In my teens and early 20s I was an active member (probably the only one in Ireland) of the International Whaling Commission when it lobbied vigorously for a moratorium on whaling internationally. The IWC encouraged a boycott of Norwegian and Japanese manufactured goods as these were the two biggest whaling nations at that time.
My own humble input to the boycott cause, was to consciously choose European brand names when I made the two major purchases of my late teens and early 20s. My beloved German made, Schneider, direct contact hi- fidelity sound system and my equally cherished English manuctured Ford Capri , preceeded by two German Opel’s, when buying a Sony Sanyo Toyota or Nissan (Datsun at the time) may possibly have proven a cheaper option. I also tried to convince as many people as I could through the distribution of badges, car stickers, (gentle) harangues & newsletters to my immediate circle of friends and companions & to the public at large on a few sunny Saturday afternoons in Grafton Street, before a couple of pints in Neary’s. Until the main offenders signed up the IWC sponsored moratorium.
I’ve never been quite sure as to the efficacy of my own lobbying, but I felt suitably self-congratulatory when they eventually did.
I also railed ineffectually against our peculiarly Irish blood sport, coursing in which a hare is pitted against three or four hungry greyhounds (the hare never wins)
The greyhound racing fraternity howls back that their dogs need to be blooded or there will be no greyhound racing.
I liked horses so I was somewhat less dynamic in my protestations against hunting. To be honest I thought that most hunts had abandoned hunting deer or fox with hounds in favor of drag long – hunting – not as we at the time thought would be great craic involving the horsey people dressing in drag – but chasing the scent of quarry, having been dragged through the course earlier.
Things like bearbaiting and dog fighting we believed had been eradicated years ago.
So I was kind of prejudiced on the side of the bull for no particular reason other than that I like animals & I didn’t like them suffering.
When I arrived in Mexico toward the end of October1999 for a job that wouldn’t start for a week or ten days & the concierge of my hotel offered me tickets to the Corida in the city on that Sunday afternoon for a few hundred pesos, I couldn’t refuse.
I convinced myself that in order to speak knowledgeably about the cruelties of bullfighting I had to see one for myself.
A twenty minute taxi ride took me to Plaza del Toros pretty much at the centre of Mexico City.
The sky was low clouded, flat grey, dark with rain threatening, but it was hot, hot and humid & my shirt was already stuck to my back after an un-air-conditioned cab ride from the hotel.
There were crowds of people outside, families looking like they were out for the day with picnics and umbrellas.
My two and a half hundred Peso pass afforded me special entry status through the VIP gate and up into the stands above el Presidente del Corida and his party.
Even though the sky was leaden, the white sand of the arena (arena is Spanish for sand) reflected back what little light there is, almost painfully for unprotected eyes.
The seating throughout was basic wooden benches except in El Presidente’s box, where individual red upholstered carved gold gilt chairs were provided.
He and his entourage were already in place, nine or ten Vaqueoro-esque dressed ladies and gentlemen scanning the crowd with interest & occasionally nodding politely. The ladies fanned themselves with genuine Mexican black splaying fans.
The president himself was an elderly gentleman fully kitted out in Mexicana, deeply tanned even under the shade of his beautifully decorated sombrero & sporting a luch white drooping moustache.
There was a large crowd in when I took my place, so by the those outside would take their seats. There was a genuine carnival atmosphere & there was still 20 minutes or so before the first bull.
After ten minutes some snazzy dressed hombres with oversized guitars and lots of brass instruments began to take up position just below me and adjacent to the presidential box.
About thirty fully dressed and equipped mariachi players filed into place and they looked like they meant business.
All black, silver, giant Sombreros & mustachioed, these legends of Mexican music took their places and without further ado, launched into (without amplification) the loudest, the Mexicanaest, the brassiest, true Mexican mariachi music in the world.
Suddenly the hot heavy air was rend apart by the sound of (what seemed) a thousand trumpets & the oppressive heat was forgotten in the face of this melodious loudness, this tidal wave of joyous sound.
One couldn’t help smiling broadly; it was the sound of pure exuberant happiness, boisterous & energetic.
I could feel my eardrums deflecting inward a little, but this music was not about discomfort, it was Latin & festive to its core.
