”

Martina: It’s a scorching summer day in 2008. Juan Pablo Villanueva stands near a metal gate at a cattle ranch in northern Spain. He brings his ear up close to the warm metal, holding his breath. On the other side, a massive bull, un toro, paces heavily inside his pen. In a few minutes, the two will come face to face.

Juan Pablo: Yo jamás me he enfrentado a un toro. Tengo dieciocho años y me he inscrito en una competición de algo llamado recorte, pero yo ni siquiera sé qué es el recorte. Jamás lo he visto.

Martina: Juan Pablo’s 18, and he’s seen plenty of bullfights, or corridas. Typically, at the end of a traditional corrida, amateur bullfighters like Juan Pablo are invited to face off against younger cows. But Juan Pablo hasn’t signed up for a traditional corrida. It’s a recorte competition. And as Juan Pablo’s about to learn…there’s a big difference.

Juan Pablo: Cuando es mi turno, entro en la arena. Veo al toro, enorme, y empiezo a hacer lo que siempre hago después de las corridas. Me pongo a correr por todas partes, saltando para evitar al toro.

Martina: Juan Pablo’s doing what he’s always done: he scampers around the ring this way and that, avoiding the animal as best he can. Only this time, he begins to hear laughter. The other competitors are laughing…at him!

Juan Pablo: Cuando termino, los otros me dicen: “Pero… ¿qué estás haciendo? ¡Esto es un concurso de recorte!”. Pero yo no conozco el recorte, entonces me quedo a ver a los otros y lo que hacen es increíble… Es como si volaran por encima del toro.

Martina: Juan Pablo has just discovered recorte, a lesser-known cousin of the age-old tradition of corrida. Both have been around since the middle ages, but somehow, recorte never became as popular. Now that Juan Pablo has discovered it, he finds that he likes it a lot more than traditional bullfighting. In a corrida, the bullfighter kills the bull. Whereas in recorte, a bullfighter simply…leaps over it.

Juan Pablo: En el recorte, el toro no sufre. El animal se respeta. El día del concurso de recortes queda grabado en mi memoria y de algo estoy completamente seguro: quiero ser recortador.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast. I’m Martina Castro. This season, we’re taking you on a special journey across the Spanish-speaking world… From Spain to the Americas, a new generation of Spanish-speakers is working to keep their cultural traditions alive…with a contemporary twist. In today’s episode we travel to: Spain.

As always, the storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Martina: Juan Pablo grew up in Burgos, a city in northern Spain. Bullfighting has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. When he was three, his grandfather built a toy bull out of an old rocking horse, some repurposed tricycle wheels and two cow horns donated by a local butcher.

Juan Pablo: Mi abuelo se ponía detrás del toro de juguete y lo empujaba. Mi hermano y yo salíamos corriendo, gritando y riéndonos. Esos son mis primeros recuerdos.

Martina: In Spain, the origins of bullfighting go all the way back to the Bronze Age. Facing the bulls, or enfrentarse a los toros, was associated with valor and honor. But in recent years, the violent and dangerous practice has become increasingly controversial. Many view it as cruel, and some cities, like Barcelona, have banned it altogether.

Juan Pablo: Yo iba a las corridas y veía a los toreros. Son hombres muy valientes. Enfrentan al toro sin miedo, se mueven con elegancia y agilidad. ¡Es impresionante!

Martina: In 2006, Juan Pablo turned 16. Like every year, he went to watch the corrida in Lerma with his family. But that year, for the first time in his life, he would actually have the chance to step into the ring.

Juan Pablo: Al final de la corrida, los miembros del público de dieciséis años o más son invitados a entrar a la arena, pero no para enfrentarse a un toro, sino a una joven vaquilla.

Martina: Una vaquilla, a young heifer. At age 16, for the first time, Juan Pablo could join other adult audience members in the ring to face and dodge a live animal.

Juan Pablo: Era la primera vez que podía entrar a la arena y que tenía la oportunidad de estar frente a un animal. La vaquilla era joven y pequeña, pero yo la veía enorme.

Martina: Juan Pablo paced the sandy floor. A throng of audience members — mostly young men — jostled around him. The crowd cheered from the bleachers. Juan Pablo’s father, his mother, his grandparents…it felt like the entire town was there.

Juan Pablo: Vi que la vaquilla venía hacia mí y ahí… hice lo peor que podía hacer. ¡Empecé a correr en la otra dirección! Pero la vaquilla siempre es más rápida. Pocos segundos después, me empujó y me tiró al suelo.

Martina: The vaquilla knocked Juan Pablo over and started trampling him. But the other runners waved at the young heifer, quickly distracting it.

Juan Pablo: Cuando la vaquilla se fue, me levanté con heridas en la piel. Por suerte no fue nada grave. Después de eso, salí de la arena. No duré ni diez segundos.

Martina: Juan Pablo got out that day with a few cuts and a bruised ego. But that didn’t stop him from wanting to try again. Over the next couple of years, he got really good at dodging young vaquillas. He dreamed of facing a bull, in a real bullfight, but that seemed out of his league.

Juan Pablo: Nunca imaginé ser torero. Yo a los toreros los respeto mucho, pero es una disciplina muy competitiva y difícil.

Martina: One day, Juan Pablo was scrolling on social media when an image of a man facing a bull caught his eye. Only the man in the photo wasn’t armed with a red cape and a sword, like in a traditional corrida. He was armed…with nothing.

Juan Pablo: En la foto se veía un hombre enfrentándose a un toro solo con su cuerpo. La imagen decía: “Concurso de recortadores, jóvenes promesas”. Y yo, como era un chico joven, pensé: “Oye, pues me voy a inscribir”.

Martina: And that’s how, at age 18, Juan Pablo ended up at that first recorte competition. But his embarrassing first attempt didn’t discourage him. It was exciting, it was daring, and it didn’t harm the bulls. Juan Pablo found out that the ranch, or finca, that organized the competition also trained recortadores. He started going every weekend.

Juan Pablo: El dueño de la finca daba clases de recorte. Yo iba casi todos los fines de semana o cuando tenía un día libre. El dinero que ganaba lo gastaba en clases de recorte.

Martina: Juan Pablo learned the moves of the recorte: like el corte, where the performer buckles his knees and arches his back to let the bull run as close as possible. And el salto del ángel, where the performer spreads his arms wide as he jumps above the bull.

Juan Pablo: Y el salto más peligroso de todos es… el salto mortal. En ese salto, el recortador salta con los pies juntos y se tira de cabeza por encima del toro. ¡Es muy impresionante!

Martina: Recorte is a dangerous sport, and competitors are regularly injured…or even killed. But Juan Pablo was hooked.

Juan Pablo: El recorte es un deporte muy difícil. Físicamente, hay que tener la fuerza y la capacidad de hacer saltos muy peligrosos. Y mentalmente, hay que controlar el miedo para enfrentar al toro. Es muy diferente de la corrida porque nosotros enfrentamos al toro sin armas, solo con nuestro cuerpo. Y después, el toro no muere, sino que regresa a la finca. Desde el primer día me encantó.

Martina: Over the years, Juan Pablo noticed a change in the bullfighting scene.

Juan Pablo: El recorte es cada vez más popular. Mucho más que hace diez o quince años. Y al mismo tiempo, poco a poco, los eventos de corrida tradicional atraen a menos gente.

Martina: Younger Spaniards are more concerned about animal cruelty than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. For many, watching a man stab a bull to death is no longer an acceptable form of entertainment. With the decline of traditional corrida, recorte is seen as a promising successor.

Juan Pablo: El recortador nunca toca al toro. El toro sale de la arena igual que yo. Yo creo que los toros y las vacas tienen una mejor vida en sus fincas que la mayoría de los otros animales criados por los hombres. Y, si esas fincas desaparecen, se perdería un ecosistema muy rico y único en España.

Martina: Juan Pablo signed up for every local event he could find, hoping to be noticed by an empresario — the people who organize the big recorte tournaments. In those events, the top 15 or 20 recortadores in the country face off bulls one by one in a series of rounds, until one is crowned victor in the final.

Juan Pablo: Durante años, yo llamaba a los empresarios para tratar de entrar a torneos más grandes. Ellos me decían: “No te conocemos… No sabemos quién eres… Jamás te hemos visto”. Era muy difícil porque el mundo del recorte es muy competitivo.

Martina: Juan Pablo didn’t live off recorte — very few recortadores do. He had a full-time job, as a P.E. teacher. But recorte was his biggest passion. For reasons he couldn’t quite explain, he just could not give it up.

Juan Pablo: Yo sabía que con el recorte podía morir de un momento a otro, pero no podía dejarlo.

Martina: Years passed. Juan Pablo kept going to practice and signing up for any local event that would take him. He got stronger, his jumps became sharper, he took more risks, or riesgos. Then, in 2018 — a full decade after he first took up recorte — Juan Pablo finally got his big break. A new recorte company came to his hometown of Burgos and organized a big competition.

Juan Pablo: Esa era mi oportunidad, pero tenía que tomar riesgos.

Martina: The competition in Burgos was Juan Pablo’s chance to gain national recognition. He was determined to give it his all. So, he came up with a risky stunt: he would put his feet in a sack, tie his knees with a scarf, and stand in the center of the arena waiting for the bull to charge.

Juan Pablo: Cuando el toro empezó a correr en mi dirección, me lancé de cabeza y extendí las piernas juntas en el aire. El toro pasó por debajo de mí. ¡Fue un muy buen salto! Me tocó enfrentarme al campeón de España y él hizo tres saltos perfectos. Tan perfectos que fue imposible ganarle. Hice lo mejor que pude, pero no llegué a la final…

Martina: Juan Pablo didn’t win, but his performance was impressive enough to be noticed. Empresarios came up to him at the end of the event to congratulate him. And he got invited to an even bigger event in Madrid, where he made it to the final. After that, the calls kept coming.

Juan Pablo: Pasé de hacer cuatro o cinco eventos de recorte al año… ¡a treinta eventos en 2019! Algunos empresarios que me ignoraron durante años, ahora me querían para sus eventos. Poco a poco, el público empezó a reconocerme. Me pedían autógrafos y me llamaban por mi apodo, “Aguilucho”.

Martina: Juan Pablo’s nickname, Aguilucho, means “young eagle.” It came from his soccer-playing days at school, where his team-mates joked that he flew around the field like an eagle. And it followed him into recorte.

Juan Pablo: Lo más importante para mí era que estaba en competiciones con recortadores a los que admiraba muchísimo. ¡Tenía muchísima ilusión!

Martina: Juan Pablo kept up his winning streak all the way to October 12, 2019, the day of Spain’s National Recorte Championship in Zaragoza. The arena was packed.

Juan Pablo: La plaza de toros de Zaragoza es un lugar muy especial porque ahí nació el recorte. Y, esa noche, la plaza estaba completamente llena.

Martina: Besides being the birthplace of recorte, Zaragoza also has the only arena in Spain to hold recorte events at night. It was Juan Pablo’s first time facing a bull after dark.

Juan Pablo: Estaba muy nervioso, pero también muy concentrado. Esta vez, mis padres, mi novia y mis amigos vinieron de Burgos a verme. ¡Tenía que dar lo mejor de mí!

Martina: Juan Pablo crouched down to feel the earth, tracing his name in the sand. It helped him focus. He watched the massive bull from the sidelines, observing its behavior. Finally, his name rang out on the speakers — it was his turn. The crowd cheered as he walked into the arena: “Aguilucho! Aguilucho!”

Juan Pablo: El toro era enorme, todo negro. Lo observé yendo y viniendo a un lado de la arena. No me gustaba cómo se movía, lo veía nervioso. ¡Se tardaba mucho en salir! Me puse de rodillas y lo llamé… pero él no venía. Entonces señalé al público con las manos y les pedí silencio.

Martina: A hush fell over the stadium. The only sound breaking the silence was the thud of the bull’s hooves pacing on the sand. Juan Pablo kneeled, absolutely still. He called the bull again.

