Friday, July 8, 2011

Magical. Or Disgusting. Few things in the world spark such a difference of opinion. Maybe marriage.

 One of the many reasons it pays to make friends on the subway is that when your camera-- with all your photos from the bullfight you attended (alone!) for research on your amazing matador dance musical-- when that camera is stolen (along with your whole purse) from a Baixa coffee shop patio, these friends you made on the subway, who attended the very same corrida at Plaza de Toros Las Ventas Madrid on June 19, 2011 will graciously email you all of theirs.

And I needed them. Because what is available for seeing in all the glamourous photos on ESPN stories, and the youtube clips, are primarily concerned with images like the ones above. (Though, I'll get to him in a minute.) But when I walked into the plaza and to my front row Sol seat and my hot as hell rock slab to sit on (1. The cheap cheap seats were sold out 2. I live in Scotland-- I figured, bring it on, sun. Just bring it on.) I was thinking: who gives a shit about the matadors. I've watched them countless times on TV. I've read every book on corridas ever written. I know their deal. 

I want to know about the other guys. I wanted to look at their faces: the peones as they scurry behind burladeros to protect themselves, the guys with their trumpets up in the bandstand, the novilleros, the ticket takers...all those guys. What happens when they go home?I wanted to know who those little guys are. So I did a lot of watching them.

At least, in the beginning, that's what I did. I will tell you that the first 45 minutes in that plaza (I was early) were some of the most uncomfortable of my life. After the disapproval of nearly all my friends, I was: sitting on hot rock slab, my water bottle was already gone, (so... was my cerveza) I didn't know anyone, the people who were around me were super obnoxious bro-dog /embracing-their-machismo American men (barf), the sun was blazing in my eyes, and even before Paseillo, before anyone rode out on horses, and before the first very sad-eyed, very gentle bull came out, I was....depressed. 

I was depressed because on every level and from every angle, especially a modern corrida asks you to contemplate death. Of course. The bull's death, the matador's death (if not today, then sometime), your own death, and the death of the very thing you are watching. I looked around at a nearly empty stadium and felt a dull sadness that didn't seem to belong to me. 

So during the middle of the first bull, I felt sick. I wanted to leave. This was the height of male machismo folly! You think you're tough? Taking ten guys, swords and spears, to kill one bull? It seemed more pathetic than anything else. There was nothing technically wrong with the way the first guy was in the ring... except that killing a sweet looking bull seemed not only NOT beautiful, but that somehow he managed to make the thing boring

The only thing moving, the only thing beautiful was the bull. And as they hitched the dead toro to a cart and dragged him out of the stadium, I started to think about what that would mean for my show. My show, in which you never see a bull (because...just no). In which the bull is replaced by music and by the idea of these three women in his life, who turn the tables on my matador, Nico "Aries" Brio. I thought back to the quote that opens my show: 

“It may seem foolish to speak of almost killing an animal such as a fighting bull with a cape. Ofcourse you could not, but…you could lame the animal and, by abusing its bravery, force it to charge uselessly, again and again. It is the effort made [by the bull] that kills it.”
–Ernest Hemingway
David Mora

 And then, something magical happened. A truly cantankerous bull came barreling out of the Gate of Fear to meet David Mora (that guy above) and all of a sudden, there was a corrida. Not only that, there was my Aries Brio, and there was my show. Something about this David Mora... Just middle of the ticket, but serious, graceful, daring, an entertainer, dimples, ego you were happy to accept. All of it. He made that shit look good. And everyone bought it. Including me. 

They gave him the ear of that first bull and he did a little lap around the plaza, tossing the ear, his hat, whatever he had at people in the audience and they'd toss it back to him. The dimples, the way he touched his hair, I swooned a little. I thought, "That is my guy."Sex.eeee.

You see, I'm a pretty feminine writer. I always know who the women in the story are, and often, I access the men by way of the women. So I've largely been writing around him and waiting for some tangible detail to lock him into focus. Thank you, David Mora, for making me get it. And for making me feel that amazing mix of conflicting emotions that are the exact elixir I want people to feel when they one day sit in a theatre and watch Tercio de Muerte. How the onstage seating will slowly trickle off stage. How when they come back from intermission, half as many people will still be there. I want them to feel depressed. And sick. And bored (just a little...or maybe frustrated) and elated, and hysterical and turned on, and ashamed that they're turned on, and superstitious and worried and connected to something primal, and confused about why they feel connected to it. 

I don't think there are any lit terms in English that are as good as the terms in other languages. Nothing as good as mono no aware. Definitely nothing as good as duende. But I felt all that. Which is to say, if you let it, the corrida is a dramatic universe so rich in texture, that it is capable of activating in you-- and causing you to questions the origins of-- almost every emotion you have. The collision that results is why you go. 

**Please, please read wonderful Scottish novelist A.L. Kennedy's book On Bullfighting. One of the most vulnerable, honest and compelling reads ever. Also, Death in the Afternoon remains, for all its Hemingway-ness marvelous. Read these. For video of what I saw, check out here. Google chrome will translate these pages for you.


  1. David MachadoJuly 10, 2011

    I think that it is incredibly brave to face a wild bull.I also respect the history of bull fighting.The running of the bull's is the best if you can then please do it's a thrill!

  2. I've seen over 150 bullfights. Literary and artistic uses for the event aside, it's bad for the horses, who are innocent targets. Who has an artistic argument for the horses? Let's hear it!


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