April 6, 2007

The Curse of Being an Aficionado

Bullfight World
By Lyn Sherwood

The 2007 Tijuana bullfight season is about to open, and many neophytes will be seeing their first corridas. Most such people are unprepared for it and are likely to be turned off by the experience. Others become taurine agnostics, neither repelled or inspired by it. And, some, a minority for sure, enjoy the drama on the sand, and aspire to become genuine aficionados. It is to this group that this essay is dedicated, as a warning of the Pandora’s Box that they are prying open.

Afición. That inexplicable addiction suffered by bullfight aficionados, is as potent as heroin. No other passion common to Homo Sapiens will compare to it. True aficionados are happy only when they’re involved with their addiction. They love every second of it. The nervous, expectant hours that slowly drag toward the appointed hour, the ceremony, the pageantry, the music, the congratulations or condolences afterward, the drinking and partying, the camaraderie, and all of the other elements pertinent to the esoteric environment of an afternoon at the bullfights.

They love to attend the sorteos, to study the toros and to guess which will be the best, the strongest, or the bravest. Usually, they’re wrong, but that doesn’t matter.

When aficionados aren’t attending bullfights, they’re talking about them.

More accurate, they’re arguing about them. If one thing, aside from their mutual love of the spectacle, is common to aficionados, it’s their inability to agree on anything.

“Ponce? You can’t be serious. El Juli is the torero.”

“Juli? Come on! Ordoñez was the only true master.”

“Armillita!”

“El Soldado!”

“Manolete!”

The arguments last long into the night. Living rooms become taurine bars, where the aroma of the bullfight is essential to the decor.

Aficionados come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and social strata.

There are the wealthy ones who wouldn’t think of being anywhere other than in Aguas-calientes or Sevilla, during feria time. There are the poor ones, who sweat to scrape together the price of a pair of sunny side, 20th row seats, in some third category plaza de toros.

There are the phony ones, whose enthusiasm never transcends the sycophant stage. There are the experienced ones who never quite realize the folly of exposing the foibles and dupery of the current hero of the majority. There are the neophytes, the converts, who are blinded by the glitter of silk and gold, and who have yet to suffer the disillusionment that comes with the realization of commercial reality.

There are the collectors of books, paintings, photographs and sculptures. And, of course, the missionaries, who hear the call to spread the word and to convince the world that bullfighting really isn’t the cruel sport that most people claim it to be.

All kinds of people, united by a common bond. During the summer months, they’re in their glory. But, seasons pass so quickly and end so suddenly. And, during those painful weeks and months when the plazas de toros are dark, aficionados go through excruciating periods of agonizing withdrawal. They become testy. They tend to drink too much. They yell at their children. Their work suffers. Their non aficionado friends can hardly tolerate them. Their suicide rate soars.

Deprived of corridas for any extended period of time, aficionados will often drive to the nearest plaza de toros, walk around the parking lot, and stare through locked gates, vicariously re living those grand afternoons when the stands reverberated in a cacophonous concert of music and olé’s.

At home, they scan the television listings, searching for a re run of “Bullfighter & The Lady,” “The Magnificent Matador,” “Blood & Sand,” or “The Brave Bulls.” Hell, even “Abbott & Costello in Madrid” is better than nothing!

After a few months without bulls and bored with videotape images, most aficionados would sell their souls, even to watch a real clod in action on the sand. On Sunday afternoons, the more desperate ones walk, aimlessly, through the streets. Glassy eyed, they’re helpless prey for pushers who charge big bucks for a quick peek at the latest periodical from Spain, Mexico, France, or South America.

When aficionados spot each other, there is always a big reunion, complete with lots of back thumping and invitations to share drinks. But, the conversation quickly becomes serious.

“Have you heard anything? When does the season open? Who’s on the first card? Give me some news!”

Depleted of energy and appetite, in desperate need of a bull fix, they return to their homes, fold themselves into the fetal position, turn their electric blankets up to 12, and softly whimper, as they realize that somewhere in the world, bugles are sounding. Somewhere, bulls are pawing and snorting from behind toril gates, bottles of beer are being loaded into iced buckets, and toreros are dressing in suits of lights.

Somewhere, men and toros are preparing to meet, and hopefully to create something beautiful. Somewhere, somewhere...

So, heed the warning, those of you who would hope to someday deserve the title of “aficionado.” Never know a torero. Never read a bullfight book. Never explore the deeper significance of La Fiesta. Never join a peña taurina. Never buy a record of paso-dobles. Never subscribe to a taurine periodical. Never allow the gusanillo, that treacherous little worm of afición, to take up residence in your heart, for it can be a cruel and demanding tenant.

Attend the corridas, if you wish. Even enjoy them, if you must. But, don’t question them. Don’t wonder why ears are so much easier to cut on certain afternoons, or by certain toreros. Don’t ask why the picadores who work for particular stars always attempt butchery on the bulls, or why the horns seem unnaturally blunt. Don’t get hooked. For, if you do, you’ll suffer the pangs and frustrations of afición, and you’ll never be content. It’s better to remain ignorant and happy than knowledgeable and bitter.

Above all, remember Matador John Fulton’s definition of an aficionado: “somebody who knows all about bullfighting, but likes it, anyway”.

Return to the Frontpage