By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
On the other hand, it was what Ricardo calls his "Long Walk" that earned him at least a mention in the annals of bullfighting history. It began because, despite his handstanding heroics, Ricardo had never made it to "the show" in Mexico City, the country's premier bullfighting venue. Time and again he was passed over while colleagues he considered to have less cojones got the nod to stand at center ring under the rain of red roses. He was convinced it was official corruption that kept him out, so he decided to let the world know his plight. Dressed in his traje de luces, the gleaming uniform of the bullfighter, he walked from Guadalajara to Mexico City (a 250-mile trek), handing out fliers decrying the dirty politics of the sport. The pilgrimage made headlines in papers all along the way. After a month of walking, he arrived in Mexico City with his feet blistered and bleeding, his knees shot through with excruciating pain, his traje in tatters. But he still hasn't fought in the ring in Mexico City.
It's time. Outside, we can hear the banda de vientos, the ragged brass band that will accompany the bullfighters on their procession through town to the bullring. Our trio grows quiet. As slowly as they took their clothes off, they now pull on their trajes de luces. First the stockings, the hip-hugging pantyhose rolled up over hairy legs. Then the white shirt - well, not so white; the collars are hopelessly ringed with grime, and the material's wearing so thin on Ricardo's that you can see his tanned torso clearly through the shirt. Now the thin black ties. Juan Carlos has a neat little silver crucifix that serves as tie pin. Now the spangled pants and the suspenders up and over the shoulders. And finally the gleaming vests, though not as gleaming as they once were; several dozen sequins have fallen off, and the silk is fraying. Finally come the pieces de resistance - the sunglasses. Ray-Ban Wayfarers for Juan Carlos and Cerillo; aviator shades for Ricardo.
As the toreadors strut out into the gray afternoon, stoned and floating, the banda starts up a raucous tune. The mayor shakes hands with the honored guests, and, as the procession picks up momentum, more and more of Cheran joins in. The teenage girls half-hiding their coquettish smiles with their hands. The local gangster kids with their crew cuts and baggy jeans. The town drunks. The just-back-from-the-States wetbacks dressed in their Guess-best.
It's a magnificent bullring for such a small town. From the bandstand, Cheran's prettiest young women, in Indian dress, with rainbows of ribbons dangling from their hair, wave white scarves to the music.
It is beginning to drizzle now, but bullfights are not called for rain. The ring becomes a squishy swamp of deep-brown, almost black Michoacan earth. All is chaos, as teenage kids in their L.A. gangster regalia run wildly around the ring with the bulls, leaping behind the barricades when the snorting beasts come too close, then pulling at their tails after the horsemen lasso them.
The first bull out of the pen is easily tamed by Ricardo. But each bull that runs is meaner than the last. Juan Carlos and Cerillo maintain a discreet distance from the animals, letting Ricardo do most of the work. He doesn't have that much grace out there: His movements are stiff, a bit awkward, a far cry from the balletlike movements I remember from watching bullfights on TV as a kid at my grandparents' house in L.A. But he gets the job done, twirling his cape this way and that, eventually dizzying each bull to a standstill.
Meanwhile, the drizzle has turned to a steady rain. Spectators open umbrellas or buy sheets of plastic from well-prepared vendors. Now comes a tremendous blond beast, the meanest of the afternoon. Juan Carlos and Cerillo look really nervous now; Ricardo runs behind one of the barricades and takes a tremendous shot of Don Presidente brandy straight from the bottle, prompting a spontaneous ovation. Ricardo shouts to us - this is the one. He will perform the feat that no other bullfighter has ever attempted: the handstand.
Ricardo makes a grand show of taming the animal, twirling his cape, standing arrogantly with hand on hip, then going down on one knee, again and again until the bull stops in its tracks, disoriented. Ricardo turns to us, makes a snap-the-picture motion with his hand, and then turns back to the bull. Down he goes, his hands sinking into the wet brown earth as his feet rise in a perfect gymnastic execution of a handstand. A crazy act and a terrible insult to the bull. Then he gets back up, places his dripping hands on his hips, and thrusts out his chin in a parting affront to the defeated bull. A standing ovation.
A few minutes later, a black bull rushes out from the pen, and Ricardo, visibly drunk now, goes at it again. Once again he dizzies the bull to a stop. And once again he stands on his hands, this time only about a yard away from it. "Behold the valor of Mexicanoooooo . . ." the announcer shouts over the PA. For as long as the reverb holds the vowel, time seems to freeze. Ricardo remains upside down, as rain falls on the soles of his muddied black slippers. Juan Carlos' face is tightened into a nervous scowl.