Mexico–Novillada at Huamantla

After breakfast, after the extra cup of coffee and the tidying up of our room, we have nothing to do now, except wait. I remember now, that this is a commonplace phenomenon in the taurine world. One finds oneself waiting for someone who is usually waiting for someone else, or for some event of some kind. One is assured that the event, or person, is going to materialize imminently, “ahorita,” – – any minute now. And no one, no one is concerned – – except the Anglos.

This morning my husband, Kelly, and I are waiting for a taxi, or some other vehicle, to take us to Huamantla, a mountain town perhaps a forty minute drive from the ranch where we are staying.  At 4 o’clock there’s to be a novillada, that is, a bullfight for novilleros, young men or women, aspiring matadors, who will fight novillos rather than full-grown bulls.

An average weight for these younger, smaller animals would approximate 300-350 kilos, whereas the formidable, full-grown giants fought in corridas, can weigh as much as 500+ kilos. Not that being a smaller, younger animal makes it less dangerous, because it is likely to be much quicker, friskier, more unpredictable and thus potentially much more dangerous than a more mature toro.

Kelly’s friend and training partner, Chema, is going to fight in the novillada today and really wants us to be there, so he’s trying to arrange for someone to drive out to Rancho Seco to pick us up and bring us back. Otherwise we’re stranded: the Huamantla taxistas are not keen on venturing out to this remote place, and in any case they usually don’t know the way.

Text and phone messages fly back and forth and finally we learn that a red car will arrive soon.  Tomaso is on his way and he’ll get us there on time. Don’t worry. And he’ll bring us back.

We sit on a stone bench outside the main doors of the hacienda, the sun taking the chill out of the morning; we can see the little road on which Tomaso will come, winding its way through the fields and over the hillsides.

Memory takes me back to similar situations in the 1970’s, when I was much less resigned to these limbo periods but felt awkward and self-conscious, wondering what I was doing here in this macho world, the only female, ill-at-ease, wishing I was somewhere else. And yet now I realize that I am, in a sense, privileged: allowed to go backstage – – to be   a witness to an arcane and ancient practice that few women until recently can have been part of.

That self-conscious 30 year old doesn’t exist any more.  Now in my seventies, as well as knowing what to expect, I do not much care what’s going to happen, and have no worries about what my “role” is. Who cares if I’m the only woman?  I am reading my novel and enjoying the sunshine, reflecting that it doesn’t much matter (to me) whether we get there or not and that none of these arrangements are my responsibility, thank heavens.  I’m just along for the ride.

After what seems hours later, we are still there, sitting on the bench.  More phone calls.

“ My friend Tomaso is on his way. He’ll be there soon. It’s a red car. Don’t worry. You’ll get there on time.”

An occasional car or truck winds its way up the hill in our direction but it is never that of Chema’s friend. An ice cream van lumbers along, parks, and sounds its chimes. It’s long past lunchtime; I’m grateful for the huge late breakfast, and for my novel.

Finally, after we’ve given up hope, here is a promising-looking, battered red car with an unenthusiastic-looking driver at the wheel and dour, bespectacled Tomaso in the passenger seat. We climb into the back seat and drive over the bumpy, rutted roads to the highway to Huamantla and the bullring.

We make arrangements for Tomaso to take us back to the ranch after the bullfight.  He’ll meet us at the Café del Torero, near the town centre. And, yes, he can find his way back.

All of Huamantla are out in the street this afternoon; a river of people is flowing toward the huge iron gates that are the entrance to the Plaza de Toros. Friends call across the street to each other; taxis disgorge more people into the middle of the road; parents carry or drag their small children; young guys give each other high fives.  It has rained recently and the cobblestoned entrance is glistening.

We keep with this jostling, good-natured crowd making its way to the Plaza, where vendors sell miniature bulls, banderillas and small sequined suits of lights to hang over the dashboard of your car.  Sellers of food shout their wares: tortillas, cotton candy, donuts, beer and potato chips powered with red chili dust.

By the Patio de Caudrillas, the toreros are waiting, twirling capes, and trying a few passes, exchanging fragmented conversation and jokes. And there is Chema, a slim 19 year-old, handsome in his traje corto – – grey trousers, black bolero jacket and white shirt, the “country” uniform of the torero, less formal than the suit of lights, and usually worn in festival fights such as this one.

Chema is happy to see us but nervous and angry.  He has been placed first in the program, being without an agent, someone to bargain and haggle on his behalf. Thus he is the recipient of the uncoveted position of being first on the program.  Nothing to be done now but wait until the signal to enter the passageway that leads into the ring.

It’s time. A seat has been saved for me next to Chema’s mother, Montsi, whose three sons, (Chema is the eldest) are all novice bullfighters.  Her husband too is an ex-bullfighter. She herself is a teacher in an elementary school. She’s a warm and cheerful woman, sharing her bag of chips with me, and although she speaks no English and I not much Spanish, we find a rapport.

“Are you anxious?” I ask her (what a stupid question, I think, but it’s something my Spanish allows me to say.)

“On the outside, no. On the inside, yes.”

“I understand perfectly,” I say.

The traditional fanfare sounds. The gates open, and the six novilleros walk into the ring, capes slung over their shoulders, finally coming to a stop and bowing ceremonially to the judge, before taking their place behind the barrera.  Except for Chema, who waits for his bull, the first of the afternoon, to come out, his adversary and partner in this dance.

His face wears a scowl. He is still angry and resentful.  Any parent of a teenager would recognize this expression.  It says: “It’s not fair!” Chema is to be sure an elegant and accomplished figure but in truth he’s a boy, who has not learned, but no doubt will learn, the necessity of “presenting himself” – – to practice the theatricality and showiness inherent in the Fiesta Brava. To strut; to seem undaunted; to project alegria or joy in the fight; to assume the arrogance of the brave, no matter what he’s feeling inside. He’s going to have to learn to assume this persona, if he wants to become a star performer in the extraordinary spectacle that is the Fiesta Brava.

Retired high school English teacher Brenda Tipps joined OLLI-USF in 2007. Brenda has been a longtime member of the Great Books discussion group, has taught many courses for OLLI including Readers Theater, poetry and drama.



3 Replies to “Mexico–Novillada at Huamantla”

  1. I love the way you write, especially when you read it to us. Can’t wait to read the drama of the fight, how Chema performed under deadly pressure and even the tragic ending. The photos didn’t show for me.

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