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Cape Magic: Bullfighting

A New Generation of Matadors Face Off with the Bulls in Sevilla, Spain
Bruce Shoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

(continued from page 3)

I place a flower on Paquirri's grave, in tribute to the bullfighter he was and in thanks for his progeny. Then I walk back along the river, past the architectural detritus of Expo '92, to see if his son can live up to such billing.

Before he gets his chance, I see Muñoz get gored in the hand, refuse to get it bandaged, continue to work the bull with a cold fury and earn an ear. Later, Romero dedicates one of his bulls to the mother of Spain's king. She's a big fan and often attends when he fights in Sevilla. He puts in a surprising amount of work but gets nothing out of a recalcitrant animal. We've all seen him waste too many good bulls through the years to feel any sympathy.

The sixth and final bull of the day belongs to Rivera Ordóñez. It charges with reluctance and swings its head from side to side when it does, which makes predicting its actions perilous. A lesser matador, or one with less to prove, would give up and wait for another day. But Rivera Ordóñez senses that the bull can be controlled if worked low, where it can see best, so he bends his knees, leans over and gives it five technically perfect passes a few inches off the ground. Soon the bull is his and the band begins playing, an unofficial signal of approval.

There's nothing too profound about the work he's doing, but it's masterful: a triumph of technique. It is not the epic talent of Muñoz or Romero at their best, but, as Tynan described Rivera Ordóñez's grandfather Antonio after watching him as an 18-year-old in 1952, "wholly lyric." For a moment I'm heartened by the sense I have that Rivera Ordóñez's natural genius will mature into profundity in the years to come, just as his grandfather's did--and then in a flash I realize that it may never have the chance. That variable is the essence of following bullfighting, for the list of bullfighters gored and ruined is long and moist with tears, a few of them mine, and nobody knows who will be added. Better to concentrate your emotions on what's before you at the moment. Bullfighting taught me that, and it's a fine lesson.

There is absolute quiet when Rivera Ordoñez goes in to kill, but with his first two sword thrusts he hits bone and generates nothing more than a surface wound. He gets the appreciative applause that means he has performed well but isn't going to get an ear, and by the time the bull finally dies the emotion has gone. We file out of the stands feeling as we often do: drained of ardor, ambivalent, but ready to talk about what we've seen--and alive, utterly alive.

Bruce Schoenfeld, the author of The Last Serious Thing: A Season at the Bullfights, writes from his home in Colorado about bullfighting, wine and other matters of the heart.


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