As you see yourself, I once saw myself; as you see me now, you will be seen.
      Mexican Proverb


México is the most populous Spanish-
speaking country in the world. According to the latest statistics, México's total population is over 99 million. Mestizos, of Indian and Spanish blood), make up 60% of the population, followed by indigenous peoples  (30%), whites (9%), and other ethnic minorities  (1%).

Carnaval in Mazatlan

Visitors and locals scream, sing, shout and dance amid confetti and ribbons. Bands of all kinds play the infectious rhythms of the State of Sinaloa. And the food–oh, the food–camarones (shrimp) prepared in every way possible, washed down with ice cold Pacifico beer, for it’s Carnaval Time, Mazatlán’s biggest pachanga (fiesta). 
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March 12, 2006

by Bob Brooke

Manolo Garcia Mendez Salazar is a bullfighter. At 34, he’s at the peak of his career. It’s Sunday afternoon, a little before 4:00 P.M., as Mendez kneels in the arena chapel at Apizaco, Tlaxcala, and prays to La Virgen de la Macarena to protect him. At precisely 4:00 P.M., a bugle will blow and the band will begin playing a Paso doble as he goes forth to meet his destiny in the bullring. Moments later, a gate will swing open and a 2,000-pound bull bred to kill will charge in. Mendez will stare straight ahead and continue to mouth silent prayers. For in a few moments, he’ll begin to dance with death.

Earlier, following the matadors and the banderillos, have come the picadors on padded horses, lances pointed skyward. As they draw close to the barrera, they all tip their hats to the dignitaries, then slide behind the shoulder-high protective barricades that shield them off from the arena itself.

The matadors, their Trajes de Luces glistening in the sun, confer with their managers while swinging their capes to test the wind. The banderilleros, who will be the first to test the bull, move to the opposite side of the ring and along with the senior matador, await the first bull. When the beast finally enters, the capeadores wave their capes at him, trying to incite a charge. But they must never "pass" the bull. That feat is reserved only for matador. Having watched how the bull charges, and whether he hooks left or right, the matador advances into the ring. Now he must face the bull alone. The corrida has begun.

Bullfighting isn’t only a contest between man and bull. It’s the epitome of a more universal struggle–man's conquest of his own fears.

The object of the sport is for the matador to conquer and kill the bull with a swift clean kill by placing a sword in a coin-sized area between the bull's shoulders. For this reason, it takes extreme courage and many hours of training to become a matador. In reality, bullfighting cripples one out of four matadors during their careers. One out of ten die.

Bullfighting is a type of dramatic dance with death. As he would in dancing, Mendez must control his movements — maintaining the rhythm, not of music, but of danger. On stage, a faux-pas means an interruption of artistic flow. In the bullfighting arena, a mistake by the matador could mean death.

During the eight centuries of the Spanish War of the Reconquest (711-1492 A.D.), the knights, Moors and Christians, weary of killing one another, would occasionally hunt wildlife to avoid boredom. While deer were easy prey and a cornered bear or boar would usually put up a fight, it was the wild Iberian bull that presented a challenge for these valiant knights. When provoked, it would rather die fighting than flee. At some point, a nobleman captured several bulls and recreated the fight in the village. Thus the sport of bullfighting was born.

The first historic bullfight, or corrida de toros, took place in Vera, LogroZo, Spain, in 1133, in honor of the coronation of King Alfonso VIII. From that point on, kings organized corridas to commemorate important events and to entertain their guests. After the Spanish War of the Reconquest, the celebration of corridas expanded throughout Spain.

During the reign of King Philip II, Pope Pius V, appalled at the unconscionable carnage of the bullfights, forbade the practice of the corridas. The people, however, ignored the papal decree and continued to relish the fiesta brava, forcing Pope Gregory VIII to recant the decree.

Bullfighting was then transformed and democratized. The squire, on foot, became the master of the arena, today's matador, and the knight, on horseback, became today’s picador.

Matadors such as Rafael Molina, Belmonte and Manolete, introduced changes that converted what once was a primitive and cruel encounter into a skillful art form, practiced today in the bullfighting arenas of Spain, France, Portugal, and in the Latin American republics of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Panama.

