August 18, 2006

Bullfight World
By Lyn Sherwood

The Boots of the Virgin

According to Bowker’s Guide to Books, as of 1998, 48 English language bullfight books were available. Collectively, the titles have generated 880,000 sales, an average of 26,190 per title. Some, such as Barnaby Conrad’s Death of Manolete, have become classics. The Manolete book became a Playhouse 90’s television special that was truly terrible. Imagine Jack Palance, as Manolete! It was tantamount to Yogi Bera, reciting Shakespeare.

Many of these books, such as John Fulton’s Bullfighting and several others, are excellent; however, a few have been real stinkers, mostly because the writers hadn’t been around bullfighting long enough to understand how complicated the subject is, and demonstrated such, in their writing.

But, there have been only 14 English language novels published, including Tom Lea’s The Brave Bulls, which is in its 13th printing. The best of all is Luis Spota’s The Wounds of Hunger, a very good read.

How about funny or satirical novels on bullfighting? After all, bullfighting is a very serious subject that doesn’t easily translate to humor. This reporter has come across only one such novel —The Boots of The Virgin— and it’s hilarious. Author Earl Shorris asks the question, “Can a young, Jewish boy find true happiness as the world’s greatest bullfighter?”

The book, Shorris claims, is named for the old (so old, I’ve never heard it) bullfight expression, “I (expletive) in the boots of the virgin”.

It’s the story of Sol Feldman, who bills himself as “El Sol”. He has been gored in every bullfight in which he has ever performed. Along the way, he deals with a picador who credits his blindness from syphilis for saving his life. Otherwise, a bull would have, eventually, killed him; a thief of a banderillero who even manages to steal El Sol’s toilet; a couple of cockroaches who cannot fathom the artistry or courage of bullfighting, nor the sexual practices of homo sapiens; a hooker who is an expert on the stock market and dreams of opening her own business: either a brothel or a stock brokerage; and a bull that turns out to be the reincarnation of Adolph Hitler.

Here is just an example of the type of writing, to be found in The Boots of The Virgin:

“Guero Talclantlan was born in a cave, in Tabasco. He studied Spanish at a mission school, though his family spoke Tzotzil in the cave. In his early years, Guero practiced an eclectic religion, worshipping saints, snakes, jaguars, virgins, Christ, and the moon. After his mother was eaten by a jaguar, one moonlit night, and the local priest refused to allow her into heaven, because she had been eaten without the last rites, Guero left home, to become a Mason.”

It is obvious that Shorris is a knowledgeable aficionado, which he demonstrates by satirizing many well known characters, whose true identities will become obvious to those who have spent many years around La Fiesta Brava. And, as every Jew who I have ever known, his self deprecating sense of humor extends even to his own religion. The story even contains several R-rated sections that will make you laugh, until tears come to your eyes.

Unfortunately, The Boots of The Virgin has been out of print, for many years. It was published in 1968, by Delacorte Press, of New York City. So, if you want to read it, your local library, or a dealer of rare books, may have to be consulted. But, be warned: do not lend it to anybody; otherwise, you’ll never get it back and you won’t be able to re-read it, and re-chuckle over it, as many times as I have.

So, when you find a copy of The Boots of The Virgin, guard it with your life, for it is absolutely the funniest bullfight novel, ever published. At least, in English.

***

The 2006 summer bullfight season continues at Tijuana’s downtown plaza Empresario José López Hurtado has put together a card of up-and-coming, young toreros. José Luis Angelino, Omar Villaseñor, and Ismael Rodriguez, facing bulls of Mimiahuapan.

. Tickets are available at the plaza, or can be reserved, ahead of time, for prices beginning at $17, from the Five Star Tours box office at 1050 Kettner Blvd. in San Diego. Call Alfonso at 619-232-5049, or e-mail him at alfonso@fivestartours.com

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