IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR….(well, maybe not)
Well, I finally did it. I’ve always been curious about it, but I considered it a morbid curiosity. Because I love Mexico, I want to understand its people and its customs. I may not adopt the Mexican way of life, but I won’t shun it until I experience it myself.
So, as it happened, I was sitting on a bench in the Jardin at San Miguel de Allende when a young girl gave me a flyer. It announced there was to be a bullfight that afternoon. I had been speaking with a Mexican man who was sitting on the bench beside me. He was watching me as I looked at the flyer. In answer to my question, he told me had seen many bullfights. He was not an aficionado, but he attended the occasional bullfight. I told him I had never been to a bullfight, and I asked him what it was like. He thought about it a second and finally said there was a lot of blood. He was surprised to find there are no bullfights where I live.
“Don’t you have bulls in your country,” he wanted to know. I set him straight about USA bulls. He told me all bulls are dangerous, but the bulls that fight are highly trained. I don’t know how one trains a bull to fight. I suppose it’s a reverse obedience school where the teachers are mean to them, and probably flap red capes at them till the poor bulls are nervous wrecks.
I was staying at my friend, Joyce’s, house. When I returned to her casa, I asked her if she had ever been to a bullfight. Joyce, an expat from New York, said she had never gone to a bullfight, and she would not consider going to such a barbarous event. She let me know she was surprised I would even consider going. I told her why I wanted to go, which she branded as pure hogwash. It was spitting rain, and she gave me an umbrella, telling me I needn’t feel obligated to describe the event if and when I managed to get home, but she would appreciate the return of the umbrella.
So, trying to ignore Joyce’s disapproval, I set off down the rocks that comprise the street in front of her house. Somehow I remembered the location of the bullring although I had never been there when I was in San Miguel 20 years ago.
I wound my way through throngs of people celebrating the Fiesta of St. Miguel, the town’s patron saint. At the bull ring’s ticket window, I was surprised to learn there were two kinds of tickets. If one wished to watch the bullfight in the shade, a ticket to the side of the bullring that was not exposed to the sun cost 150 pesos (about $15 at the time).However, I opted for the sunny side and only paid 100 pesos. My ticket was marked SOL. It didn’t make any difference given the fact the whole city was socked in under heavy gray clouds.
I took a seat and waited. There was a band playing across the way, and seated on the front row was a girl in a mantilla and her ruffled skirt draped over the side of the ring. In front of her was a semi-circle flag marking her place. I’ve seen such an arrangement in the movies, and I suppose it is preserved as a tradition. Nobody seemed to pay it much attention.
I began to think about Hemingway and his love of bullfights. Suddenly, a big black bull dashed out of a gate, interrupting my muse. There were six matadors stationed around the ring; the bull swerved toward the matador directly beneath where I was sitting. The matador quickly ducked behind a little partition, which the bull crashed into making the “sol” side of the ring shutter from the impact.
I noticed the bull had a red ribbon attached to his side. It seemed to be stuck to him. I made a mental note to find out what that was all about. One by one he ran at the other matadors, all of whom jumped behind their little partitions.
There were a few surprises. For one, I didn’t know the fight commenced with six matadors. They took turns taunting the bull. This continued for a few minutes, then the gate opened again and two picadors (I think that’s what they’re called) on blindfolded horses wearing heavy padding entered the ring.
The bull immediately lost interest in the matadors and went for the horses. While the bull aimed its horns at the horse’s side, the rider, who wore armor on his legs, stuck a long sharp stick into the bull’s shoulders. The man in the jardin was right. There was a lot of blood.
Then the matadors, who were dressed in beautiful suits, stood in the middle of the ring and when the bull ran at them, they poked ruffle-topped pointed sticks into its sides. More blood. The crowd cheered.
The band played a fanfare and THE matador strutted into the ring. His suit was considerably shinier than the others. In fact, if the sun had been out, everyone in the stands would have been temporarily blinded. He threw his matador hat down, exhibiting defiance toward it. Curious. Maybe it was because the hat looked like a Mickey Mouse hat with the ears misplaced. Below his shiny knickers, he wore pink stockings and black ballet shoes. That would have been enough right there for my grandsons to give rout to the matador’s macho demeanor.
His cape was redder than the others, and he tormented the bull much closer than the apprentice matadors. He made a big deal about hiding his sword under the cape. Everybody knows bulls take offense when threatened by a sword! At last he managed to sink it into the bull’s shoulders.
After a while he toyed with the bull a bit more. Blood poured from its shoulders into the dirt. When it was about done for, Senor Shiny Suit turned his back on it, and disdainfully strode away. What bravery! The crowd loved it. Never mind that the bull was too weak to move, let alone charge.
It wasn’t long after that when the bull collapsed. Everyone involved in the massacre either assumed the bull was dead, or they didn’t care. Two draft horses in harness came into the ring and were driven toward the bull. A couple guys attached the bull by its neck to the pulling thing on the harness. While the harness was being attached, the secondary matadors pulled out the sticks from the bull’s apparently lifeless body. Someone cut off its ear and the main matador paraded around the ring holding the ear aloft as he graciously accepted the boisterous adoration of the crowd.
I don’t remember how many fights were scheduled, but I left after the first two. I was hoping if I stayed for one more fight, I might get to see the bull win. I would have given almost anything to see one or more of the matadors tossed into the air by the bull, if not fatally gored. The bull in the second fight had a tiny victory. As another shiny suit went for his sword, the bull charged and sent the sword and the cape flying. The onlookers exhibited displeasure without actually booing. They’re much too polite to boo.
The sun was setting when I walked to the jardin to watch some traditional dancing in front of the parroquia. The Arc Angel St. Miguel fiesta was winding down, but not before fireworks shot high in the sky, and there was dancing in the parroquia courtyard. People were packed in the street shouting and singing. Over the crush of people, a neon banner proclaimed “Viva Mexico.”
Have I mentioned I do so love Mexico, whether deserts, mountains, beaches, cities or countryside? All I can do is agree with the San Miguel celebrants: Viva Mexico!
The above was originally written in 2007. To tell the truth I have forgotten where it was published. Most of the time, I keep everything in whatever computer I used to write it in the first place. As I reread the “Hemingway” piece just before it was posted, I realized some people would wonder how I could be in love with a place that condoned a practice so brutal as a bullfight.
I gave it some thought, and came to realize that every country or every place indulges in practices that I consider heinous. A large contingent of our own U S of A is addicted to NASCAR, wrestling, or whatever that “sport” is called where two people climb into a cage and try to kill one another, while onlookers scream and encourage the participants to hit or kick harder.
Even widely-accepted sports are becoming increasingly dangerous. More and more football players are suffering concussions that sometime lead to permanent disability or death.
Given all this brutality, it’s unfair to condemn an entire country because a portion of it enjoys a blood sport. I think we should be able to enjoy what the rest of the country has to offer, after giving the “Sporting” events a pass.