The crowds applauded; cheering & ole-ing in perfect concert to the band, ramping up the noise inside the stadium as the wall of sound bounced inward off the surrounding tiered seating.
There hadn’t been a sign of a matador or a bull, yet I was completely absorbed in the ritual so far. I was sitting almost laughing to myself at the epicenter of this auditory explosion.
The music stopped suddenly; the crowd went quiet more slowly, the heavy timber gates down at arena level creaked open loudly, every head in the stadium turned toward the gate, necks crane, people stand holding their partners, their children’s strangers shoulder upper arm in anticipation.
No pins drop but we soon heard the jingle of harness, the click of the clack of silver on silver, the muted clip clop of hoof beats on well trodden hard packed sand, and there then appeared into the arena, the synergy of horse and rider.
The horse, was a pale fawn with flowing golden mane and tail, bedecked in jingling, click clacking silver and creaking leather. High stepping but kept on a tight rein lest this personification of horse, takeoff, leaping any barrier in its way & disappear.
The rider, a beautiful young woman as golden tressed as her horse, dressed in black and silver, her glinting silver spurs communicating her wishes to her mount as they jangled and glittered in the quiet stadium.
They high stepped to the centre where she saluted the President of the bullfight by doffing her sombrero, then waving it at the crowd while the horse reared up on his hind legs and the band and the public exploded once more into ecstatic music, Ole’s, handclapping & cheering.
I expected that at any moment every hat in the place to be thrown skyward in the excitement that now gripped the crowd, but this was no Disney cartoon production & while hats were waived excitedly none were actually thrown up in the air.
The beautiful girl & the beautiful horse pirouetted gracefully, presenting themselves to the entire crowd while she waved her sombrero & smiled broadly in recognition of the adulation pouring down upon her in an avalanche.
When horse and rider had executed the full 360° turn & were again facing Mr El Presidente’s box, the horse came down from its hind legs into a bow while the rider swept her sombrero gracefully across her body, while bowing her head in respect. The old man rose to his feet and saluted rider, horse & assembled multitude with a discreet wave of his hand and a smile through his drooping moustache.
The horse then came up onto all fours, the rider spurred him and they took off in a blur black white and silver.
The galloping hoofs kicked up sprays of sand which seemed to hover in the air until the next spray went up, then fell to earth again.
The clip clop of the trotting horse was replaced now with the pounding hoofs of a horse at full gallop.
Round and round the arena they went, she stood high in her stirrups, slapping the horse’s haunches with her sombrero, her hair the horses mane and tail followed them like a comet’s tail.
Oh how the crowd loved it, roaring their approval as horse and rider executed each orbit generating the original Mexican wave.
Finally they came to a stop in a flurry of sand, the horse almost going down on its haunches, by those big wooden gates. They turned once more to the crowd, she waved her sombrero and stood up high in the stirrups, smiling lovingly at her adoring fans. Then on a hidden signal they slowly reversed into the darkness beyond and the doors closed after them.
The crowd slowly became silent , the music stopped, and all was anticipation again.
Some men with large wooden rakes, and dressed almost like bullfighters emerged from behind the heavy timber screens interspersed at regular intervals around the arena, raking the sand quickly, they tidied it up where the horse had wrinkled it ,and then they disappeared again.
There was what looked like an old-fashioned manual scoreboard over the gates and now into that board was dropped and a name and a weight.
Michakonjou 570 kg.
The ancient sun blasted timber gates creaked open again, all was quiet and when they are open fully, from the darkness charged Michakonjou. What a sight he was, black or dark brown against the white sand, massively muscled shoulders, his massive head held up, alert, and those long curving horns, apparently sharp as a pin.
He seemed to have been expecting someone or something because he stopped and snuffled loudly, mucus and saliva flew from his nose and mouth as he moved his head inquiringly from side to side.
On perfect cue the band erupted into musical cacophony again and the crowd followed suit, ole after ole after ole rang out around the crowded auditorium. A full house now thousands enjoying and taking part in a unique spectacle
Noise filled the arena again, Michakonjou trotted around, stopping reversing listening. The gates had been closed again silently amid the clamor, so he was trapped within this circle of noise.
I’m sure that he had not been trained in arena etiquette, he simply followed the continuous wall but as he passed, the Mexican wave followed to cries of ole Toro, Toro accompanied by much hat waving.
Michakonjou eventually stopped and resumed his intent listening.
The crowd became quiet, the doors began to creak open again.
A single trumpet pealed in the silence. The nice lady sitting next to me touched my forearm endearingly and said “Rejoneo, Rejoneo” she repeated excitedly.
Her husband then leaned around her touched my shoulder and said with equal excitement “looks, look, horse, caballo, Picador” he gestured urgently with his finger towards the gate, almost fully open now.
The trumpet pealed again, the quiet hot air sliced through as if by a Saber. The there was more movement from the shadows behind those gates.
Two giant horses emerged slowly, mounted by men in bullfighting uniform except instead of the small hat that my imaginary bullfighters wore, these horsemen wore black broad rimmed flamenco styled hats.
They carried, Lancer like, a long spear the butt end resting in their right hand stirrup, held aloft with a tiny pennant fluttering near the point.
The horses came forward in short steps for such a large animal and as they came out, completely clear of the shadow they broke left and right following the wall of the arena.
As they moved slowly hugging the wall, I saw that both horses had a curtain of tightly woven rattan armor from saddle to hoof, protecting it on the side facing the bull and incredibly to me, both horses were blindfolded.
I had heard of Picador’s before but what they did and how they were dressed was a revelation.
My neighbors had maintained contact with me, the man’s hand on my shoulder squeezing gently when appropriate and his companion touching my forearm in the same manner. It was very cute and touching.
They obviously knew that I was not Mexican, and that maybe I was a gringo in so much as that meant a North American, and they wanted me to enjoy the spectacle as much as they were.
I was taking note in my diary of everything that was happening ,Rejoneo, Picador, horse armor and why the horses were blindfolded?.
The Picador’s made their way to a spot opposite each other across the arena with Michakonjou between them.
The horses seemed highly agitated and pressed against the wall of the arena, their heads up nostrils flared.
The bull was alert , he snorted loudly brought his head down snuffling sand up in small cascades as he snorted and snuffled and drooled.
Then he knew his enemy! He was closer to the Picador on my left, so to my left he suddenly charged.
Me my neighbors and everyone else around us had to stand to catch a glimpse of what could have been a life-and-death struggle; and we stood with a great roar,
which I felt to be generated in some elemental deep down primordial place reserved for blood contests.
The roar was huge but the screams of the horse were greater, high pitched and terrified.
Everyone clung to everyone else as we leaned out at precipitous angles in an effort to see the action.
All I could see was the top of the Picador’s hat as it bobbed up and down. his spear was no longer held upright, so I guessed that he must be using it on the bull.
The crowd on the other side had a clear view and they whistled roared and cheered as the Picador, his horse and the bull went about their business.
Then from behind those heavy timber shields interspersed at regular intervals around the arena, came five or six bullfighters with capes.
They approached the enraged bull, snapping their pink capes ahead of them and shouting to Michakonjou just out of our sight.
Suddenly in a flurry they broke from their rough semicircle as the bull, distracted from his attentions to the Picador and his horse came bellowing out into full view again trying to pick one of his antagonisers to kill.
In a subconscious way I knew now that I was at a blood contest, this was all about death and courage.
Michakonjou wanted to kill, first a horse and his rider and now those tiny men down there on the sand.
The Picador had done his job well, blood flowed from wounds on the bulls shoulders, soaking his flanks.
Now he was hurt and angry, those toreador’s, those bullfighters were in mortal danger as they goaded him leading him towards the second Picador positioned perfectly for us to see everything.
As a toreador faced down the bull allowing him to charge at the fluttering Cape the crowd roared their approval with ole after ole after ole!
Slowly Michakonjou was lured across the sand towards the second horse and once he got within 10 feet of the terrified animal, he heard or smelled his quarry and charged.
Now we could see everything and we roared, bayed for what, for blood, yes I think so.
I now saw why the horses were blindfolded, and why they wore that heavy rattan armor on their business side. In the first instance if it could see the bull, it would probably be uncontrollable, and in the second, under assault from those viciously pointed horns the unfortunate animal would be gored to death in seconds. As it was, its head was up, its nostrils flared in terror and spittle and mucus foamed around his muzzle and the bull in an effort to disembowel the horse lifted the terrified animal almost of its legs as the Picador speared the already maddened Michakonjou with his lance.
