Duncan Wheeler

I knew very little about Víctor Barrio before, slightly hungover, I was asked by BBC World News on the morning of 10 July last year to comment on his televised death. It was the first time a matador had died in a professional Spanish bullfight since 1985. I’d spent a number of summers going to corridas when I was researching a book on the cultural politics of Spain’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s, and became convinced that bullfighting was an underexplored chapter in this history. Barrio, I hazily recalled, had been a prodigious novillero (an apprentice who takes on younger bulls), but had struggled for engagements since graduating as a bullfighter in 2012. This was just the way things were: the figuras have a monopoly on appearances in the country’s most lucrative bullrings. I kept missing the BBC researcher’s calls and went back to nursing my hangover.

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