The atmosphere in the bullring was intoxicating, the crowd jeered and cheered. The pre-match entertainment ended and it was time for the real show to begin. Sitting high up in the oval theatre, looking down on the golden sand floor of the arena, Michael saw a gate open on the opposite side of the stadium. From it charged a huge black bull. Even from his elevated position, Michael thought it the most magnificent creature he had ever seen. The power in those compact muscles, the ferocity of its movement, leaping and spinning, and the lethal points of the huge horns brought the crowd to their feet in appreciation. The locals knew a good bull when they saw one. The cheer that greeted the matador was even louder. From the smattering of Spanish Michael could pick up he gathered this was a local matador and something of a superstar and crowd favourite.

The Fiestas del Pilar had started the previous week on the twelfth of October in Zaragoza. Bull fighting was just one part of the festival that included many religious ceremonies, a beer festival, a fun fair, concerts and the comparsa de gigantes y cabezudos, a procession of giant papier-mâché figures that paraded around the streets of the town all week.

But what Michael had come to Zaragoza to see mainly was the bullfighting. He had summoned up the courage to run with the bulls through the streets that morning, a terrifying mad stampede that was for him cut short by falling and taking evasive action after only a few hundred metres. Still, he had done it, and from his safe vantage point he had seen and heard and smelt the awesome bulls fly past him, charging towards the bullring. He had heard reports of a couple of gorings, but no fatalities that morning.

The crowd roared with approval as the matador performed a few swishes and spins of his cape, at this stage assessing the bull, assisted by his banderilleros on horseback. Satisfied, the matador left the arena and his team went to work. Michael thought of Hemingway, watching as he was, a hundred years earlier. It was no wonder he had fallen in love with the spectacle, the ultimate test of masculinity.

Now the picadors took over. They each had a lance, a sharp stick. Their job was to teach the bull to behave correctly for the final showdown with the matador. As the bull charged the horses the picador would reach over the horns and stab the bull behind the shoulders. The first picador missed his mark, prompting jeers from the audience. The second attempt was successful. Michael saw the sheen of red coat the back of the bull’s black hide.

And at that moment something happened to Michael. Instead of the elation of those all around him, instead of the admiration mixed with sadness that he had read about in Hemingway, Michael felt only sorrow.

For the next ten minutes the picadors continued, weakening the beast, teaching it submission. Only now did the matador re-enter the arena, again to an ovation. With just his cape and sword it was he alone against the bull. They danced, the matador performing a series of exquisite passes, the bull coming terrifyingly close to him. Michael watched the desperate animal being toyed with.

As he did so his mind wandered away from the spectacle. Suddenly, he was aware that he did not belong here, among these people and their love for blood thirsty sport. And he thought on wider issues. Should he really be enamoured by a country that was still run like it had been in the days of Franco’s Republic? Pictures of armed police brutally silencing the independence movement in Catalonia had spread around the world last year.

The matador was ready to make his final kill, the estocada. He drew the bull into its final charge. As it passed he swivelled, jumped, reached over the top of those magnificent horns and planted the blade squarely between the shoulder blades. For a good clean kill the sword must pass between the bones and pierce the heart of the bull. The matador, true to reputation, achieved it on his first attempt. The crowd roared and waved white handkerchiefs to show their pleasure. The President agreed and awarded the matador the ear of the bull.

Michael felt the blow to his heart too. There was much to love about the continent he had travelled through for the last year. But there was also much to dislike. His father had pulled some strings and his place at the London School of Economics would be held open until the end of the year. Michael knew in that moment that he would return to London and his studies. The dream of Europe had died for him, yet he still loved it so. The people he had met, the places he had seen. For all its weaknesses he was in no doubt that Britain removing itself from the Union was a retrograde step, because what he had also discovered was that the Union was only as strong as the will of the people and the politicians to work and exist in peace together, and turning their back on this left the dangerous possibility that the conflicts that had shaped these ancient places before could be repeated in the future.

The crowd roared as the next bull was released into the ring. There was an entire afternoon schedule to be completed. Michael had seen enough. He rose from his seat and walked up the stairs, turning his back on the culture that seemed so foreign to him, on the possibility of ever understanding the bullfight, because in the end, he didn’t wish to know.

Should he leave, quit because he didn’t fully understand or like everything about another culture or country?

Michael paused at the exit.

Written as part of The A to Z Challenge 2018. Click HERE for more details of the challenge.

And so ends the tour of the 28 countries in the European Union in 26 stories – with a trip to Zaragoza in Spain, and a British citizen on the precipice, deciding whether to turn his back on his European neighbours, or not.

I hope you have enjoyed reading all the short stories as much as I did writing them, and thank you to anyone and everyone who took the time to read any, or all, of them, and especially those who left comments and likes through the month. It saddens me to think of Britain turning its back on this varied and rich continent, and I sincerely hope we do not end up regretting the decision in the years to come, but I fear that we will. As the stories have shown, much of Europe is shaped by past conflict and divisions, and breaking up the EU can only be seen as weakening the bonds that have resulted in the sustained period of relative peace we have been fortunate to live through.

