Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009 | 2 a.m.
“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”
— Ernest Hemingway
I wonder what Hemingway would have made of the bloodless bullfighting Monday afternoon at the South Point Equestrian & Event Center.
Perhaps he wouldn’t have cared for it much. If there was one thing Hemingway preferred more to the manly art of bullfighting it was a tall drink. And he wasn’t fond of Shirley Temples.
Bullfighting without the blood? What’s next? the renowned writer might have asked. Race cars made of foam rubber? Safety nets on Mount Everest?
With much of the danger — at least from the bull’s point of view — having been removed from a centuries-old sport and cultural phenomenon in places such as Spain, Portugal and Mexico, it’s hard to know how Hemingway might have reacted.
But I do know how Michael Gaughan feels about it.
When the owner of the South Point saw a couple of media types he recognized milling around the honky-tonk that sits atop the dirt floor of the arena, he came rushing out to utter a few oles! of his own.
It was as if the Shriners had just signed a lifetime contract to hold their annual convention at South Point. A staff member told me he couldn’t remember the last time he saw the big boss so jazzed.
Bloodless bullfighting also must be more palatable to the animal-activist types because only about a dozen gathered outside South Point to protest on Monday.
This was my second exposure to bullfighting. The first was in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from the West Texas town of El Paso, when I was a child.
There was blood in that one.
I also remember there were only two kinds of tickets — shady side and sunny side — and sticking my brother in the shoulder with one of the cellophane-covered souvenir banderillas upon returning home. He had drawn the short straw when we turned our family room into a makeshift plaza de toros.
The banderillas used at Monday’s Toros Las Vegas, part of the 2009 Fiestas Patrias celebration, were covered with Velcro strips. The bulls were outfitted (by some brave soul) with a Velcro patch around the neck, where matadors and picadors and a bunch of other dors would normally lance them with sharp, pointy objects, such as swords.
I must admit that I enjoyed this form of bullfighting a whole lot better than the traditional kind.
There were three matadors — two Mexicans and a dashing Spaniard with blond hair and blue eyes who resembled Brad Pitt. Of the three, the women in the crowd seemed to like him the most. I can’t figure out why. Maybe it was the sequins on his brocaded matador uniform, called the traje de luces — suit of lights.
Everybody else’s favorite seemed to be Eulalio “El Zotoluco” Lopez, the flamboyant Mexican torero, or matador. Zotoluco has more style than a Parisian runway model and don’t you know he knows it.
Twirling this way and that, like a cape-toting Baryshnikov, Zotoluco had the crowd eating out of his hand. This was especially true when he dropped to his knees, arms cocked like a gunslinger, to stare down his winded adversary, which might have been the most out-of-breath bull I’ve seen since Will Perdue was asked to play extended minutes in a fast-paced NBA game in Chicago.
After simulating the ritual of slaying the bull, Zotoluco doffed his matador cap as bullfighting aficionados chanted his name and tossed personal belongings at his feet, such as a bota bag filled with tequila, from which Zotoluco squeezed off a Mexican-sized stream that would have drowned a horse.
Somehow — I’m pointing the finger at the trumpet player from the Tijuana Brass wannabes who played cool bullfighting anthems throughout the afternoon — that very same Spanish wine skin materialized, with Zotoluco’s autograph on it, in the area around the bull pens after the performance where media and South Point personnel were trying hard to communicate with the Spanish-speaking bullfight delegation.
I surmised another one of bullfighting’s many traditions is sharing the contents of a bota bag with English-speaking compadres, because, all of a sudden, that’s what we were doing.
I’m not much of a tequila guy. But if I had to guess, I’d say it wasn’t Patron that was dripping from my chin.
“That’s not tequila,” confirmed Alonso, my new Mexican bullfighting friend. “That’s fuel.”
Maybe so, but I am relatively confident that Ernest Hemingway would have liked it anyway.