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Monday, June 19, 2017

Matador Down

The following is an excerpt from the chronicle of my hitchhiking trip to California in June of 1971 with my best friend Chuck. It describe our experiences on the day his uncle Rube took us to Juarez to see the bullfights. It was a brutal day in our young lives. So is this account. Jump to the end if you want to cheer for what happened to the Matador... Steer clear if you are sensitive to such violence.

The time drew near for the fights.  They all piled into Rube's old station wagon and headed off to pick up another couple who were going to the fights with them.  Rube said that he never took the Caddy south.  The Mexes could have the station wagon if they really wanted it, he said.   Rube parked the car on a side street and the walked to the arena where they met one additional member of the party.  He was a bullfighter himself, but not recently.  He explained the activities that were to come.

Mariachis played outside the arena raising a festive air.  The arena consisted of about 20 rows of tiered benches surrounding a dirt ring.  A wooden wall provided a safe zone between the dirt ring and the first row of seats.  On two sides of the field a narrow wall provided a place of refuge for the Matador to duck behind.  Amplified fanfare music poured from the speaker cones above the last row of seats and the crowd rose to their feet at the promenade of the Matadors, toreadors and company. Two men on horseback and a three brightly dressed Toreadors walked around the perimeter.  The Picadors strutted their horses and carried the colors on spears. 

A heavy wooded door was swung open and a maddened bull leaped into the arena.  The three toreadors pranced around looking like fairy clowns dresses in pink and green satin clothes waving pink ropes at the bull.  They teased the bull like a squadron of flies on a horse.   Then El Matador, Manolo Martinez, hero of the bull ring strutted onto the arena to the lauding of the crowd.  Women threw roses to him and blew kisses.  He waved his hand to his adoring fans.  His skin tight golden satin suit shown in the afternoon sun backed by his red cape.  He declared his manhood by ignoring the bull that stood across the field from him.  A scabbard hung by his side.

The gate was once again opened and two Picadors rode blindfolded horses onto the field.  One horse was heavily padded on the left side and under his belly.  The other on the right.   The riders of the horses surrounded the bull and goaded him with a spear tip in the shoulders.  This barbarity is supposed to tell if the bull is a good one or not. In actuality, this act is to weaken the neck muscles and keep the bull's head lower to the ground.   Manolo ran up next to the bull and stuck him with small barbed poles with colored streamers.  Blood streamed from the wounds on the shoulders.  He ducked his head, beat his hooves and charged the Matador.  He thundered passed the Manolo as he sidestepped, misleading the bull with the presentation of the cape.

"Ole, cried the crowd.  "Ole," again as the bull again charged the cape and missed the man.  Martinez reeled about and faced the charging bull.  The bull stopped short and pitched his head backwards.  The matador drew his sword from its scabbard and hid it under the cape.  He took three more charges, stepping aside and allowing the bull to rush passed under the loose fabric.  Then he turned to face the staggering bull.  His tongue hung loosely from his frothing mouth.  Martinez drew the sword high above his head and drew himself up on his toes.  With three quick steps, he advanced on the bull and drove the sword between the shoulder blades of this first bull of the day.

The bull's tongue hung limply from his gaping mouth.  He staggered.  Martinez faced him down as the bull fell to his knees.  The costumed man withdrew the sword with a sweeping gesture and stood before the dying bull with the sword raised above his head.  The crowd cried, "Ole". 

The bull fell to his side and stretched out his legs as the muscles relaxed.  A little fat man ran on to the field and thrust a dagger into the brain of the bull under the back of his skull.  The bull twitched then lay still.  Then in one final act of man over beast, he cut the ears and tail and presented them to the matador, who displayed them in the air.

One of the horsemen rode out into the arena.  The little fat man looped a lasso loop over the horns of the dead bull and the horse dragged the dead carcass out through the wooden door.

