This page is taken from La Divisa 153. It is reproduced by the kind permission of the author, Jim Verner , and the Editor of La Divisa, Tristan Wood.
En Esta Plaza
THE TRAPÍO TRAP
Trapío aficionados use the term all the time. And we all know what it means. Or do we? Trapío has become a major factor in the selection and approval of bulls for corridas. And the way it is defined and applied has contributed to the fact that so many bullfights, especially in the first class rings like Las Ventas in Madrid and La Maestranza in Sevilla, are dull and disappointing. So it is worth asking, "What is trapío?" and "What does trapío have to do with boring corridas?".
The first point we need to establish is that trapío is another of those slippery taurine terms. While all agree that trapío is a word used to describe an impressive, good looking bull, even experienced and knowledgeable aficionados often hold widely different ideas about what sort of bull is "impressive and good looking."
Whenever a taurine term is hard to pin down, I suggest it is best to start with a Spanish dictionary. After all, taurine terms are not conceived from thin air. They are attempts to describe something in bullfighting with existing words that have similar meanings in other areas. Yet, like so many concepts in toreo, things get befuddled and convoluted when aficionados start mixing personal preferences with a terms basic meanings, and trapío is a prime candidate for such confusion.
According to the Real Academia Española, trapío is a colloquial term for "1. Aire garboso que suelen tener algunas mujeres. 2. Buena planta y gallardía del toro de lidia." The source of the term must be nautical, since a third definition, said to be obsolete, is "3. Conjunto de velas o trapos de una embarcación." Rather than enter into the fray of translating words like "aire garboso," "buena planta," and "gallardía," I will simply give the Collins Spanish/English definitions, which seem quite reasonable: "1. charm, elegance, graceful way of moving. 2. (of a bull) fine appearance." Collins doesnt mention the third RAE definition, which refers to the full set of sails of a ship, but it is easy to imagine how early toreros in a nation with a history of naval prowess would find nautical metaphors a natural way to describe their own profession.
A review of bullfight dictionaries confirms that trapío is an imprecise, or at least subjective, term based on an overall combination of physical characteristics. Mundotoro.coms definition starts out, "Trapío is one of the most used and least understood concepts " and goes on at length, illustrating how relative a term it is. In Sánchez de Neiras Diccionario Taurómaco of 1896, the definition is quite detailed, including preferences for characteristics such as a long tail and darker colors. An interestingly succinct definition of trapío was told to me by Bill Lyon. He said that a former banderillero, Manolillo de Valencia, told him trapío was "cabeza, morrillo, y culo no hay más." (Head, neck, and rear end thats it.) Certainly from the toreros view, these are the things that matter.
It is interesting to note that the meaning of trapío, when applied to a woman, involves her actions, yet for bulls it is limited to appearance. This difference is significant. In attempt to get their bulls past the "beauty contest" of the inspection process in the corrals, ganaderos go for looks. The results are seen daily, with limited exceptions, during San Isidro and La Feria de Abril: "bimbo bulls" that look gorgeous but lack the "personality" (the bravura, casta, and power) to make for interesting corridas.
Every aficionado can give his definition of trapío and we will pretty much agree. But, when we start classifying individual bulls, it is another matter. There are as many individual tastes as there are individuals. When trying to define trapío, I am reminded of the comment made by a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States when the issue was pornography: "Maybe I cant define pornography, but I know it when I see it". He could have said the same thing about beauty, but there is apparently no interest in the legislation of beauty except in bullfighting.
Like the Supreme Court judge, most aficionados have a clear idea of what trapío is for them. But recognizing that the term is so personal, we need to ask why it has crept into the bullfight regulations and become a major criterion for accepting or rejecting bulls. In his book, El Toro Bravo, Álvaro Domecq got it right when he said that trapío is a concept that is difficult to define and has no place in the laws and regulations. But the fact remains it is there, so lets take a look at the regulations.
The Law and Regulations for Taurine Spectacles, as per the CTL translation, describe the "characteristics of the fighting bulls" in Title V, Chapter I, Articles 44 through 48. Assuming that many readers, like me, do not keep their copy of the bullfight regulations to hand, here is a brief summary:
Article 44 says that the animals must come from a registered fighting bull ranch.
Article 45 says bulls for corridas de toros should be from four to six years old; novillos should be from three to four for a piced novillada, and from two to three for a novillada without pics.