Even from where I sat I could see the spear going and the red blood spurt out, I could almost feel the pain.
Apparently the crowd decides how many times the bull gets speared. Of course I have no way of knowing this as my neighbors had let go and straining forward towards the action.
In this case we had decided that it got speared twice by both Picador’s. Michakonjou was a fine fighting bull and needed to be tired out and bled some before the main event.
Once the spear had gone in a second time out came the toreador’s to distract him so that the horses and the Picador’s could exit the arena.
As they turned the horses to leave they saluted the crowd holding their bloodied lances aloft acknowledging the adulation which again rolled down from the seats like a waterfall.
The horses appeared to be unhurt, but if horses suffer from mental disorders I would bet that the trauma that they had just suffered would have a lasting effect on their psyche.
That was Rejoneo, bullfighting from horseback once an art in itself but now folded into the tableau that it is the Corida.
The toreador’s then corralled the bloodied bull in the centre of the ring and Michakonjou seemed content to stand, bleeding onto the white sand.
My friendly neighbors renewed contact during this hiatus.
The lady said “toreador, toreador” and her partner interjected. “Next toreador!”
Toreador I knew from the opera Carmen. There are a lot of toreador’s so I shot back “mucho toreador.”
They both beamed and he said “you know Corida”
I said “no no, solamente toreador.”
The neighbours seemed charmed by my grasp of Mexican Spanish.
“Bravo Señor” said the lady touching my arm briefly again.
Her partner ventured “turista?” And rather than explain that I was trabajo (working) I agreed.
“Si, turista” “I am Irish, Irlanda”
“Irlanda, hmm,si, Europa,cerca de Gran Bretana?” He asked.
He turned to his partner and said something in rapidfire Spanish which I didn’t catch, but he pointed at me and I guessed he had said “this gringo speaks Spanish.”
Our conversation was ended by the three note blast of a single trumpet.
“Toreador” they said in unison, gesturing towards the arena.
From behind each of the heavy timber barriers, havens, shelters, now emerged the toreador’s!
The bullfighters corralling Michackonjou now backed away from the bull and disappeared behind the timber walls.
The toreador’s were without capes but they were dressed in the fabulous uniform of, what I believed, bullfighters wore.
Short bolero type waistcoats spectacularly decorated with Diamante’s over a loose white shirt, tied at the wrist.
Tight pinkish pantaloons from below the knee up to mid stomach, white stockings below and black ballerina slippers, on their feet.
Their hair was uniformly black topped off by the typical bullfighter’s hat.
Each was darkly handsome and entirely intent on their task. In one hand they held what could have been colored paper gewgaws, party decorations for hanging from the open ceilings popular in Mexico for lighting and plant displays outside restaurants. Open to the sky but giving the feeling of enclosure.
These seemingly innocent baubles were no such thing. Concealed by the colored paper was a steel dart, viciously pointed and barbed.
Without a cape these toreador’s were about to take on the 570 kg of an admittedly wounded fighting bull, in pain, angry and deadly.
Each one looked fiercely at Michakonjou, I could see the black smoldering eyes of the one directly opposite me.
Once the diversionary bullfighters were gone, things began to happen.
The toreador’s in unison began a balletic walk counter clockwise around the arena, their fearsome eyes never leaving the bull at the centre of the circle.
Quiet had descended again as these beautiful young men with their killer darts progressed gracefully, hardly disturbing the sand, almost floating.
I couldn’t be sure, when they stopped again, if the one opposite me was the same one as before, they seemed clones of each other, same uniform the same darkly handsome faces and the same dark smoldering eyes.
The single trumpet pealed again, everyone leaned forward anticipating what would happen next.
The toreador on my left, who was face-to-face with the bull, now advanced, his arms stretched down and out from his body, in an exaggerated pose that seemed to say “I have no defense” as he glided elegantly, beautifully over the sand towards Michackonjou.
When he was two paces away, he went down on one knee and called loudly
“Ay, toro, ay toro” the bull seemed to wake from his trance, his head came up, he snuffled loudly saliva and snot issuing from his nose and mouth.
Then he charged, head down again, those dagger sharp horns held at midriff height to the toreador.
It seemed assured that the young man would be gored, pinned on those deadly horns and tossed like a rag doll by this gigantic animal.