Act Two followed soon after the dead bull was removed.  The second bull succumbed in identical manner as the first.  Bull Three lost a horn while being taunted by the picadors. The crowd threw up a roar of dissatisfaction.  They came to see six bulls give a good performance and die.  A bull with one horn was no challenge to the matador.  He was lead off the field the way he arrived, alive.

Bull Four was lead in kicking and tossing.  He headed straight for the wall and leaped over the top.  He leaped and crawled over a wall about 6 feet high.  The clever men were prepared for such a show of cowardice from a bull.  The gate in the inner wall swings both ways.  The gate attendant merely swung the gate outward from the ring and the bull was redirected back into the ring to face the matador and his hidden sword.  When the bull charged the matador's cape, the matador produced the sword from behind the cape and skewered the bull.   Another set of trophies and another bull was dragged from the ring.

Chuck sat on the bleacher with his hand to his face.  His pallid face gave expression to the deep sickening sensation that quickened within him.  "I'm going to go find a coke or something,"  he said and got up.  Alberto explained the rituals to Bob.  Bob thought the whole event was barbaric and cruel, but was never one to criticize the culture of anyone else.  He watched with a morbid curiosity.  He felt the slice of the blade as if it were piercing his own shoulders.  It brought on a sensation of guilty pleasure.  The scene was horrific, but one at the same time, he was happy that it was the bull who was being sacrificed and not himself.   

On number Five a young boy eager to earn his manhood, leaped from the front row across the outer track and down into the ring.  The crowd was brought to its feet.  The boy waved his jacket at the bull and he charged.  The toreadors distracted the bull while Manolo Martinez grabbed the boy and pushed him behind the shield on the far side of the arena where Bob and Alberto sat.  The Policia were brought in to take the boy away.  Alberto explained that the boy was showing his machismo and that he would be turned over to his parents.  Later he would face the indignity of mother and father, but for now he was a big man for being so brave as to challenge the bull without weapons.  To Bob, the boy was much more brave than the matador because he went in without a sword, unlike Martinez who had the upper hand.

Bull Six began like all the others.  He charged into the ring then came to a halt, looking bewildered.  The picadors drew blood with their long poles.  Then the bull was taunted into a frenzy by the toreadors.  Manolo Martinez then strutted up to the bull, challenging him with the cape.  The bull charged.  Martinez swiftly stepped aside, wrapped the cape around his back as the bull slipped passed.  He again faced the bull, to the excitement of the crowd.  He then ran up to the bull and stuck barbed bannered poles into his shoulders.  The bull kicked and fumed.  He spun around and pitched his head upward catching the inside of Martinez' right thigh.   The bull lifted him and tossed the man over his back.   The crowd jumped to their feet in disbelief.  A collective groan was raised from all quadrants.  Then he turned and charged the man who lay on the ground with blood pouring from the torn flesh of his leg.  The bull ducked his head and thrust in at Martinez again, pushing him along the ground.  The toreadors poked at the bull, working as a team to distract him from his target who lay bleeding in the ring.  This rarest of sights held the audience transfixed on the scene that played out before their eyes.

The ring officials struggled to bring Martinez to his feet.  His face had lost all of its color.  Even though, he fought off his assistants.  With a last defiant gesture, he broke free and stood before the bull.  The crowd roared out his name.  He waved off the toreadors.  With sword in hand, held behind his back, and no cape, he stood firm before the bull.  The crowd proclaimed their adoration.  The bull hoofed the ground and charged.  Martinez raised his arms over his head, sword aimed at his attacker, and thrust the blade deep into the shoulders of the bull.  He staggered.  The bull staggered.  Martinez fainted backward into the arms of the officials.  They quickly carried him off the field and through the gate through which countless dead bull had passed.

Alfonzo Leal, Martinez' assistant, finished the job.  The bull fell to his knees, then toppled on his side.  The little fat man severed the spinal cord with his dagger than took the ears and tail.  The bull had won out over Martinez but suffered the pain of death anyway.  This day of brutal barbarism was over.


Please let me know in the comments if you read this post to the end.