Saturday, August 09, 2008

I was born a bullfighters daughter

Actually, that is probably a lie... it is better said that I was born an aficionado practico's daughter.

Loosely, that means my dad has had an odd hobby for an American, and has had it since before I was born.

I have heard that he did set out to try to become one, but that road is tough and especially tough for a tall American. I have had the opportunity to talk to some of his Latin American bullfighting friends about him... they all tell me he is a good bullfighter, that they would have never thought that he would be as good as he is. I, frankly, know very little about what makes a good bullfighter. I can tell you that I know when someone is a bad bullfighter, as much as I know when a bull is a good bull... but if you pressed me to tell you what that is, I would have a hard time.

As long as I can remember, bullfighting has been a part of my life, I was not offered a choice... bullfighting just was. We spent weekends when we lived in Spain with my father at some tientas (more on what that is later) or visiting Spanish bull ranches (the ones that raise fighting bulls). We did the same in Ecuador. I am not sure if we did in Colombia. These pictures of me below, they are just a part of my childhood pictures (akin to the American idea of naked baby pictures on a white sheepskin/bearskin rug).

Generally, I consider this life I was given a blessing, and I include this experience in it. Only the times when people who loathe bullfighting have reared their ugly heads at me... have I had twinges of wishing I were not here... but those are fleeting thoughts and spit wipes off easily from ones shoes (yes, I was spit on because my father chooses to do this). I don't take kindly to joking in this matter if you are not looking at me in the eyes, I tend to assume you plan to spit on me.

Anyway...

I come from a family of adventurers on both sides. On my fathers side I have cowboys, now there is probably a better word, but my grandfather was a cowboy though I don't know what kind of cowboy work he did. There are a lot of hunters on that side of the family as well, but the kind that eat what they hunt. What can I tell you about this side of my family? Not much, as they are a quite silent. I gather pieces from different places and a story unfold in my mind.

A bit about my father:

My father does not talk much about the time he left his college in the USA to go to Mexico and see what happened. Here is what I have gathered; I am not sure how much of it is true as it has mostly come from places other than my father. Papi, correct me if you read this and if you want to I suppose...

When my dad was 17 or so he jumped into a ring in a border town when the audience was asked if anyone wanted to enter and face the bulls. He got the gusanillo or the veneno (I understand that these are terms used when talking about who has caught the bullfighting bug) at this point I imagine.
My dad dropped out of college his junior year and moved to Mexico where he worked for a Mexican rodeo for an actor (Luis Aguilar and by default Flor Silvestre I believe). He essentially took care of the horses, though I have heard that he played something akin to a rodeo clown as well... again, not confirmed. He learned how to bullfight there as they would let him make some passes with the capes as he took care of the animals.
He bought himself a suit of lights (with gold braid, which only professional bullfighters are supposed to wear) and wore it in some town bullfight festivals. After about of year, he was found in a barn in some town, he was in a coma from what was reported to be pneumonia.

Actually, he does not talk about what happened after either... here is what else I have gathered.

He went back to the US, finished college, went to graduate school, married my mother and ended up first in Colombia, then Spain, and then Ecuador... and a whole bunch of other places but I was there for those three. So in these places he watched as much bullfighting as he could and became an aficionado practico. So, this aficionado practico means that he practices his hobby... there are aficionados who just watch, and then there are the aficionados practicos that actually get in and do the job too. Aficionados practicos most often will bullfight in tientas and occasional festivals but are called such on the bills and unlike a bullfighter, they pay for the opportunity rather than being paid for it.

My father is still doing this today. There is an area in the United States, where bloodless bullfights take place. What a great opportunity for those whom have been bitten by the venom of aficionadodom. My father lives near the area and has gotten to know some of the families that raise the cattle/bulls. So, he arranged for some fellow aficionados to buy some bulls and have a tienta of sorts. The tienta is usually about testing animals for breeding purposes as bullfighting bulls have a long genetic tradition. Though this was not a tienta as they were not being tested (again, I believe); they were the age that this might be done if not a little older.

He finally talked me into joining him at one, and here are the images of that day. These are images that are personal, what I wanted captured and not necessarily what the person in the ring wants to see....

This here is my father, the one in the cowboy hat. Squink calls him Grandpa cowboy. The men to his right are some of the most charming men I have ever met.
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This was one incredible calf, it made me want to get into the ring it was so good.
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It was so good that my dad turned to me and asked if he could take Squink into the ring with him. My first thought was "Oh God, yeah", but then I remembered that I have a husband who did not grow up with this. So, I asked him... I saw him get a little wide eyed and he said "If Squink wants to". I asked Squink and he said "Yes, yes, yes". Squink did incredibly, he smiled the whole time, yelled "hey toro", and kept telling Grandpa Cowboy to "get him". When I took Squink out of the ring a few minutes later, he was upset and wanted to go back in.
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Now before you get your panties or boxers all in a bunch, here is what made me know it would be OK. I had been there, I remember the day in the second picture vividly... and yes I am crying, but only because my clogs were falling off and I was convinced that the calf was going to eat them... I felt completely safe there, in his arms... it was just my shoes I was worried about.
Where are my darn clogs?Blair - Madrid

The other bonus of the day was getting to spend it with my brother (half brother actually, but I don't count the difference but post this for those of you who might think this is not the brother you know).
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My brother gave Squink a little devil cape that Squink waved around like the red cape, though he did not look like he was imitating bullfighting, but just liked to wave it in the air. Though he just came up to me and said "that is Squink, trying to get the cow".
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Here is a picture of my dad. I picked this one for its aesthetics, in his own words it is not showing anyone in the know anything special. I guess, since I am not that far in the know, I can still like it.
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Now this picture is something more like what a bullfighter likes to see as it seems like left handed passes are more difficult.
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Here is a fancy behind the back pass.
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The place where this was held, had some incredible horses. Here I am with one of them that reminded me of my horse when I was little.
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Here is a picture of my dad showing Squink the calves. In bullfighting it is rare that the cattle will see a man on foot. I am not sure if the case is the same for these, but the bullfighter that day were cautious. If you look through Chris's photo streams you will see some that show men on top of the trailer looking down at them. This is how I remember it; I would walk well above the cattle, almost like walking on a house with no roof. I was always excited when I was allowed to do this.
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A while ago my mother (and for the record they are divorced) and I found some pewter (and stainless steel) cups that had a base made of a bullhead, so I gave them to my dad. Apparently it is a custom for bullfighter to drink from a silver cup at the fight. Here he is using one that I gave him.
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Then we made Squink the "president of the plaza" for a bit and showed him how to make awards. Here he is awarding two ears to a non-existent bullfighter. This would be a symbolic gesture... the one time I got into the ring before where I stood on my own two legs I was with my father and we fought together. There was a famous Mexican bullfighter acting as judge that afternoon, and we were awarded two ears (I think, this may be a case where the fish was "this big" and we only got one, but I seem to remeber two).
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I am letting most of the folks I spent this weekend with about this post and to them I say, please correct me where I am wrong and I consider it an honor that I got to share this weekend with all of you!

3 comments:

dreammeanyway said...

People spit on you as a child, because they didn't like what your father did?

I never thought about bullfighting one way or the other, but certainly worse horrors are perpetrated on the animals.

What a gorgeous tradition to share through the generations.

I especially like the picture of you with the horse.
-Nettie

Anonymous said...

My favorite post to date. Thank you for sharing. miss you!
Allison

Blue Simonne said...

Your photos are amazing. I liked very much that old one with you - you had an amazing expression.