[This is a post dealing with some things I’ve been needing to get off my chest for a while. There are lots of mentions of cruelty to animals AND WHERE MEAT COMES FROM, so you might not want to read it if you’re squeamish or a bleeding-heart animal lover like my wife. You have been warned.]
Moving your entire life overseas isn’t easy. Sure, we may portray it as a dream, and we are certainly trying to enjoy ourselves now, but there was just so much work to get to this point. Even now, I think Dreamer and I are still coming down from the past months of frenzied winding down of our lives in Nebraska to get here… and we’ve been in this country for nearly two months now (wow, I just did the math on that! gotta book some more travel).
Besides moving out of a house where I had personally lived for 34 years of my life, the hardest part of this move for both of us was saying goodbye to our dogs. By the way, I am 34 and I’m also not counting those years “living” in the college dorms 5 miles away, or two years at school in New York State, because I still had stuff and things and other ties to this house the whole time. Seriously, this is the family homestead we are talking about.
But onto those two dogs – the very pair that brought Dreamer and me together on eHarmony years ago. Because what’s more low-key than a non-date at the dog park when you both have one? Dreamer had had Latte for over a year when we met in 2009, and Buddy was part of my life since 2004. Buddy made the move to NY with me and back – three days on the road each way. We were always a pair whether I liked it or not: a rescue situation, Buddy battled separation anxiety and in the words of our friend Leah, always lit up when I entered the room. In the words of Dreamer, I was his sun and his moon. And girls like guys who are responsible enough to care for dogs, right? Buddy helped me accomplish my goal of landing a babe in just five short years.
Buddy and Latte moved in with us when we started a life together and had been a part of lives ever since. As we have previously written about, it was tremendously difficult letting go. Latte will be there waiting when we get back, but the knowledge that Buddy is no more has been haunting us ever since we got here.
We waited until the very last moment – the day before we left – to say goodbye to Buddy. We asked the vet to come to our house so it would be a little easier, but those last moments will forever haunt me and even if it had gone perfectly according to the plan in my head, I am not sure if I would feel any better about it today. Maybe that’s what makes us good people.
Buddy made it to the ripe old age (for an Airedale Terrier) of 13 – a month past his “Bark Mitzvah” and over a year beyond a “hail mary” splenectomy with a biopsy that came back malignant. Our wonderful vet had him on a great cocktail of drugs with four feedings a day that would make what most of our grandparents take seem tame. Besides painkillers, there were meds for senility! This is because he would lay on the couch or on the deck and bark at us on end for seemingly no reason… then we’d comfort him and he’d start again. But still we wonder if we let him go too soon.
Buddy probably could have kept going forever. Was our decision self-serving? Could we have this adventure and bring him and Latte? Buddy could barely stand up in the car any more or go on walks longer than around the block; Latte gets car-sick… how could they ever handle a plane ride? Buddy was scared of hard, shiny floors and there is no shortage of them here. If we wanted to travel every weekend, could we find a Spanish pet sitter? We can’t even get identity cards for ourselves after two months of fighting the bureaucracy here; what would it take to bring a pet in? The list goes on and on.
In the end, I have convinced myself that we made the right decision when weighing all the evidence. Dreamer wisely says we have to do all of this for Buddy’s memory and not let him down, so I am determined to not let this year pass us by and start enjoying. Still, this does not change the fact that we have been grieving all the while since we got here.
…which brings us to Sunday, October 9, a strange day also known in the local Valenciano language as “Nou d’Octubre” and seen naming a plaza in literally every city in the region. This is the day when Christians ended more than 500 years of Moorish rule. Despite me fighting a very mucousy cold, we were determined to engage in the local festivities. Every city in the Valencia region has some sort of festivities honoring the holiday. While we went to a fun but unintelligible (to us) concert in Burriana the night before, we thought it best to experience the actual day in the capital itself.
We arrived in Valencia in time to see the 5pm “Moors vs. Christians” parade start. This is Spain, after all – why start a parade at the ungodly early hour of noon? While the parade was OK to watch for a few minutes, it was rather repetitive: marching band, people in costumes, people dancing, marching band, … Despite having popcorn (my first since leaving American shores!) and a Taco Bell margarita in hand, I was ready to leave after about a half hour. Another thing about Spanish parades: unlike the continual procession of an American parade, they tend to stop and start a lot. I have verified this in no less than three events, two of which were in our town of Burriana. The acts stop every few feet to show off, then start moving again.
Dreamer and I were trying to figure out what to do next, so we headed back toward the train station, which was not far from the parade, where we ran into… another parade. Yep. This one was put on by the Valencian separatists, País Valenciana. Of course, their handouts were in Valenciano, which did not do us much good, but we got the gist of it. Plus we had pretty much figured out their agenda by the suddenly increased police presence in the street near their comparatively meager parade.
So, what to do? I had always wanted to visit the Plaza de Toros (bull ring) next to the train station, but of course it was never open. Today was an exception, we had noticed, because there was a bull fight going on. Dreamer knew she couldn’t, but could I? I should also mention, in addition to the two parades, there were protesters across the street from the Plaza de Toros. Dreamer was happy to see them protesting the bull fight.