Bullfighting–known in Mexico as Fiesta Brava, made its debut in Mexico City, on June 26th 1526, with the first bullfight in honor of Hernan Comes, on his return from Las Hibueras which is now Honduras. Throughout the three centuries that Spain ruled Mexico, bullfights were held regularly to honor city and religious celebrations.

Only Spain holds more bullfights annually than Mexico. And Tlaxcala has been the center of Mexican bullfighting since Cortes’ army stopped to rest there on their way to conquer the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan.

In every corida de toros, matadors kill four to six bulls. Watching one isn’t for the faint hearted. In an average afternoon session, three matadors each fight two bulls. The fight begins as the bull is released into the ring and the torero or bullfighter’s assistant takes a few passes of the bull with his cape, to gauge the reactions of the bull. Then picadors riding horses enter the ring and draw the first blood then exit the ring.

The traditional cape work with the bull then follows, with each pass of the cape being accompanied by a hearty cry of "Ole!" from the crowd. The matador kills the bull in a ritualistic manner by thrusting a lethal blow of the sword deep into the bulls back. A judge scores the killing, and if not done perfectly, it could bring shame upon the matador.

The trophies awarded to the matador amount to nothing more than the people's momentary show of emotion and perhaps the tail of the bull. It’s not unusual for a matador, who may have only performed one artful move during the corida, to be the true winner of the day. Those matadors just beginning to fight, called novilleros, fight not in a corrida but in a novillada with novillos (young bulls).

The empressario or promoter of the corida pays at least $2,500 for each of six bulls–some cost as much as $10,000. Each corida has three sessions with two bullfights per session. Smaller towns have coridas with just four bulls in two sessions.

Regardless of what opinion people may have of it, bullfighting is a sport and, as such, requires skill and endurance–but most of all courage. And just as with the NFL or the NBA, it’s players are trained–both man and bull–for top performance. But the bulls are also bred to provide excitement and drama in the ring.

Without a fine looking, strong and courageous bull, however skilled and determined the bullfighter, it will not be a fine performance. That’s why the breeding of fighting bulls is very important.

Today, the State of Tlaxcala has the largest number of bull breeding ranches or ganaderias–a total of 40, followed by the States of Guanajuato and Jalisco. The premier ranch is Ganaderia La Laguna de Terrenate, founded in 1908 by Don Romareo Gonzalez, with cows from Tepeyahualco and a breeding bull from Ibarra. It has had more winners at the Plaza Mexico in Mexico City–23 to date–than any other breeding ranch in Mexico.

Mendez and his father own two breeding ranches–the larger one, Ganaderia Garcia, located in Tetla, Tlaxcala, is used only for breeding while the second and smaller one, Rancho Santa Anita, in Santa Anita, Tlaxcala, is strictly for "feed and seed," or selling and training the three and four-year-old bulls for the ring.

"We fight the cows to see if they have style," said Mendez. "Cows with good style are bred. Those without are killed and sold for meat."

The largest bullring in Mexico, seating 60,000, is the Plaza Mexico in Mexico City. The season here lasts from November to March. Novillades, featuring novice matadors and young bulls, are held from June to October.

Tlaxcala holds its coridas on All Saints Day on November 1 and during its annual fair in the same month.

Huamantla, also in the State of Tlaxcala and with a great tradition for bullfighting

is home to the only Bullfighting Museum in the state. Its bullring "La Taurina," built by a group of fans and inaugurated on August 15th 1918, holds 5,500 people.

Tourists go to the covered and air-conditioned ring in Cancun, the only one of its kind, on Wednesday afternoons when the cruise ships are in. More than 90 per cent of the spectators are American and Canadian. Each tourist pays a ticket price of about $29 (US) for a two-hour show that includes dances, rodeo, greased pig chases and finally a bullfight. When the arena first opened, the show included four kills. However, the ring’s management soon learned that audiences disappeared quickly after being startled by the cruelty for which many weren’t prepared.


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