(If you cannot tolerate cruelty to animals, read no further. ).
Growing up, and I date myself here, I loved James Michener’s books – Hawaii, Centennial, The Source, Texas, – so imagine my delight when I was able to trade for two James Michener books at a camp ground a few weeks ago. One of the books was The Drifters, a Michener book I vaguely recall, which was about 60’s era trust-funder hippies drifting around Europe. Karen remembers absolutely loving it when she read it at the impressionable age of sixteen. After re-reading The Drifters, I told Karen two things: i) do not re-read this book; preserve your memories; ii) The Drifters has aged about as well as bell-bottoms.
The second Michener book was Mexico, which I had never read before. Mexico is not a great, or even a good book; this may be a strong statement, but the writing is poor – high school-ish. Ah well, despite all, Michener will still live in my memory as a great author.
Notwithstanding the poor writing, and more to the point of this blog, the book Mexico uses a bullfight as the main arc throughout the book; a good third of the book is about the intricacies of bullfighting. So when I saw a bullfighting poster in St Cristobal, I felt like I had to go.
We had also made some new friends at the St Cristobal campground, one of whom, Juan, had been to a few bullfights before, and they wanted to go as well; so on Easter Sunday, off we went.
The stadium, ring ?, was small and intimate; even the cheapest seats were only a meters away from the bulls and toreros. And few gringos were on hand.
The program called for three toreros, or matadors de toros ( no-one who knows anything about bullfighting calls them toreados – that is only in the opera Carmen… ), each of which would get two bulls, for a total of six bulls.
Here’s how a bullfight goes: the subalternos (the torero helpers) get a few passes with the bull while the torero, whose bull it is, studies how the bull moves.
The torero may take a few passes himself during this warmup period.
The bull is then “led” to where it will attack the horses of the picadors; when the bull attacks, the picador will drive his spear into the neck of the bull weakening the bull’s muscles in a way such that the bull cannot fully keep his head up, or fully attack the torero.
Next comes the bandilleros, the multi-colored spears which are placed into the neck / shoulder of the bull to cause the bull pain, and further weaken his shoulder muscles.
Now that the bull is prepared, the torero steps into the ring. The torero will trick the bull into attacking his red mantel for two reasons: to further study how the bull moves, and to wear the bull out. This is the part of the bullfight that can be exciting, artistic, and frankly beautiful.
But, once the torero understands how the bull moves, and the bull is tired enough, time has come to kill the bull. In a perfect world, the torero inserts his sword in a ways such that it severs the spinal cord of the bull, and the bull dies instantly. In the real world, this rarely happens.
(The above is NOT how to do it)
Instead the torero makes multiple attempts at the perfect thrust, but fails, and the bull is eventually killed by an accumulation of imperfect thrusts and/or a knife stabbed into his spinal cord. I don’t care what Papa Hemingway thought or wrote. This is not death with honor – the bull has no f…ing clue what is going on.
Karen left after the first bull, but I decided to stay and at least watch each torero with one bull. I’m glad I did. The third torero started well.
But, after a few passes, the bull caught the torero a glancing blow with his horns and ripped his pants open.
Then, on the next pass, the torero lost his shoes.
At his point in time, some of the ladies who were seated behind us starting chanting “Otra ropa! Otra ropa!”. (Other clothing!).
Despite his diminishing set of clothing, the torero continued on. And with style – the crowd awarded him an ear of his bull as a token of a job well done.
I do not regret going to a bullfight – now I know what I am talking about – but I will never go to another one. Overall it is not an artistic experience; it is animal cruelty, and the way it is performed should be stopped. To me, the sublime moments of the bullfight, and there are quite a few, can be preserved without killing a beautiful animal in a cruel and clumsy way