Sunday, January 13, 2013
Upon further consideration, I have decided that the bull fight deserves further description.
The sole purpose of a bull fight can be summed up in a single word: bravery. The bull fighting tradition came to Mexico from Spain. Part of the opposition to the practice in Mexico, in fact, arises from the notion that the sport is a cultural imposition from colonial times. Yet, it remains quite popular throughout much of Latin America. It is a sport defined by tradition. For a period before the fight begins, the brass band warms up and then plays to entertain the gathering crowd. This band features the trumpet quite dominantly. Think "cheesy Mexican gun battle movie scene," and you will get the idea.
At precisely 4:30, the band begins a traditional march, and the parade of bull fighters enter the ring. The parade consists of a marshall who leads everyone from atop his horse. Next come the matadors aligned according to seniority. Following them are their cuadrilos, a group of three men with capes who help manage the bull during the various movements of the fight. Behind them come the picadores mounted blindfolded horses covered in thick padding. Second to last comes a team of horses harnessed to a simple doubletree. Finally come the red uniformed men who clean the arena. The parade having ended, the first fighter and his cuadrilo take their places behind blockades in the ring. Gates are flung open and the bull rushes into the light from a dark chute. Until this point, he has been raised as a wild animal. He has been handled as little as possible for his whole life. When he has been handled, he has been encouraged to hate humans. He has been reared from generations of fighting animals. His sole purpose in life is to bravely attack anything in the ring until he kills them or they kill him. This is his moment of glory.
In the ring, the members of the cuadrilo work the bull with large magenta and gold capes as the matador watches seeing habits of the bull - the direction he prefers to turn, the horn with which he most often hooks, his speed, etc . . .
After a few passes, the picador, carrying a lance enters the ring. His job is to stab the bull at the base of the neck, weakening those muscles so that he has to drop his head as he charges. A trumpet call marks the end of this period, and the beginning of the banderilleros. Carrying two short darts about a foot long, these men rush the bull as he rushes them. They must reach over the horns, place their darts, and rush away without getting gored. Three sets of darts are placed. It is now time for the matador to work the bull. He must use his short red cape to provoke the bull, controlling the passes as the bull brings his horns within centimeters of the matador's body. The fight reaches its climax when the matador kills the bull with a sword, inserting it between vertebrae severing the spinal cord and piercing the bull's heart. He doesn't often accomplish this perfectly, but once inserted, the sword quickly kills the animal.
Though brutal, these fights are a thing of grace. They are a show of bravery by bull and fighter alike. Both look death in the face, and without blinking, try to inflict the same on the other. If this were just about killing, it would be cruel, perhaps even a sin. But the killing is not the point. The point is the grace, the elegance of brute force and years of practice. It is a dance, a beautiful dance. Perhaps not for everyone, the bull fights have won me over. I hope to see them again.