The Old Man awoke beside the Beautiful Woman as a blood-red sun rose over the Cerro de Chiquihuite. It was bullfight day.
They breakfasted on bread from Bisquets Obregón. There was raw honey and black cafecitos, just like back at the Ranchito.
A few hours later, the Silver Meriva barreled south down Insurgentes, past the naked protesters who never give up, past the Paseo de la Reforma where jet planes crash.
Past the World Trade Center, and right on the Eje 5 Sur.
There it loomed: Plaza Mexico, the biggest bullring in the world.
It’s a massive hole, not obvious from inside or out, where it still towers into the sky. Most seats are below street level.
The Plaza holds 48,000 bullfighting fans and passing dilettantes, but it’s rarely more than 25 percent full these days. Interest in bullfights is waning.
Hemingway´s days are gone.
Sundays from November through March at precisely 4 p.m. a bull comes charging through the gate. And he’s really pissed off.
Fighting bulls are not simply big and angry bulls. They are a breed apart. Their wives, the cows, look like dykes and have tiny udders.
This may add to the moodiness of their menfolk.
The Old Man and the Beautiful Woman sat on cement seats pretty close to the ring, but not too close. They purchased cushions from a street vendor, ten pesos a pop.
Vendors strolled about offering hot dogs and hot cappuccinos. Cappuccinos?! And beer, of course.
A bullfight consists of three matadors fighting six bulls, two to a man. The matadors on that day were:
1. Uriel “El Zapata” Moreno.
2. Leopoldo Casasola.
3. Guillermo Martinez.
The Old Man and the Beautiful Woman had been standing in the scattered crowd outside the ring when Casasola arrived in the passenger seat of a new, cream-colored Lincoln Navigator. The matador game pays good.
He was young and handsome in his Suit of Lights, flashing a killer smile, so handsome the Beautiful Woman seemed to consider a swan dive through the Lincoln´s window into his lap.
But she did not, perhaps because Casasola is young enough to be her son. Perhaps because her Old Man isn’t chopped liver but Southern paté, tasty on cornbread.
She stayed true.
As expected, the first bull thundered through the gate at 4 p.m., right on time like a Fascist train. The goal is to tire the bull, break his spirit and kill him.
First, one or more picadores decked out like Sancho Panza on heavily padded and blindfolded horses taunt the bull till he charges. It doesn’t take much. He´s on edge.
The picador stabs the bull in his hump with a short-pointed lance. Sometimes the bull knocks the horse off his feet. Score one for the bull, but his victories come hard.
Next, the bull gets stuck with pairs of banderillas, which are delivered by the matador or one of his helpers.
These are pointed sticks that are far shorter than the picador’s lance, and they are delivered as the matador or assistant and the bull run directly at each other.
By this time, the bull has run around the ring a lot. He is overweight. He has been stabbed in the back by the picador. He has banderillas hanging from his hump.
He is bloodied, tired, and nothing is going right for him. He is having serious doubts about himself. His ego is deflated. It´s a bad day.
He needs a therapist. But not even Dr. Phil can save him.
Instead, the heavily panting bull faces a man decked out like a Christmas tree in a leather bar, holding a big red cape and sword. It’s killing time.
Ideally, one quick sword thrust over the bull’s lowered head brings him down rapidly. That only happened with one of the six bulls that day. The others went down slowly and messily. And that’s the norm.
Casasola was the best of the three matadors and the only one tossed by a bull. Twice! Luckily, he dodged the horns both times, only injuring his dignity.
The dead bulls are dragged out by a horse team and sold to a butcher. Waste not. Bloody sand is swept up.
The Old Man and the Beautiful Woman rode the Silver Meriva to Titanic Hamburgers on the dark, night median of Margarita Masa de Júarez. Perhaps they ate one of last week’s bulls. With lettuce, onion, tomato and mustard.
And a side of fries with blood-red ketchup.