Edit Blog Post
Published: December 21st 2010
After attending Lima's last match of the season, I had the chance to sit down with 24-year-old torero Fernando Roca Rey, who explained the the art in what some would consider a brutal tradition.
The band sounded a valiant address calling spectators to their seats for the opening procession of the last bullfight at the Plaza de Acho, the second oldest bullring in the world. The matadors entered the arena, waving their hats saluting the crowd, followed by the back up banderilleros whirling their magenta capes. Picadors galloped in on horseback circling the ring, wielding their decorative lances reminiscent of the streamer wrapped batons I used as a child to attack the pinadas at my birthday parties.
Each class of fighters would build up to the final duel between the matador and the toro. The proud matadors welcomed their colossal competitors with chests in the air, the crowd roaring in anticipation. I have often wondered where my own enthusiasm for such a brutal sport comes from. Where the divide between those of us who see a beautiful dance translating the fight for honor and courage, an art of life or death, and those who see only mercilessness
Artistically, I have always been darkly intrigued by death and tend to see ironic or metaphoric beauty in the dismal or profane. I was enamored by the descriptions reported in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, seduced by the romanticism and violent application of thick pigment and fleeting ink marks in Francisco De Goya's many depictions of matches. Despite my opposition to animal abuse and the inhumane slaughtering techniques of meat packing companies, I had always been eager for a chance to attend a match for years. My excitement swelled in the stands as the the cuadrilla bowed one final bow in unison and it was time to begin.
The toros, fierce and Herculean with their slick snouts heaving and flared nostrils, charged hunched with pointed horns, blazing and strong toward the fluttering red of the muleta. The matador recoiled pulling the red cape in an arcing fan. As the two moved around the dusty ring in a dangersome tango, we watched biting our nails waiting for the first blow.
Stephanie pointed out the precision in which the sword is thrust, the emphasis in the placement and technique for an honorable kill. Bullfighting
is an age old tradition in Peru, aside from being the second most popular spectator sport next to soccer, it has gained as much respect as an art as painting or music. It takes a trained professional to step into the ring and I left wondering if the life of a matador is as storybook like as I have read and imagined, as it was perceived on the field that day. Like beholding any great piece of art, I left lusting for the passion and fearlessness that motivated such a dazzling sight to claim me. To live my life facing threats barreling toward me and eluding them in swift, elegant, calculated steps.
It is not Fernando's sharp jaw line and dashing good looks that win his matches against the bulls, but it doesn't hurt in fulfilling the profile of the gallant, young matador. A perfect gentleman and any woman's ruin, Fernando joined me a few days after the match to share a coffee and explain a torero's experience in the ring.
"The bull is your partner, like a dance. The bulls are not trained or prepared, their instincts are to attack. It is about understanding your partner, his attitude quickly to perform together."
So what makes a good bullfighter?
"Style and technique. Over the years, you master these to clearly express yourself during a
performance. I was trained classical. Brave.""
Fernando grew up watching his grandfather compete and has been bullfighting since he was thirteen years old. It doesn't seem they had to teach him much bravery if he was willing to step in the ring so young. However, according to him, passing the threshold to become a matador was when he felt strength in his abilities.
"When I passed to become a matador, standing in front of the bull I was not thinking it was going to get me or that it is his domain. It had become an equal fight."
For Fernando, it is this relation, the communication through gesture and poise that makes for a good performance;
"You read the bull quickly and anticipate the type of fight that is going to take place, responding with control and also, style."
While watching the fight on Wednesday, this was an element of the sport I enjoyed the playful pushing of boundaries (and anyone who knows me should not really be surprised). The constant flirting of occupying the others territory, just long enough. As Hemingway wrote, working closely yet eluding contact.
is not about getting struck. You need to accept that this will happen. Last year at Acho. I finished in the hospital but it was a very good fight."
Oh, the millions of metaphors I could assign to that statement..
And all he got to show for it was a lousy ear;
"At the end of a good match the ear of the bull is given as a trophy. I keep the important ones and mount them, the others just throw away. The last match I recieved two ears from the same bull. That is an honor. And a trophy."
Even the most talented, always have their good luck charms. Remembering my own medallion of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travel, that accompanied me on this trip, I asked Fernando if he had any rituals before a fight.
"Ah! So many. I fight with my left side so I start on my right foot, and knocking on wood." Fingering his collar to display a silver chain, "and I pray. I pray holding onto my chain."
They seem to be working because he has gained international success as
a torero. However for Fernando competing all over the world is not enough. In August, he began dancing on the reality series called El Gran Show, a Latin Dancing With the Stars of sorts.
Hey, I guess if you can dance with bulls you can dance with anyone but which is harder?
The bashful torero answers, "With women. The women are worse than the bulls. They hit you harder."
Fernando will be a returning participant in the competitions next year at the Plaza de Acho. Throughout the year, he will work to finish up his studies at the Universidad de Lima for business management while continuing to compete on El Gran Show. You can follow him on his blog at http://fernandorocarey.blogspot.com/.
To attend a match at the Plaza de Acho, tickets are available online at Teleticket or at Wong supermarkets. Prices vary due to the importance of the show. Season runs late October until early December.
Tot: 0.587s; Tpl: 0.024s; cc: 15; qc: 77; dbt: 0.0181s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb