Angostura, hulking and black, with the number 12 branded into his side, probably doesn't know he's green.
Raising bulls, so the argument goes, preserves hundreds of thousands of acres of Spanish land that would otherwise fall victim to ugly condos and wasteful golf courses.
Blasted by animal lovers as cruel, frowned upon by the young and hip in the new, dynamic Spain, bullfighting had been in decline in recent years. Until now.
It seems a couple of things have happened on the way to the plaza de toros.
A European Union admonishment to end bullfighting spurred Spaniards who love the controversial sport into action. They organized into committees and began lobbying on its behalf, extolling the ecological virtues as well as the deep-rooted importance of what they call the "national festival" to traditional Spanish culture.
And then, there was Jose Tomas.
This mesmerizing torero has revived interest in bullfighting in ways not seen here in decades.
After an abrupt and unexplained retirement in 2002, the 31-year-old made a dramatic comeback this season to accolades bordering on hysteria. From politicians (of all ideological stripes) to artists, musicians and ordinary fans, Spaniards rejoiced. Half-empty arenas gave way to packed stands.
Spain's leading pro-left newspaper, El Pais, where reports on bullfights had virtually vanished, once again devoted page after page of coverage -- to Jose Tomas. The state television network, after announcing it would no longer broadcast the spectacle, provided live satellite hook-ups to Tomas' season-ending appearance late last month in Barcelona.
The adulation has to do with his mysterious allure and what aficionados see as unparalleled bravery and artistry. Tomas manages to evince an air of commanding calm, even when he's been gored and is bleeding profusely, struggling not to pass out.
Conjuring the ghost of his idol Manolete, considered possibly the greatest matador of all time, Tomas performs in near slow-motion, poised ramrod-straight within striking distance of the bull's razor-sharp horns, seemingly in a trance. Fans and commentators use words like "messiah," "king" and "epic" to describe his performance, his challenge to and domination of the half-ton beast he faces on the arena's sandy floor.
Enhancing the mystique, Tomas, with his dark wavy hair and imposing square jaw, rarely speaks in public; the only glimpse of his private life came splashed in a couple of recent celebrity magazines that caught photos of him on the beach with his heretofore unknown girlfriend. He is smiling and his body is slender, the gash from one of his run-ins with a bull clearly visible on his right thigh.
Tomas deliberately chose to make his return in Barcelona, where anti-bullfighting sentiment is especially strong. It was the first Spanish city, in 2004, to formally condemn the activity (though it would take the regional government to actually ban it) and has outlawed attendance by children under 14. Protests outside bullrings are common.
Tomas' debut in Barcelona's Monumental Plaza de Toros (a venue on the verge of being shut down last year because of lack of attendance) was sold out. The audience of 20,000 was sprinkled with Spanish A-list celebrities and officials, who roared a sustained chorus of "Ole!" as Tomas, seemingly oblivious to danger, repeatedly provoked charges from the bull.
Dressed in turquoise and gold and wielding a red cape, the returned master was at one point thrown to the ground by the beast he faced. But he recovered, killed that bull and then another one, and declared victory. The jubilant crowd showered him with flowers and cheers.
Bullfighting is an acquired taste, and certainly not for everyone. Its attraction is unfathomable to many outsiders, and to more than a few Spaniards as well. A poll last year showed only a quarter of Spaniards had any interest in the ritual, which has existed on the Iberian peninsula, in one form or another, for 2,000 years.
The invading Moors of North Africa formalized it in the 8th or 9th century, and for the last few hundred years, bullfighting has not changed substantially. The season today lasts from March to October, with an estimated 2,000 events involving the killing of at least 12,000 bulls.