Friday, February 13, 2009

Parental Visits, Bull Fights, and Boat Projects

My parents Mary Lou and Dr. Bruce came down for a week's visit, and to escape their fairly hectic lives (he escaping from the stress of being an emergency room doc, and she of being a grandma to a 2 year old and 6 month old).

They met us here at the beautiful Marina de La Cruz and we went for a really nice afternoon sail. We weren't out more than 10 minutes when our resident whale-spotter Naomi sighted the distinctive spouting action perhaps half a mile ahead. We got closer and saw a few dramatic dives, signified by their huge tails flashing vertical. After that, my Dad and I jumped on a bus and made it downtown just in time for the start of a bull fight...

(Note: sensitive readers may want to stop here.)

Bullfighting is a rather gruesome but fascinating sport...I was particularly keen to see one first-hand, having struggled through about 400 pages on the topic in James Michener's book Mexico. And yes, even though it is quite controversial and rather gory (and almost always ends in the bull's death), I do believe it merits consideration as both art and sport. More on that in a moment; first a brief overview.

A typical bull fight lasts about two hours, and includes four bulls. Each bull fights a matador (aka Torero), and each matador is assisted by picadores on horseback and banderilleros (flagmen) on foot. It starts off with the band playing a rousing tune and the bull being released into the ring, where it runs around very spiritedly and is studied by the matadors for his behavior and ferocity.

Next, the picador-- in our case a very fat man-- enters the arena on horseback. The horse is blindfolded and has protective padding all around his sides and belly. The bull is led to charge the horse, at which point the picador uses a lance to stab around the base of the neck. This helps the matadors determine which way the bull charges with his horns (whether he's a "lefty or righty") and if successful with the pics, the bull will hang his head lower, which makes the matador's ultimate job easier.

Next, the banderilleros enter the ring and encourage the bull to charge; when he does, they dodge aside and place two brightly colored and feathered pics (with sharp points on the end) into the bulls flank. This further tires the bull allows the matador to continue to study his behavior. It's pretty brave stuff, as the bull charges the bandillero (not his cape), and he must dodge at the very last second to place the pics; but it's not nearly as brave as what comes next, in the final stage.

Here, the matador enters alone; it is "mano-a-toro." He uses his red cape to get the bull to charge, and he performs a number of passes, often very close to his body. These passes are judged as a show of his skill and "control" over the bull. Although the bull is charging at the motion of the cape, bulls are smart and eventually learn who is controlling that cape.

Finally, the matador performs a series of passes designed to get the bull into position for the kill. This is where the audience collectively holds its's incredibly tense. The goal is, in theory at least, simple: get the bull to charge, and when he passes close by, place the sword cleanly through the shoulder blades and pierce the heart or aorta. In practice, it's not so simple, as it's a 1300-lb mass of enraged and agile muscle rushing at full force, and the matador must get up and over the sharp horns that annualy kill a few of his peers.

In the four bulls we saw, the first two were average, but the third was excellent. The matador was very graceful and commanding of the bull, and he killed with one clean strike. Literally, the bull dropped on the spot. Gory, but amazing in its skillfullness and mastery.

However the fourth was abysmal...from what I have gleaned from the Michener book, everything that can go wrong did. The picador (the one on the horse) stabbed the bull too deeply, causing too much blood loss (analogous to cheating). The audience booed loudly. Next, the matador missed with his first sword strike and then had a poor placement with the second, far too far back on the flank. His third was no better, and so ultimately they halted the fight and put the bull down. I saw the matador outside the ring after the fight and you could tell he was shamed.

So yes, it's gory and involves death; it's very controversial, and it's probably a dying sport (interest in both Mexico and Spain has been waning in recent decades). But it is really amazing to's like something out of another time (and indeed, it may trace its roots to gladiator games). There are several centuries of culture and history and ritual entwined in the subtleties of the "dance", and you gotta admit-- despite the pink socks, these matadors have serous cajones.

The bull is highly respected (and feared)...occasionally, bull who fight particularly well are released and allowed to live. And while the main objection of critics is that it's torture for the bull, the fight doesn't last long-- 20 minutes perhaps-- and it's a noble way for a noble beast to "go out" vs simply being led to the slaughterhouse. Perhaps I'm anthropomorphosizing (sp?) here, but if I were a bull, it's how I'd want to go...

Anyway, we spent the next few days with my parents eating our way across town...shrimp tacos in Sayulita, German schnitzel in La Crus, lobster on the beach in Bucerias, and mahi mahi in Old Town PV at Daiquiri Dicks. Muy bien!

Now, Naomi and I are plowing through an endless list of 'boat projects', such as: i) revarnishing our wood trim; ii) changing the diesel and tranny oil; iii) fixing a water system leak; iv) installing a new forward hatch (thanks Mom, for sclepping it down here), etc. For me, this stuff is actually forces us to learn new skills, and be carpenter, plumber, mechanic, and more all at once.

And even though it takes me 5x the time it should, it is provides a gratifying sense of accomplishment each time I get something done. For example, yesterday I spent about 5 hours wedged in a 3" x 4" starboard lazarette fixing a plumbing leak, water squirting everywhere. But after several tries, I ultimately got it sealed up, and now water flows from our taps like magic...success!

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