But he was gone when the bull arrived, springing to his feet like a ballet dancer and pirouetting expertly to his left, avoiding the bull by millimeters.
The bull seemed to be expecting a kill also for when he got to where the toreador should have been he tossed his great head upwards and to his right in what should have been a killer blow.
The beautiful young man still on tiptoes allowed the bull to slide past almost in slow motion, moving his hips forward to allow the blood flowing from the wounds inflicted by the Picador’s lances to smear across the belly and groin of his tight pinkish pantaloons.
With Mickhaconjou gone past, wondering no doubt where his target had disappeared to. The toreador turned to the crowd arms raised now showing the deadly darts that he held in each hand hidden when his arms were down but now evident.
We roared our blood thirst and this bloody groined boy laughed back at us, his white teeth flashing like canines.
His back was to the bull and Mickhaconjou had turned in a great spraying of sand was facing his adversary again, intent on killing.
The turn and the re-commencement of the charge happened in seconds.
The boy was facing the crowd revelling in the adulation; the bull had regained his poise and his prospective.
Three bull strides away and unprepared!
For such a huge animal, seemingly unbalanced with huge forequarters, he regained his balance in an instant and those three bull strides happened in the twinkling of an eye.
The boys spun expertly and yet again when Mickhaconjou arrived in the space that had held the toreador, the toreador had vanished.
This time not only had he vanished and bloodied himself while allowing the bull to glide past, thrusting his groin forward against the bloodied flanks, but also firing those darts into the animal’s already torn and bleeding shoulders.
Fresh blood spurted and by the time the bull realized that the toreador was not impaled on its mighty horns, he (the toreador) had turned disdainfully away, displaying his bull-bloodied groin and saluting his adoring fans with his little bullfighter hat.
Statuesque he stood for second, arms outstretched up on tiptoe, exposed totally to the crowd. Every muscle every tendon every sinew stretched, his tight little arse clenched, he gave the same salute to all four of the cardinal points while Michakonjou regained his equilibrium, only coming down from tiptoe to move to the next point. This boy could have been a ballet dancer.
Next up stepped forward, mirror image of number one.
I knew now where the darts were secreted so I wasn’t fooled by his pose of harmlessness.
The baying crowd were again treated to an exquisite display of fluidity of movement.
We screamed our selves hoarse as another beautiful boy thrust first his groin then his darts at and into the bull as it glided past.
The only slight tweak was when he bloodied his hands and streaked the blood down his face and neck, bloodying his white shirt in the process.
Michakonjou must have been becoming more and more bewildered. The closest he came to his tormentors was when his weapons were passed and they inflicted pain on his shoulders.
Number two accepted the adulation as per number one and out stepped number three.
The crowd loved it, baying louder and louder for more and more blood and while I was not specifically baying for blood, I too loved it, the spectacle, the color the noise of the crowd of the band, overall that effect was intoxicating.
Between three and four Mr neighbour leaned across enquiring “bueno si?”
I smiled and answered “si, bueno.”
As the toreador’s pirouetted and strode elegantly around the arena carrying out their part in this macabre ritual, Michakonjou became decorated with his own blood and the deadly baubles of their trade.
They hung from his shoulders, a blood soaked display, even among the splendid pageantry, reminding us that this was a celebration of blood and death.
Number four suitably bloodied and Michakonjou spiked yet again the diversionary bullfighters came out snapping their capes at the pain maddened bull who must have felt profoundly bemused by what was happening to him. Each one of his lunges should have been fatal to the puny creatures with their stings.
They corralled him near the centre of the arena; he was bleeding mightily from his shoulders but he looked mad as hell.
It was no easy task this time to keep him corralled, he threw himself at the capes and it was all that they could do to keep him in place.
While the four toreadors’ did a lap of honour saluting the crowd with their hats opening up with this stance arms and legs spread everything tight, sexual in its intensity.
When they came to us and the president’s box belowthey bowed sweeping their hats almost through the sand in front of them.
I could see their tanned faces now, yes they all looked alike, the same olive complexion, the same shiny slicked back black hair and the same bloodied uniforms and shirts. They were beautiful and animal at once.
El Presidente stood and bowed in turn to these masters of their craft.
Black eyes flashed between the young ladies of the president’s box and these young gods.
They moved on and exited through one of the timber barriers.