I have met some fantastic bloggers this month, alongside some familiar faces, and I hope to read more from you all in the future. And who knows, maybe we’ll all be here again for the A – Z Challenge 2019.

For a full list of stories this year, visit here: THE A TO Z CHALLENGE 2018.

132 responses to “Z IS FOR ZARAGOZA, SPAIN”

  1. Wow, what a fantastic finale this was! I was wondering where you were going with this one..started on a festive foot and ended on a pensive one. This one had profound philosophical and political connotations to it. It is amusing and sad to see in times of globalization, we have some politicians who are hell-bent on building walls across their borders. Loved the conclusion . Have to go back and catch up on your previous stories in this series. Congratulations! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tina, very kind. I agree, it is sad to see so many politicians and people rejecting a global outlook in favour of petty nationalism and division. Hopefully attitudes will change in time.


  2. That is such a poignant ending to your series. It seems sad that the bullfight pushes Michael home to study, but maybe on the precipice he decides to keep on travelling. Michael is so changed from his Greek parade story, maybe it is time to go. This one is analogous to the mess/ opportunity we’ve got ourselves into as such a disunited nation.
    These have been such great stories to read with the mix of characters and the historical details you have included. I’m already looking forward to what you might come up with next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sarah, for reading through all these stories and your kind comments. We are in such a mess as a country, hopefully these stories point out some of the things we will be losing by breaking this bond with Europe, and hopefully too they show what strong bonds we have that can hopefully withstand the political trauma. Next year, well, I think it will be a while before I start thinking about that!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for a great A to Z journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very welcome 🙂


  4. Another great story…you did an absolutely amazing job on all of these!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Donna.


  5. Very clever to have Michael hesitate at the exit 😉 I can’t even imagine what is going to happen to GB and the EU, but you know I think things will fall into place one way or another, just like they always do?!

    I was thinking of Hemingway, too. Our English teacher made us read and discuss “Death in the Afternoon”.

    Not a fan of bull fighting myself, but I did enjoy reading your last (just as every other) post.

    Nice meeting you and congrats on 26 brillliantly reserached and written stories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. After all the talk and news, I suspect it will all settle down and work itself out. I hope so anyway. Thank you for reading and lovely to meet you too 🙂


  6. As an American who has never been off the North American continent, I realized a long time ago that I have such little knowledge of Europe, the continent both my grandparents came from. I enjoyed reading many of your stories. I would have read them all if my life had been just a little less hectic. I can promise myself I will try to read them all before the 2019 Challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, thanks Alana, glad you enjoyed them, and they will be on my site if you have the chance to come back to read more 🙂


  7. Good tale Iain. In India too we have the bull-taming sport. It is called Jallikattu and is very popular in my home state of Tamil Nadu in south India. The supreme court of India recently banned it as some animal rights activists approached the court bringing to light the fact that the bulls are made very ferocious prior to the taming by spraying chili powder in their eyes and nose and subjecting them to several other such atrocities. But due to severe pressure from the people of Tamil Nadu and from vote grabbing politicians the judiciary was forced to revise its decision. Nice point you have brought out about Brexi toot. Do read my reflections post on A to Z 2018. Here is the link.



    1. Thanks Jai, sounds like a very similar situation. It does seem that these sort of sports belong in the past and surely a compromise can be found.


  8. Iain, another city brought alive through your story. I’ve enjoyed this travel through fiction, and learnt a lot along the way. Congrats on completing the challenge!

    BTW, you are nominated for the Mystery Blogger award – https://lonelycanopyblog.wordpress.com/2018/05/12/the-mystery-mania/.
    Do check out and keep the chain going!! ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Seema 🙂


  9. What an outstanding ride you took readers on through April. Yours was a great theme. Congratulations on a fine finish. Hope you had a great time. Thanks for being a part of the 2018 Challenge.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much 🙂


  10. What an amazing story! It’s funny, I feel sorrow, too, about Brexit. Not because I have an opinion one way or another, but precisely because I don’t have an opinion. We Americans have looked on the event with distant apathy, as if such a decision has no bearing on our culture or society. The most I heard about it was in commercials blaming America’s mortgage boon on it. And that didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jen. I’m not sure about the mortgage boom being responsible for Brexit, although certainly the world economic recession it kick-started probably hasn’t helped. Not sure how much effect it will have on everyday Americans, but politically and in terms of things like Defence and other global issues it will make a difference. We’ll see how it plays out over the next year.


  11. Think your story has narrative energy. You create a strong sense of the bullfighting, the crowd, and the story teller sitting there. Think the switch from excitement to sadness works well. A good story . Well done for completing the A – Z challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, gad you enjoyed it.


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