“OK, everyone’s here,” said a voice. The bullring fell into complete silence for about a nanosecond, then the band launched into a grandstanding rendition of the national anthem that was drowned out from beginning to end by the roaring ovation from the stands.
His breast heaving with undisguised emotion, Juan Carlos de Borbón leaned on his walking stick as he took in the scene from the royal box. He was wearing the same tie of hopeful green that he has been sporting since Monday, when he announced his decision to relinquish the throne. This would be his last bullfight at Madrid’s Las Ventas ring as the king of Spain.
He may not have left through the main gates atop the shoulders of his fans, as triumphant bullfighters do, but that did not take away from an afternoon of glory for a monarch about to symbolically snip off his ponytail like a retiring matador.
Not even the fact that the second bullfighter on the bill, Basque-born Iván Fandiño, refrained from dedicating his bulls to the king – the other two fighters, El Juli and Alejandro Talavante, did not fail to do so – could put a damper on the day. “He must be a supporter of Podemos,” joked someone in the stands, in reference to Spain’s new leftist party.
In any case, the occasional shout of “Viva el Rey” (long live the king) from the stands neutralized the Basque matador’s omission.
Not even the notoriously hypercritical, rebellious, tongue-in-cheek fans who sit in section seven, and loudly protested every aspect of the corrida they found displeasing, had anything but applause and kind words for their fellow fan Don Juan Carlos.
Meanwhile, the monarch appeared to be amused by all the shouting. As a regular presence at bullfights, he is familiar with the scene. And that is part of the reason why he was unanimously respected by the crowd.
“I am a republican, but this is neither the time nor the place to complain about the king,” said one lady who has a Las Ventas season pass. “In here, he is just another fan – the best one in his family along with his daughter Elena, who supports bullfighting so much.”
“Let’s see if Felipe and Letizia drop by as often,” she added.
The fact is that the future monarchs have not been seen in the royal box here for a decade. The last time was on one of those sweet afternoons in the early days of their relationship, just before their wedding announcement.
Sitting to the right of the monarch, their buttons about to pop with pride at the thought of being there with Juan Carlos on this historic day, were Madrid regional premier Ignacio González, city mayor Ana Botella and the government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes. To his left, a beaming José Ignacio Wert exercised his representative duties as culture minister. The fans in section 10 – considered the crème de la crème of Madrid's high society – could not recall having ever seen the politician at a bullfight before.
The masses who packed the stands and milled behind the fences at La Ventas came away with the happy feeling of having been a part of something unique, of having witnessed the farewell of a historic figure.
Whether the new monarchs Felipe VI and Letizia become fans of bullfighting out of patriotism remains a mystery. Perhaps celebrity fortune teller Rappel, who was also there in the stands, has a theory.