November 22, 2006

Correspondent Gary Sloan Has Close Call

Bullfight World
by Lyn Sherwood

Standing in the callejón is sometimes a very dangerous thing to do. Some bulls like to jump over the barrera, and anybody who in their way, as they traverse the callejón, is fair game. That includes bullfight photographers, whose works fail to impress rampaging bulls.

And, on Saturday, Nov. 18, Bullfight World Correspondent Gary Sloan came close to being an unwilling participant in the game. Here are the details, as related by Sloan.

A festival bullfight, benefiting Tijuana’s general hospital, was a huge success, Nov. 18, in the Cortijo San José, the festival bullring, near Plaza Monumental de Tijuana, at Las Playas. It also nearly resulted in this reporter coming close to being nailed.

Appearing in the event were four novillos of Alvaro Espinoza for matadores Oscar San Román, César Castañeda, Fermín Spinola, and José Rodriguez “Pepe Hillo.”

With his first bull, “Pajon” (420 kilos), Oscar San Román offered some nice veronicas, climaxed with the media veronica. For his quite, following the pic’ing, he did a fine set of chicuelinas. His faena was very good, on both sides. After one pinchazo, followed by a full thrust, San Román was awarded a pair of ears.

Popular Tijuana Matador César Castañeda received “Don Luis” (435 kilos), which turned out to be a very difficult animal. I suspect that this novillo had some experience with the cape, because it came within millimeters of catching Castañeda in his very first cape lance.

This bull seemed to speak Spanish and English, had probably read The Encyclopedia of Bullfighting, and demonstrated a degree of sentido that usually translates to having been corrupted, perhaps on some moonlit night in the campos of its ganadería. Who knows? These things are difficult to prove.

In any case, nothing was accomplished in the first act. After the pic’ing, César placed three pairs of banderillas, in fine fashion. With the muleta, in the third act, Castañeda demonstrated great courage, but was unable to dominate this wise, young bull. He had some difficulty with the sword, but nevertheless was awarded an ear for his great efforts.

With the next bull, for Fermín Spinola, things got really exciting, especially for me. I was standing at entrance of a burladero, having a conversation with veteran picador “Miura,” concerning the size and casta of the novillos. There were five or six other people, gathered around the same spot, when Spinola’s bull, “Buen Amigo,” blasted out of the toril and roared across the ring.

Buen Amigo (“Good Friend.” Uh huh, sure.) was huge, although its posted weight was only 430 kilos. Nevertheless, it was as tall as the barrera, and it took great interest in anything that was on the other side of the fence. I looked for a place in which to hide.

The bull raced along the barrera, until one of the subalternos, on the opposite side of the arena, flashed his capote. The bull ran across the ring and tore into the burladero, almost knocking it down. That’s when I really started getting nervous.

The bull turned and came flying down the fence, in my direction, about 10 feet from where I and the five or six other guys, including Novillero Paco Aviño, were standing. That’s when it sailed over the fence, turned, and came back our way. My way! The other guys all tried to get through the burladero and into the ring, and I was unlucky enough to be the last one, attempting to do so.

The only thing that saved me was that the bull spied photographer Sam Vargas’ camera bag, against the back wall of the callejón, and it stopped to take a whack at it. In the meantime, I made it through the burladero.

This was the closest that I have ever come to being caught by a bull in the callejón. And, in a festival, no less! Anyway, after the bull had been led back into the arena, and all of us had scrambled back into the callejón, the bull took still another flying leap and again took after us, as if we were a bunch of liberals at a John Birch Society convention. But, this time, we were prepared for him, and escaping his attack was a bit more orderly and sane. Nevertheless, I checked my pants. Luckily, they were still dry, which rather surprised me inasmuch as I was terrified I’m not ashamed to say.

After things had settled down, Spinola came out and jumped all over this bull, giving us some great work with the capote. After the pic’ing, he placed three pairs of banderillas, in superb fashion. His faena was great, with Fermín going all the way, on both sides. Grand derechazos and sublime naturales. He killed “a un tiempo” and the bull died almost instantly. Well deserved ears and tail were awarded the matador.

With “Cabo” (416 kilos), the last bull of the day, Pepe Hillo opened with a kneeling cape lance against the fence. He then progressed to placing the banderillas in grand fashion. He placed one pair “al violin” but added the wrinkle of spinning 360 degrees. It brought down the house.

For his third pair, José took the sticks in one hand, challenged the bull, dodged its attack, spun around and broke the banderillas in half against the bull’s forehead. He spun around again with a short banderilla in either hand, and placed the pair perfectly, again bringing down the house.

His faena was very good, but it didn’t live up to his banderillas placements. His sword was full, the bull died quickly and ears and tail were awarded.

In all, it was a good festival, with many thrilling moments to say the least. I would just prefer to never again come so close to getting the (censored) kicked out of me!

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