Monday, September 20, 2010

Saturday, the Bullfight and El Bigote

Matadors arriving to much fanfare.
John used to go to Tiajuana to see bullfights when he was a kid and I had thought I would like to see one at least once in my life. My Cuban Spanish teacher taught us a lot about bullfighting, how it was an art form, how the matadors made the final kill, what distinguished them from each other, how the picadores worked and for what purpose etc. But in my lifetime I've never seen a bullfight. Today would be the day. 

I spent much of the early part of the day shopping at the artisans market at the Instituto and then at the Nigromonte market near the Jardin. I hadn't planned to spend most of my money but there were some very cool things so I did. I bought some necklaces, a painting on bark paper that I will hang in my Mexican bathroom, some little presents for relatives back home, soap dishes to match the Mexican sinks at home, copal incense for my incense loving son, etc. Many pesos later I returned to the apartment. The maid was there for the weekly cleaning. And indeed the sheets had been washed and hung on the roof and were back on the beds. The place hadn't looked that clean even the night we arrived. Good help is really good to find! 



The Queen and her court.


Hurricane Carl is beating up the eastern coast of Mexico and the clouds and rain from that have extended far inland. The clouds looked dark gray and laden with water. The wind blew gently but steadily from the east. We packed for the rain and headed to the Bullring. On the way, in the taxi, we saw a man running with two horses. I mean, the man was running, leading two running horses up the hill. After the taxi dropped us and we'd photographed the beauty queens and the Matadors who arrived by horse drawn carriages, we saw that same guy leading the horses up the hill and into the driveway of the bullring. It was funny to me that he didn't ride either one, they were both saddled. Maybe he liked the exercise. Or maybe the horses were worth more than he. 



The picador and his incredible horse.

Final moments for the bull
I have seen the bullring from the overlook up the hillside, and I knew what street must go past it, but I never saw the bullring itself. Turns out that it sits back from the street, there are houses and stores in front of it. To access it, there are large metal gates that open onto a steep driveway and at the top the land flattens out with the bullring built in a huge circle with buttressed castle walls. Inside the space between houses and the outside of the bullring horses were tethered to rings set into the walls. There were a bunch of guys dressed like matadors, but without the fancy gold and silver accoutrement's. I think these were the toreros, they 'play' with the bulls and distract them but don't kill them. The matadors are the ones who actually make the kill.  The Picador punches the bull with spikes to injure him, wear him out, make him fighting mad, and get him ready for the finesse of the Matador. The picador on horseback was pretty good, he spiked the bull almost every time and exactly where he intended. I felt sorry for the bull but this end to his life was brief. The entire fight only lasts about 20 minutes, 30 tops. I felt equally sorry for the horses. The first bull was quite energetic and went after the horse, jabbing the horse several times with his horns. The Picador finally went out the gate and came back with a bigger stronger horse who managed to keep himself out of harm's way. It began to rain a lot and we were getting soaked. We moved up under the covered portal at the top of the ring, and when I looked back the Matador was finishing off the bull with a final knife to the spinal column. So I missed the finale. A team of decorated horses came in and pulled the bull out of the ring with ropes tied to the horns. 

One aspect of this bullfight that John hadn't seen before, and that I'd never heard about were the 'clowns'. (I'm sure there's an official name for them.) In addition to the bullfighters and toreros, there were about 20 young men who were dressed alike, in similar stretchy pants, shoes and shirts as the bullfighters. We had seen them congregating, hugging each other, crossing themselves, and generally acting high spirited before we went in. After the bull was tired but still feisty, they lined up in a straight row, as if in a line to buy tickets. The front guy set himself up as a target and the entire column yelled and waved their hands. The bull charged the front man and hit him squarely in the chest with the broad part of his head, horns to either side of the man's body. The column collapsed as the bull forced the man into the ones behind him. Those hombres swarmed around the bull, pulled on his tail, grabbed at his horns and tried to extract their friend. Aside from entertainment, I'm not sure what the point of this exercise was, probably another test of manhood. The bull wasn't particularly happy with it either and quickly got away. The front man was bloodied up a bit but strutted out of the swarm to cheers from the crowd.  

The rain let up and another bull came into the ring. The fight went much the same, except the second matador was not as good and I think this bull suffered quite a bit more. It broke my heart. The crowd was not terribly enthusiastic about the matador and less so when the rain came down in earnest. We crowded up under the portal area and even that was not designed to withstand the downpour, the roof dribbled rain on us just about anywhere we chose to stand. The bullring filled up like a swimming pool and when the rain finally let up, men got out in the mud with long flat boards on the end of poles and tried to sweep out the water but it just kept rolling back in. The Matadors in their sparkling finery, red socks and little black shoes jumped around a bit, slid back and forth, and then I think, gave their recommendations to the judges, who called the whole thing off. There would have been 2 other bulls so it was a good day for them. 

El Bigote and the little bull.
However, the entertainment was just beginning. A vacillo, young bull, was let out into the ring and dozens of drunk men and boys as young as 10 years old entered the ring. They used sheets of paper, their shirts, big sombreros, etc. as capes to attract the bull's attention and pretend that they were bullfighters. Most of them stayed by the gates which have a large flat wooden shield to protect the bullfighters. They would pop in and out from behind the shield, taunt the bull, but never let him get too close. They were testing their courage, but they weren't stupid. Except for one middle aged borracho who was wearing a big black fake mustache and blue jeans. He took his shirt off and used it as a cape. He taunted the bull, strutted around, wiggled his butt and waved his shirt. He looked just like Cheech of Cheech and Chong fame. The bull came really close to goring him but he successfully used the shirt to detract the bull from his bare upper body. The more success he had, the cockier he became. Cheers bellowed from the remaining crowd who were still drinking up excess beer, probably now on sale for lack of customers. The crowd was yelling Bigote! Bigote! (mustache), urging him on. Then he made a mistake and turned his back on the bull after he'd successfully gotten the bull to pass. The bull lowered his head and charged. Bigote landed square across the bull's face, between the horns, and he was tossed up into the air. He landed face down and stayed there. I thought he might be dead. 


The other men quickly jumped into action waving and yelling to distract the bull while others grabbed up the injured man and drug him off to safety. A tall thin teenager with a huge white hat was the next brave guy but he had already witnessed the Bigote fiasco. He was a little too cautious so the crowd began to yell Puta Puta. (not a good name…) Meanwhile, Bigote recovered and came back into the ring, mostly to bow to the crowd and be cheered on. He left many fans and probably got dozens of free drinks at the nearest bar, not that he needed to get any drunker!!