Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I go to a corrido de toros (bullfight)? My preconception of a bullfight includes torture for a hopelessness animal. Yet, for some reason, I want to attend. Maybe it was Hemingway’s book, Death in the Afternoon, that passionately defends the art form of bullfights.
If Hemingway found this so compelling, it must have some value. I justify my attendance under the guise of having a Latin American cultural experience? I argue from the negative side from the perspective a soon to be dead bull. My curiosity wins the debate and I attend my first bullfight in 1975 while in language school in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Bullfights mean ferias (colorful carnivals, exciting music, and rowdy crowds). Out of necessity we park miles from the bullring and fall into step with the masses laughing, pushing, and priming their party pumps from a bota (wine skin) or two full of sangria or aguardiente.
They drink as they walk, sometimes slobbering or spilling the alcohol down the front of their shirts. It was obvious some folks started drinking long before leaving home. The ticket booths have lines of fifty to seventy people, so we are glad we are early. Bullfights and bus stops are two of the few places in Latin America where people willingly stand in line. Breaking line can result in a fight where the offender will definitely be outnumbered. There are obviously more people than tickets.
According to Hemingway, the quality of a bullfight depends entirely on the bull and the bull fighter. A bull that doesn’t charge, and charge, and charge again will not allow the bull fighter demonstrate the beauty of the sport. We will not see the real thing today. The traditional Spanish bullfight has undergone specific changes in Costa Rica that diminish it from what a tourist would see in Spain or other Latin American countries. The Costa Ricans no longer allow the matador to kill the bull after each fight. So the great bullfighters do not stop in Costa Rica.
To compensate and draw large crowds, the “Ticos” allow anyone older than eighteen and sober to fight the bull–all at the same time. Many times the fight begins with a hundred and fifty young screaming men filling the ring, waiting for the bull to break wildly through the entrance gate. When the bull enters, immediately one hundred and forty of youngsters scramble wildly over the sides of the ring. From the beginning mob of so-called “toreros” only ten or less are really ready to challenge the bull up close and personal. A few poor slow souls get trampled in the mayhem and others get tossed wildly into the air by the angry bulls, much like bronco riders at a rodeo. As the bull tires from charging the jeering; it stands confused in the ring catch a breath, some young man sneaks up from the rear and tries to mount the bull only to land in the dust thrown by the spinning bull. Eventually, the bull loses interest and the attendants drive it from the ring. And, it all starts again. At the end of the day, hundreds of adventurers will claim the name of “Bullfighter,” but only a few receive it.
As I sit and see all of this, I recognize a parable of religious faithfulness. It is one thing to say, “I am a Christian.” It is another thing all together to stay the ring when placed in a situation of persecution or opposition.