They had come through the ordeal with reputations enhanced, alive un- gored and un-trampled to death.
While Michakonjou’s reputation was certainly enhanced, he was still a fine fighting bull angry bloodied but strong.
The endgame was upon us, but he was unlikely to leave here alive.
This was a wonderful animal, deadly and powerful even though he had lost a great deal of blood and must have been in a lot of pain.
There he was, contemptuous of the efforts to keep him corralled, but for some reason unable to break out of the circle.
When he seemed intent on a charge in a particular direction, a bullfighter behind or to the side would snap his cape distracting him.
The band played, the crowd cheered, we really liked this bull; he was brave and strong. I discovered later that the crowd cheering indicated that they wanted a clean kill, we would accept nothing less; this matador better be good.
There was a definite pattern emerging .
The band stopped playing, the crowd stopped cheering, silence descended.
The great snuffling and snorting of the bull could be heard again.
I could see him over the heads of the bullfighters. he was still proud and strong, contemptuous almost.
He could have gored and trampled his way through these puny people with one murderous rush, but he appeared unable to break through this curtain of snapping capes.
There are blood stained areas of sand, trampled and ruffled by human feet, horse’s hooves and the cloven hooves of our Michakonjou, around the arena. He continues to bleed now and a mixture of blood saliva and snot spewed from his nose and mouth as he raged and tossed his head about.
The three note blast of a single trumpet pealed.
Again the crowd strained forward in an effort to see everything down below.
The bullfighters backed away and scuttled in behind one of the timber screens below us and to the left.
This time there was no dignified exit, the bull chased them right to the point where they disappeared and then in frustration he gored the screen.
The powerful but meek Michakonjou of earlier was gone; he had been hurt and exasperated and now, even though he had bled and he must have been tired, he was still frighteningly powerful but animated.
He took lumps out of the screen with his horns and it shook alarmingly every time he hit it.
This was the focus of his anger for the moment and sand blood splinters and spittleflew as he attacked viciously.
Toro Toro, ole ole roared the crowd every time enraged animal and timber screens clashed.
Eventually, things quieted down. The bull ceased his relentless attack on the inanimate object and trotted around the arena, head up snuffling the air, smelling out a new adversary.
Two of the diversionary bullfighters emerged again. They ran towards the bull flicking their capes shouting “Ey, ey toro” and Toro obliged with another earth shaking charge. Again they slipped into their safe haven just ahead of the horns of the bull, which again attacked the timber in frustration.
A new protagonist had emerged quietly from behind the timber barricade directly opposite us.
My lady neighbour laid her hand on my forearm and said in a whisper “Matador.”
The toreador’s were beautiful young men but this one equaled the combined beauty of all four.
As the beast that he would soon face alone draw splinters from the wood of the safe place, this man boy, for he was older than the toreador’s, saluted the adoring crowd right arm held aloft, long graceful fingers extended just so, in a pose befitting a Bernini marble.
His fabulous bolero jacket, more ostentatious even than the toreador’s, flashed and spangled as he moved gracefully toward the centre of the arena.
Everything about him was poise and grace, again the balletic analogy leapt to mind.
Surely this beautiful man in his flamboyantly gorgeous uniform was not going to engage in this fight to the death.
Over his left arm he carried his cape and in his left hand his sword.
He reached the centre, opened his arms and on tiptoe exposed his ‘self ‘to the crowd.
He wore the same tight pantaloons as the toreador’s the same white socks and ballet shoes and the same loose white shirt under his bolero jacket. Around his waist was wound a silky broadcloth as red as blood.
In this pose he turned slowly allowing everybody in the arena to see……… into his soul.
He finished facing El Presidente, to whom he doffed his hat and bowed. El Presidente bowed his head slightly in return.
He didn’t flash his teeth to the crowd as a toreador’s did, he had an almost gloomy look on his tanned face, we had reached the grim end game, either Michakonjou or he was leaving the arena dead.
He had hardly looked at the bull coming into the arena but now he addressed his adversary.
He respectfully saluted Michakonjou communing with him, speaking to the bull as an equal.
Now he arranged his cape and sword, the cape draped over the sword so it wasn’t seen in the early exchanges.
He then moved forward, not gliding over the sand now, but almost ponderously, dragging a tiny sand dune along behind him with his right foot, leading with his left.
