If you’ve ever traveled through Spain by car, train, or bus, you have probably seen one of the Osborne sherry company’s larger-than-life, anatomically correct bull-shaped billboards dotting the countryside here and there. In Catalunya, there is only one of these monstrous bovines remaining. It is located in the Bruc, county of Anoia, where it continues to “anoi” [get it?] Catalans by imposing a stereotypically Spanish symbol on anyone passing on the highway. Although roadside billboards were outlawed in 1994, Osborne painted over its bull-boards in a uniform black color that allowed them to circumvent the new legislation.
Since then, our local bull has been caught in the crossfire of public sentiment. On several occasions it has been painted over with the Catalan flag, hung with anti-taurine banners, and torn down in protest of its presence on the landscape. Each time this happens, the locals put the bull back up again. And once they do, it’s only a few months before the bull is once again a victim of its circumstances.
Having seen a fair number of these bulls in my day, I have to say that the one in Catalunya is sort of bewildering. A giant bull hovering over the interstate seems to make sense when driving through la Mancha or Sevilla. But there is about as much bull culture in Catalunya as in upstate New York. Still, while I applaud the creative ways in which the bull is used in protest, I have to scratch my head and wonder, wouldn’t it be more effective to boycott Osborne sherry than to knock down this stupid bull?
Catalans and animal rights activists can take solace in the knowledge that they are not the only ones battling against unwanted oversized animal statues. What if the Osborne bull were replaced by this 9,000 pound fiberglass, electric-eyed, bright blue mustang horse statue that now greets visitors at the Denver International Airport?
The Osborne bull will probably go up again. And it will probably get torn down again. In a way, it is a barometer of the cultural tensions between Spaniards and Catalans. It symbolizes a relationship of passive-aggressive, stubborn antagonism that would be better served by cooperation and dialogue. You don’t have to know the detailed history of wars, political marriages, betrayals, dictatorships, and power brokering to understand the complexity of Spanish-Catalan relations. Just take a drive past the Bruc and experience it for yourself. And that’s no bull. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)