The lady at the ticket window said this was the last espectáculo for the year; the next one was in March and this one was already half over. In the name of wanting to go experience this once, I ponied up my 12 Euros and bid Dreamer adieu. She was confident she could find a bookstore or horchatería to relax in for an hour while I took in the spectacle.
At this point, you’re thinking Spain is all bullfights, and I’ll give you that based on the number of times we’ve written about it. They are not doing a good job of living down that stereotype. There are some regions like Galicia where it is not common or doesn’t happen at all, but Valencia is still all over it like any of the rest.
I also need to point out that the bull always dies – usually in a horrific, tortured way. Not everyone realizes that function of a bullfight; I sure didn’t. Even what we saw in Burriana – with people tormenting the bulls in the street (which was still quite mean) – resulted in the live bulls being rounded up back into a truck, but shipped off to the slaughterhouse the next day. Apparently, a few years ago, they used to kill ’em in the streets, too… so I guess this is progress?
Calling it a “fight” isn’t fair, either, since the bull does not have a chance. Goring is rare and if the toreador (bull fighter) is ever in danger, there is a wall he can go hide behind, plus three or four wingmen watching out for him. I’m sure they have a Spanish name, but I don’t care at this point. Look, the bull is taunted until he charges various red and pink capes, then sharp objects are ceremoniously jabbed into him. Tradition be damned, the protestors are right and this really needs to be stopped for Spain to join the modern world.
I have lots of photos and videos from the event, but I’m not going to share them. And that’s all the more I feel comfortable describing the spectacle part. Suffice to say, historically, this is what happened before the meat was brought to market. Except the 20 minutes the bull spends in the ring before meeting its eventual end are arguably much more drawn out than what happens in all but the worst American slaughterhouses.
Which brings us to Buddy. I hope that isn’t too strange of a connection, but you’ve already figured out this is a really frank post. I’m not usually in a position to watch animals die. I watched four consecutive bulls die in that ring, and that was more than enough for my entire duration in Spain. Where else could my mind go to than to Buddy’s final breaths that day? I will never forget looking into his eyes and hearing his final baleful moan, the same as any we’d awoken to in the middle of the night as he was no doubt deep in a dream.
By the time I was sitting in that bull ring, I was no doubt working my way through the grieving process. The experience reminded me that we did to Buddy was infinitely less cruel than how any of these bulls were treated. Cruel for Buddy would have been something as simple as making him live out his final days with someone else in the US, separated from his master – and I am glad we did not pursue that route. I am a strict omnivore, but I believe anything I eat of animal origin should come from an animal that lived a happy life and was dispatched quickly (in the case of meat).
And that brings us to the redeeming part of this story. Having seen my quota of bulls slowly bled to death before my eyes, I wandered around the beautiful old Plaza de Toros, taking in the architecture because I knew I would never be back. I happened to be seated next to the exit on the circular ring where the freshly-killed bulls were dragged out by a team of horses (again, sorry not sorry; you were warned) and made my way to the ground level, where I saw the trail of blood leading past a very small crowd of spectators.
It was mostly dark out by this time, but inside a plastic refrigerator curtain was a sanitary-looking area brightly backlit by white fluorescent light. And there was the same bull who was charging a cape just moments earlier, being tended to by a team of skilled professionals. And I do mean skilled: these men had about twenty minutes to turn each beast into hanging, market-ready quarters of beef before the next one arrived. They worked cleanly and efficiently in a manner my inner chef could totally respect. This, I could abide by.
We should all know where our food comes from, and the process should always be this open for those who want to inquire. Parents were there with their children, and I applaud them for that (less so for being inside the ring earlier). The men doing their jobs were not embarrassed, but rather, proud of their skill and of course making the job look easy. For years, my dream of gaining entrance into an American slaughterhouse never got any traction, but some part of it was fulfilled this day. Nobody got mad at me for standing too close, for watching the entire 20-minute process from start to finish. There was no security preventing anyone without clearance from seeing what happens inside a slaughterhouse. This, this was Spain’s embrace of old traditions. Too bad it took so many bad old traditions to get to this point. But in a way, it helped me work through some bad stuff, too… not that this cruel pastime is in any way justified.
My head still reeling from all these complex emotions, I made plans to meet up with Dreamer. She was running late as I waited in front of the train station, looking at the passing crowd: tiny dog, old lady, hipster, ladies walking briskly… wait, was that… an Airedale? Seriously, it was. The first one I’ve seen in Spain. Even in the states, they are still a special sight for us. I snuck a couple photos but didn’t stop the ladies because I thought it would be weird, and of course they were walking so quickly like everyone here. Little did they know they made my day. My father has many adages about the universe working in strange ways, and this was a day that had me believing some of that. Catharsis: achieved.
Oh, and that parade? Still going on, nearly four hours later. They’d gotten to the Moors at this point.