Snapping his cape he called “Aieee toro, aieee” the arena was quiet again, the splintering of the screen could be clearly heard and the calling of the matador rose up to us and the warm air.
The snapping cape and the repeated exhortations finally got the bulls attention.
He looked up and turned; the matador was five or six bull paces away, he charged.
I think the crowd was startled by the sudden movement, we stood up as one and a great “oooooh” was dragged from our collective throat.
Luckily for him the matador was not startled, his balletic poise and grace returned, he allowed the bull to pass through the cape pirouetting right just as the animal made contact.
He allowed the blood to smear across his tight groin area, thrusting just a little more expertly than the toreador’s earlier.
When the bull had passed he turned to the crowd his arms stretched up the cape hanging limply from his left hand, the sword still hidden in its folds.
Michakonjou turned in a spray of sand, regained his balance and charged once more.
The matador was ready allowing the bull to pass through the cape again, caressing its bloody flank with his free hand and the groin area of his pantaloons.
Ole ole ole roared the crowd as again the matador expertly allowed the bull to pass under his cape. The charges had become less ferocious , Michakonjou seemed to be tiring.
I looked at my watch it, seventy minutes had passed since he first entered the ring and he had been dragging his bulk around whilst losing blood all that time.
There was no doubt he was very tired.
He tried to get inside the matador’s defensive pirouette; he tossed his huge head up shaking it violently from side to side in an effort to make purchase, but all to no avail.
The vicious points of his horns had come within millimetres of drawing human blood, but throughout the whole pageant, the only blood to have been spilled was his.
Michakonjou looked to be out on his feet, after twenty minutes of chasing shadows in the bloody sand he stood now facing the matador with less than 6 feet separating them.
We could hear the laboured breathing the wounded animal, we could see the blood flowing freely now down its flanks. Its head was down near the ground, spittle and blood being soaked up and sand blowing up every time he exhaled loudly.
He was an ancient grizzled prize-fighter on the ropes unwilling to go down under the blows of this little human.
The matador slowly unsheathed his sword and dropped his cape.
Michakonjou, snurfled as he exhaustedly moved his head from side to side, facing his adversary but not having the energy to charge.
The matador held his flashing sword in his right hand, he extended his left arm and sighted from his shoulder down to his fingers.
He brought his right arm back laying his hand against his cheek with the blade pointed at the bulls shoulders.
For what seemed like an eternity he stood facing the bull.
The animals labored breathing was all that could be heard in the arena.
My neighbour laid her hand on my forearm and squeezed gently while her partners and gently laid on my shoulder.
The anticipation in the arena was palpable, everyone held their breath.
Suddenly the matador came up on tiptoe and lunged forward violently sword held out in deadly aspect before him.
The crowd came up again and a huge roar issued from us reaching a crescendo exactly at that point in time where the sword plunged deeply into the unfortunate animals body .
The point went in at Michakonjous shoulders, in all the way to the hand guard, and our wonderful bull went down as if he had been shot by a sniper, dead with one expert stroke!
His legs had buckled under him and he had dropped to the ground as if he were taking a rest.
There he squatted, his muzzle resting in the sand, the sword still in place, only the handle and pommel showing.
The band boomed into action again the noise of the music and the cheering of the crowd rose into the Mexican afternoon sky.
In the instant that the matador struck, he turned away exultantly arms stretched up in this often repeated cruciform symbolism, knowing that from the moment he had struck, he had struck well, piercing Michakonjou’s gallant heart and giving us what we wanted, a clean kill.
The bravos, the ole’s the cheering and clapping rolled around the stadium and heaped themselves upon our hero.
I was to see later how a matador is derisively treated when he fails’ in his duty and caused unnecessary suffering for his bull. Even my gracious friends turned into hissing decriers.
There was no hint of that here. Everything had gone perfectly and according to plan.
Michakonjou had played his part, fighting bravely and dying with honour, and everyone from the Picador’s, the diversionary bullfighters, the toreador’s, the matador and even the crowd had played their parts , making what I had just witnessed, a magnificent exhibition, hugely symbolic and resonating deeply with the culture of Spanish Mexico.
There were only two scenes left in our tableau. One where the crowd’s attention was focused on the matador and the other hardly noticed, ending Michakonjou’s part in the drama.