Juan Pablo: Esta vez, ¡sí vino! Pero en lugar de correr, vino caminando. Eso es más peligroso porque le da más tiempo de seguirme cuando me muevo. Yo no me moví. Esperé… y esperé… Miré fijamente al toro… hasta que por fin empezó a correr. Al último momento, salté hacia la derecha. El toro pasó a milímetros de mi espalda, ¡pero no me tocó!

Martina: The arena burst into thunderous applause. It was a standing ovation. Then the next bull came out, massive and quivering. Like in the first round, Juan Pablo stood firm, ready to leap up at the last moment. But when the bull got close, instead of charging straight, it turned its head with a powerful swipe. The crowd’s cheers froze into a gasp of horror.

Juan Pablo: El toro me golpeó, me levantó en el aire y me tiró al suelo. No recuerdo el golpe, solo recuerdo escuchar cada respiración del animal. No sentí dolor…

Martina: The other recortadores ran out to distract the bull and got him away from Juan Pablo. Medics rushed over with a stretcher, but then, Juan Pablo got up and walked out of the arena.

Juan Pablo: Una vez afuera, tenía demasiada adrenalina en el cuerpo. Empecé a gritar que quería volver, que quería terminar de enfrentar al toro. Hasta que un compañero me miró a los ojos y me dijo: “¡Tu pierna!”. Miré hacia abajo… y, solo en ese momento, vi la sangre.

Martina: The bull had pierced a hole 6 inches long in Juan Pablo’s right thigh. At the hospital, his parents urged him to give up recorte. “You have a good job,” his father told him. “Recorte is no way to make a living. It’s not worth risking your life.”

Juan Pablo: Yo entiendo por qué quieren que deje el recorte. Es difícil explicar por qué me sigue gustando después del accidente.

Martina: Juan Pablo knew he had been very lucky. He recovered fully from his injury, but he thought about his father’s words. As he grew able to run and jump again, he started hanging out with his recorte friends, watching their events. And he realized…the pull of the arena was just too strong. He couldn’t live without it, no matter what the risk.

Juan Pablo: El recorte es una tradición muy noble y una forma de arte. Cuando me pongo de rodillas frente al toro y lo veo correr hacia mí… pues sí, tengo miedo. Pero para mí, lo más bello del recorte es que te ayuda a superar ese miedo. Es una sensación que no tiene comparación. Yo no quiero vivir sin esa sensación y nunca abandonaré el recorte.

Martina: Juan Pablo Villanueva is a P.E. teacher and professional part time recortador living in Burgos, Spain. His plans to go back to recorte in the 2020 season were put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But he’s looking forward to the next one.

This story was produced by Adonde Media’s Lorena Galliot.

We'd love to know what you thought of this episode! You can write us an email at podcast@duolingo.com and call and leave us a voicemail or audio message on WhatsApp, at +1-703-953-93-69. Don’t forget to say your name and where you are from!

Martina: Here’s a message we recently got from Joshua in Nigeria:

Joshua: Hola Duolingo, buenas noches. Me llamo Joshua, soy de Nigeria. Quiero dar las gracias a Duolingo y Adonde Media por los podcasts españoles; me han ayudado a aprender más sobre el idioma español y sobre el mundo. Me gustan todos los podcasts y a veces si las cosas no van bien para mí, yo escucho los podcasts para obtener inspiración. En Nigeria es muy difícil de aprender otro idioma que inglés porque la situación del país. Pero con Duolingo y sobretodo los podcasts, ahora puedo hablar español muy bien. Gracias otra vez.

Martina: ¡Te felicito Joshua! Thank you so much for listening, your Spanish is fantastic!

If you liked this story, please share it! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at podcast.duolingo.com. You can also follow us on Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode. With over 500 million users, Duolingo is the world's leading language learning platform, and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes in making education free, fun, and accessible to everyone. To join, download the app today, or find out more at duolingo.com. The Duolingo Spanish podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. ¡Gracias por escuchar!

Credits

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Lorena Galliot
Narrator & Protagonist: Juan Pablo Villanueva
Senior Editor: Stephanie Joyce
Managing Editor: David Alandete
Mixed by: Andrés Fechtenholz
Production Manager: Román Frontini
Assistant Producer: Caro Rolando
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Antonio Romero
Executive Producer/Host: Martina Castro