September 30, 2005

Bullfight World
By Lyn Sherwood

Tradition.  Ritual.  Ceremony. The Essential Elements

At precisely four hours before the paseillo, the sorteo is held. The bulls are divided into pairs and their numbers are written on cigarette papers and tossed into a hat. Each matador or his assistant, according to seniority, puts his hand into the hat and retrieves a ball of paper. Those are the bulls that he will face, that afternoon.

Why four hours? Why the seniority system? Why the sorteo?

In the puerta de cuadrillas, all of the toreros wrap their parade capes over their left shoulders. Any matador who is making his debut in this plaza must carry his montera.  Otherwise, he can wear it.

Unless the afternoon is being celebrated in Las Ventas de Madrid, where the tradition is unique, the horseback alguaciles lead the toreros into the arena. Much as did the gladiators march into the Roman Colosseum, they bow to Caesar, or in this case, the plaza judge, or presidente. An alguacíl receives permission to receive the key to the toril gates. He rides to where the jefe del callejón is waiting to receive the key. In reality, the key doesn’t fit any lock.

The matadores perform according to seniority. In the first tercio, the matador usually performs lances with the cape, traditionally opening with the classic veronica. He then leads the bull to either of two picadores’ horses. But, the picador must not allow the horse to cross the white circle on the sand.

The plaza judge can bring the first act to a halt, merely by ordering his clarion player(s) to signal same. He can impose fines for over-pic’ing, or for pic’ing after the act has been changed.

There are different geometrical styles of placing banderillas. If the matador’s subalterns place them, they get it over with, as quickly as possible. But, if the matador places his own sticks, he makes a big show of it. He can even invite one, or both, of his counterparts to share the duty, and it becomes a contest.

The clarion sounds, again. If it is his first bull of the day, each matador must request permission from the plaza judge to enter the third act.

He may then dedicate the bull to an individual, a group of individuals, or the entire crowd. Or, he may choose to not dedicate the bull. He salutes the recipient of the brindis. He usually throws his montera to him/her. If he dedicates to the crowd, he drops his montera upon the sand. If it lands upside down, it’s a sign of good luck. The opposite is true if it lands right side up. He is then ready to perform his faena, which should include right- and left-handed muletazos, high pass-es, low passes, and a wide variety of triumphant remates or desplantes.

The third act has a time limit of 10 minutes. During the matador’s performance, he can be rewarded with a diana or with a full pasodoble. His overall faena is judged by three criteria: parar (to hold one’s feet and legs steady); mandar (to not just take advantage of the bull’s natural attack from Point A to Point B, but to impose direction, forcing the animal to charge from Point A to Point C. And, templar, to impose speed and rhythm upon the bull’s attack.

Each pass must create a geometric pattern. Even the positions of his arms and hands are important. He may perform as few as 10 or 20, or as many as 100 or more, muletazos, depending on the willingness of the bull to continue charging honestly and the desire of the matador to register a triumph. Above all, he must control the bull, not just take advantage of its natural attack.

In rare instances—unfortunately, not rare enough, these days—as the matador raises his sword to kill, the crowd can petition the plaza judge to grant the life-sparing indulto. If the judge agrees that the bull’s bravery, strength, and nobility warrant the honor, and if it has performed well against the picadores’ horses, he displays a hankie.  The clarion sounds. The matador, after confirming with the judge, then drops his sword upon the sand and kills, symbolically.

When it’s time to kill, the music stops, and the matador lines up. The sword is in his right hand, with the backside of the muleta in his left hand. He hopes to drive the sword over the horns and near the shoulder blades, into the toro’s aorta, while leading the animal under his own right armpit, in quest of the muleta. For a brief second, his entire body is exposed to the horns. This is the most dangerous moment in his lidia, thus it is known as the moment of truth.

The bull may stand a few seconds before dropping dead, on the sand. If it doesn’t, the matador may remove the first sword and place another one. After the bull has dropped, dead, the puntillero, using a short dagger, cuts the animal’s spinal cord, again.

Depending upon the quality of the matador’s performance in the third act, and the honesty and effectiveness of his sword placement(s), the crowd may then petition, by waving their hankies, for the plaza judge to award one of the bull’s ears to the matador. For the first ear, majority rules. If the petition continues, it’s up to the judge—aided by his asesores—to order two ears, ears and tail, or even a hoof. In 1940, in Cieza, Spain, Matador Carlos Arruza was awarded the entire bull!

But, before the matador receives his trophy(ies) from the alguacíl, the bull is judged. It can be dragged out, quickly, while the crowd either applauds or boos. Or, the plaza judge may order that the bull’s bravery and nobility qualify it to be dragged out, slowly, or even dragged in a turn of the ring, while the aficionados respond with applause.

After the bull has exited, the trophy(ies) are awarded to the matador, who must then hold them up to the judge, to verify that the award(s) were legitimately ordered. He can then take one, or even more, turns of the ring, while the crowd responds by throwing flowers, wineskins, money, hats, articles of clothing, or even an occasional live fighting cock.

At the end of the afternoon, any of the matadores, or two, or all three of them, can be picked up on the shoulders of the fans and exit through the main gate. Such is a great honor.

Such have been essential elements of tauromaquía, for centuries. Eliminate the ritual, the tradition, and the ceremony, and bullfighting is removed from the arena of art and replaced by that of a crowd-thrilling spectacle, something that could be described as a bloody rodeo, unworthy of being witnessed by aficionados of genuine knowledge and afición. And, La Fiesta, as a performing art, would long ago have died.


We sadly report that Tijuana Matador Rogelio Leduc died, last week, of liver cancer. QEPD.

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