The matador turned to the body of the gallant Bull, gripped the sword handle and withdrew the length of the dripping blade.
He wiped the sword on the bulls back and then with great grace and elan he sliced off its ear and then holding the grisly trophy aloft he strode elegantly to the area below El Presidente’s box.
The entire entourage rose in applause and the matador tossed the ear to one of the beauties in the party who caught it without losing a jot of her Mexican Princesa’s poise.
She in turn held the ear aloft presenting it the crowd, and then hands clasped together reaching down towards the matador in thanks.
A second mujer hermosa took a rose from a vase and tossed it to the gallant and honorable young man below. She missed, the red flower landing in the white sand at his feet; he stooped gracefully, picked it up and then bowed deeply to the assemblage of notaries.
Then he made his way around the arena waving the rose to the crowd as he went dragging a Mexican wave in his wake until he exited behind one of the wooden barriers and he was gone.
While all this was happening below where I sat and the crowd was 100% focused on the same spot.
Two huge dray horses with hairy hoofs, blinkers and massive yokes had entered the arena presumably through the big timber gates which now stood open.
They dragged a worn, sun bleached timber spreader and chains behind them and they were guided by a man in bullfighter-ish garb wearing a sombrero and leaning back heavily on the reins.
Other sombrero topped men appeared. They whipped the chain ends around Michakonjou’s hind legs, the horse master turned his team headed them to the open gates and the bull that had given his life for our entertainment disappeared into that dark chasm.
The rake men from earlier now reappeared also, two of them furiously raking at the bloodied and furrowed sand in Minaconjou’s wake while the rest hurriedly made the sand of the arena perfect once more, ready for the next act.
I think I may have been one of the few people in the stadium to witness the disappearance of the bull’s body and I didn’t see it all.
It seems incredible that so much could be going on, so much outside of the focus, as to be missed completely.
In magic they call it redirection.
There were to be two more fights to the death of the bull. I don’t recall their names but they pretty much followed the same script as the first except the middle bull of the afternoon failed to be dispatched cleanly by a very nervous matador.
It took a bolt gun two finish him after two unsuccessful sword thrusts.
The crowd hissed and booed this poor kid who supplicated and cried real tears on his knees begging the bull perhaps, for forgiveness.
The only other things of note was a delicious hot dog and a cold beer served by young boys moving around the crowd with their trays suspended from neck halters, and a bull who decided on that particular day, not to play.
No matter what the provocation, snapping capes or shouted exhortations he was not for turning.
He stood resolute in the centre of the arena watching in a bemused manner the activity around about, directed at provoking him to fight until finally two cows trotted in through the large gates, attracted the bull and then led him out to the rapturous applause and cheers of the crowd.
My bullfighting experience had lasted a little under five hours from the moment I arrived at the arena until I left in the early evening.
I had been part of the crowd as we oooooohed, aaaaaaahed, ole’d and toro’d as appropriate.
I had no wish to see anybody gored or tossed around like a rag doll by the Mexican fighting bulls that I had seen, but a little part of me wished that such noble creatures did not have to die.
I marveled at the slick presentation that is the Corida. Everyone knows their job and everyone does it to perfection.
I felt that I had genuinely connected with the delightful couple who had directed my attention as necessary to the critical parts of the action unfolding below and our parting was changed with genuine sadness.
To me it seemed that bullfighting is heavily imbued with symbolism ranging from religion to sex and is an integral part of the Spanish Mexican culture.
The intimacy of the kill harks back to our earliest ancestors and their necessity to get up close and personal to dangerous animals in order to kill them, their very survival depending upon that kill.
I do not love bullfighting but neither am I repulsed by it.
Being part of the crowd, experiencing the deindividuation and swaying this way and that in response to the drama happening below was, ironically, a liberating experience for me.
Without the necessity to hold my emotions in check allowing me to give them over to the greater emotion of the throng, allowed me to enjoy the spectacle in the moment.
Thinking back now, recalling the lances of the Picador’s, the darts of the Toreador’’s and the sword of the Matador piercing, and killing Michakonjou. Remembering the brutality cruelty the pain suffered by the animal, makes it not a pleasant memory.
But if I think back as part of the crowd again and the exhilaration that I felt, well I have to be honest, yes I would happily repeat the experience.