Article 46 says the animals should have the "appropriate physical build" (italics added the original Spanish text is "trapío") as well as the "weight and the biological characteristics of the breed" from which they come (italics added "breed," in the original Spanish, is "ganadería", which is more accurately translated as "cattle ranch"). This phrase is not exactly trapío, but since each rancher selects per his own set of criteria, it adds to the confusion. And, legislating the "weight and biological characteristics" to either a ranch or a breed is a questionable practice that I will discuss later.
Article 46 goes on to define the minimum weights for the various categories of plaza toros should weigh at least 460 kg in first class rings, 435 kg in second, and 410 kg in third (or 258 kg stripped carcass weight), while novillos should not exceed 540 kg in first class rings, 515 kg in second, and the stripped carcass should not exceed 270 kg in third.
Article 47 says horns should be "entire" and not have been subject to manipulations.
And Article 48 says animals should not have defective vision or defective horns, except in novilladas, when defective horns are permitted providing it is announced.
Now most of these things are pretty easy to objectively measure. Brands and earmarks indicate the ranch of origin. Weights are confirmed with a scale, and a scale can be checked for accuracy. Age of bulls, at least in Spain, is controlled by registering the birth date and the last digit of the year is branded on the animal (for the sake of this article, I will assume that there is no fudging in this area). Careful observation in the corrals can give a pretty good idea, even if not 100% accurate, about the physical condition, eyesight, and horns of each animal. If an animal shows physical problems in the ring, it can rightly be changed. And, if there is reason to suspect horn tampering, a post mortem inspection can be made (although this is less accurate than the regulations imply).
But the real problem, the problem that makes a mockery of the other, objective standards, and contributes to the disastrous corridas in Las Ventas and La Maestranza, comes with trapío. What is the "appropriate physical build" and what are the "weight and biological characteristics of the breed (ranch)"? We have reviewed the subjective nature of trapío, but the phrase about "weight and biological characteristics of the breed (ranch)" also deserves special attention. To legislate the "weight and biological characteristics of the breed" flies in the face of selective breeding. Each ganadero seeks to create the animals he believes best, selecting from the gene pool of his cattle. So who, other than the ganadero, can say if the animal fits his objectives? And think through the significance of such legislation to la fiesta brava: if bull breeders over the past few centuries had not been allowed to change the "biological characteristics" of their animals, toreros would still be fighting the wild cattle of the 1700s.
Yet the law has given the authority to decide which bulls will be accepted and which will be rejected based on a imprecise concept. And in doing so, the lawmakers have allowed the authorities to be both judge and jury. Unfortunately, in the name of defending such elusive standards, corruption and vested interests can, and often do, rule. Witness how many corridas in major bullrings suffer rejections due to "falta de trapío" in spite of full compliance with the objective criteria of the regulations. It is hard to believe that the empresario and the ganadero could get it so wrong so often.
But the problem is not solely with the authorities who approve the animals. In many plazas, bulls must pass a second "panel of judges" in the form of the vociferous public that immediately jeers and boos any animal it deems unworthy. Here, again, subjectiveness reigns supreme. The most extreme example of such a public is in Las Ventas, where a part of the public, mostly concentrated in Tendido 7, has set the style for loudly complaining about any bull that doesnt fit their very subjective and partisan standards, regardless of the bravery and casta it displays or how it meets the other criteria of the regulations.
So where have these regulations and special interest groups taken the fiesta? For starters, they have succeeded in making a taurine fetish of a subjective, imprecise, and partisan idea of how a bull should look. And since empresarios, veterinarians and plaza authorities know that the crowd will create a disrupting demonstration of disapproval of animals they deem unworthy, they may attempt to anticipate the tastes of this sector of the public and approve only those animals they believe will be accepted, regardless of how the animals stack up in the more important and more objective areas of age, weight, and horns. Although many claim that this group is defending purity in la fiesta brava, the sad fact is that, as a result of their misguided antics, the corridas in Las Ventas are widely recognized to be worse than ever. Outside of the ferias, it is a rare day that the stands are even half full, in spite of bulls with the best trapío imaginable. Others blame the empresarios for the poor quality of corridas in Madrid, but the fact is that the fiesta brava is being held hostage to absurd regulations and demonstrations, and the quality of the corridas proves the point.
What should be done? The solution is simple. Stick to the basic, objective criteria: age, weight, horns, and physical condition. If a bull has had its fourth birthday, meets the minimum weight, appears to have intact horns and be in good physical condition, it should pass inspection. Try this for a season, and see how corridas in Madrid improve. I bet they will become less dull and boring, and we will still see respectable bulls with plenty of real trapío. Of course, at least in the beginning, we will have to put up with the howls of the trapío-fetishists. But perhaps even they will learn to appreciate the folly of their ways.