Charity . . . is the opium of the privileged.
Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah
This is still high-season in San Miguel with Semana Santa, the week before Easter, just a little over a week away, so there is much happening in town, almost too many things to choose from (for me, two items is one many as I sometimes spin for hours or days trying to decide what it is that I really want to do [sometimes as opposed to what I should do]: quite often this leads to total inactivity and I end up staying home). This weekend’s events include two tonight that interest me: some damas and caballeros will be bidding at silent auction and playing the roulette wheel and blackjack tables at a benefit for Patronato Pro Niños de San Miguel de Allende while others will attend the bullfight (with no ties to charity). I’d love to attend both.
I struggled whether to stretch my budget to include the Monte Carlo night as I’d love to support an organization that helps kids – although I am leery of NGOs and all first world organizations that purport to do good. Somehow I feel I should be less suspect here in San Miguel than if this were Africa or Asia, but …
I saw an acquaintance two weeks ago shopping in a high-end consignment clothing store, seeking something to wear for the evening, so it’s possible the Monte Carlo night may be as much a blood sport as the bullfights.
Before I made my decision, I went to Mari to have my hair cut and styled in case I chose the Monte Carlo night. I learned of Mari via the SMA civil list. She charged 80 pesos for a wash, cut and styling which I like a lot, although it’s probably not as flattering as another style might have been: but she gave me what I requested. Leaving her salon I felt so much better than I had after my previous experience at a noted high-end salon (where the cut and wash were 450 pesos). She gave me so much more attention and value for my money than the other salon. It felt good, too, to support a woman just starting her business.
That same day I also went to lunch with the UUs, something I had intended to do for months. I never seemed able to get dressed and out of the apartment and walk down the hill in time. The food was better than at most of my lunchtime ventures, but how can one go wrong with tacos of shrimp and chipotle sauce? The glass of red wine was a shock as it was as cold as the inside of a refrigerator, which was as cold as was the day, which was reminescent of a winter’s day (which it technically still is) with its blanket of cloud cover.
Monte Carlo night required purchasing a ticket ahead of the event – the deadline was Wednesday – and on Thursday I contacted the office of Patronato Pro Niños and they said I could still buy a ticket there. The office is across town up the hill by the Plaza La Luciérnaga. I thought ok, I’ll walk and take some photos. On the way I stopped at one of the two ticket outlets (both were realtors so you know the kind of crowd that will be at this event) and bought a ticket, saving myself another half-hour of walking. With my new-found free time I went across the street to the high-end salon and cancelled my forthcoming appointment (no longer needed); then, with newly found time and money, I went to Rocio’s and had my nails done.
In the Roman calendar March was the first month of the year. Their months, tied to the moon’s cycles, consisted of either 26 or 30 days with the Ides marking the mid-point of the month and the day on which the full moon occurred. Thus, today marked the first full moon of the new Roman year. A bad day for Julius Caesar and likely a bad night for me to be at a gambling table. It will definitely be a bad night for the bulls.
He is no more vulgar than life and shows as much good taste as death.
R. L. Duffus, 1932 review of Death in the Afternoon
During high school I read everything available to me that Hemingway had written, including Death in the Afternoon. Hemingway couldn’t kindle any enthusiasm in me for bullfighting: at the time I was too busy trying to learn how to fit into life to be concerned about death as an art form. Quotes such as Brett’s “You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch” were more memorable than anything about toros or toreros.
San Miguel has a bullring and bullfights are scheduled for tonight and tomorrow (although tomorrow’s will be training). While some people, like Hemingway, refer to bullfighting as an “art” (just as some refer to war as an art) and others refer to la corrida as a “sport” (just as some refer to big game hunting as sport), anything that involves killing or maiming can be considered neither art nor sport to me. These events carry on the traditions of gladiators and medieval jousting and are simply forms of combat. The odds are so stacked against the bull that it was finally an easy decision to throw my hat into a different ring and attend Monte Carlo night and support the children.
Bullfighting in Mexico
Bullfighting came to the New World with the first Spaniards. Records are found of the first bullfights in the area that is now Mexico City in 1526, as a celebration of the return of Cortés.
Mexico’s bullfighting industry, the most active in the New World, has at least 220 (or 500) permanent bullrings, of which 37 are deemed important. There are more than 280 farms for breeding bulls and a dozen schools that teach bullfighting. Children under 16 years old cannot perform in public bullfights in Europe, so many European students come to Mexico for training and return to Europe after they reach the age of 16. Aguascalientes has two bullrings and is considered the center of the Mexican bullfighting world. It’s been stated that a million Mexicans (including family members of those who work in bullfighting) may be dependent on bullfighting for income.
The largest bullfighting stadium in the world is in Mexico City where since 1942 (or 1946) when Plaza de Toros (or La Plaza Mexico or La Monumental) was opened to the public. I’ve read that the bullring seats (or holds) 42,000 (or 48,000 or 50,000 or 60,000 people – the truth seems evasive). At its opening La Monumental was personally blessed by the then-Archbishop of Mexico. As elsewhere, one buys seats either in the sol (sun) or sombra (shade). Seat pads can protect one from the chilly cement seats as the evening progresses.
Mexico, like Spain, has religious festivals linked to bullfighting. The most infamous, the Embalse de Toros in Tlacotalpan (Veracruz). In the Yucatan an activity known as toros caballistas has many horse riders on unprotected horses chase an agressive bull in an improvised bullring. The running of the bulls in San Miguel ended several years ago.
Led by animal-rights activists, opposition to bullfighting has been growing. Linking nationwide violence to violence in the ring, activists have been successful in getting bills introduced, but not passed. Aleida Alavez Ruiz, a Mexico City congresswoman, said:
In this country we are living an absurd war against drug dealers which has left thousands dead and we cannot allow bloody traditions like bullfighting to continue being part of our culture.
Five Latin American countries allow bullfighting, and Mexico’s is of the classic school as is practiced in much of Spain. Chile banned bullfighting in 1818 after breaking free of Spain, and Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba banned the practice at the turn of the 20th century. Ecuadorans recently voted to end bullfighting and in Europe, Catalonia and the Canary Islands have banned bull fighting. In France two forms of bullfighting exist (the course libre in which the bull is not harmed and the corrida, similar to bullfighting in Spain and Mexico in which the bull is usually killed): in 2012 the Constitutional Council chose not to outlaw the corrida.
Bullfighting, like cockfighting, is controlled in Mexico by states and not the federal government (the latter has control over wildlife but not domestic animals). Politicians representing the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) presented a proposal in 2009. In 2012 Congressman Cristian Vargas proposed a bill to ban bull fighting in the Federal District. A sub-committee of the Mexico City Legislative Assembly approved a Bill to ban bullfighting in the capital; however, no ban has been approved to-date.
Early last month approximately 300 anti-bullfighting protestors in Mexico City lay in their underwear at a public plaza, splattered with fake blood. Some had arrows attached to their backs. The demonstration continues the ongoing protest against bullfighting.
The country corrida (bullfight ring) named Plaza de Toros Oriente is in El Centro on calle Recreo, about five or six blocks from the Jardin headed up the hill towards the Real Salida a Querétaro. The evening’s event features a mounted bullfighter, Torero Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza, on specially trained horses. If you click on the photo for today’s post and examine the publicity poster next to the gate to the corrida, you’ll notice Sr. Hermoso de Mendoza atop his horse apparently head-butting a bull.
Concierto de Aranjuez (Rodrigo)
Miles Davis’ interpretation of the piece written for guitar and orchestra on the eve of World War II.