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As the bullfighting season begins in Seville, horse-drawn carts play Europa FM

The station seems an odd choice for the carriage drivers, but it’s the one they turn to.

By Antonia Quirke

As the mercury rises above 30 degrees in Seville for the first time this year, the roofs of the buildings around the Plaza de Toros – the famed Baroque-era bullring – sprout weeds and yellow flowers. Rows of horses pulling traps stand patiently around the stadium, bored but calm, not yet the gasping skeletons you see in August. That’s a sadder sight than even the put-upon donkeys of Rajasthan. Small radios sit on the upholstered carriage seats playing Europa FM, with its dogged stream of boomfy club hits exhorting the listener to nights of unlikely passion, while the carriage drivers listen, faces like thunder.

The station seems an odd choice for these men, almost exclusively in their fifties and in their winter suits (the middle-aged southern Spanish are sticklers for seasonal dress and March is still for suits). But it’s the one they turn to – that and Radio Onda Cero, with its dread reports of the increasing numbers of Britons looking for Spanish nationality after Brexit, obituaries for Paloma Gómez Borrero (one of Spain’s best-known female foreign correspondents) and conversations about the pending start of the bullfighting season in the city.

A few weeks ago in Valencia, Juan José Padilla – “the Cyclone of Jerez”, with his spivvy quiff and limbs moon-cratered with scars – was gored through the femoral artery and had his glass eye knocked out as the crowd roared. And last summer another professional fighter was mortally impaled through the chest during a fight in Teruel, the first such death in Spain since 1985, broadcast live on TV to national clamour. Despite animal rights protests on the streets of Madrid (“People that come here think Spain is death,” as someone insists on Onda Cero’s breakfast show) the anticipation of the start of the season with Easter is high.

And yet the poster for this year’s fights has an air of melancholic honesty. A painting features a pile of bull corpses, legs akimbo. As the image is pasted on to the exterior walls of the stadium, the carriage drivers look on, expressionless, listening to songs by Alan Walker (“The monster’s running wild inside of me”) and Jonas Blue (“go out and be wild”) while parakeets screech in orange trees newly white with blossom.

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This article appears in the 29 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition