Mexican Guide

MALCOLM LAPRADE, familiar to radio listeners for many years as “The Man from Cook’s,” has traveled in all parts of the world. In this article he gives a Mexican view of a sport which most Americans deplore.



LADIES and gentlemen, I hope you have enjoyed your luncheon here at Xochimilco and that you have not been disappointed in these Floating Gardens which we call our Mexican Venice. You are now about to return to Mexico City and the Plaza de Toros. I shall accompany you, but in the excitement of the bullfights I shall not be able to answer the questions you may wish to ask; therefore, with your permission, I shall now speak to you for a few moments.

“Many Americans do not approve of the bullfight. They say it is not a sport because the bull cannot win, and it is brutal to kill him in this way. Thousands of cattle are killed every day in the stockyards but you do not think much about this cruelty; it is necessary to provide meat. Everyone likes a good beefsteak, no? But the bull that is killed in the arena also provides the beefsteak, and we Mexicans say that he dies with more honor than those others in the stockyards. These are not tame bulls which you will see in the Plaza de Toros. They are wild beasts. It is their nature to fight, and those that fight with great courage receive the applause equally with the men who face them. Often you will hear the crowd shout ‘Bravo, Toro!’ to honor a noble bull.

“It is true that the bull must be killed in the end even if he escapes the sword of the matador. No bull is permitted to fight twice. But do not imagine that this is not also a dangerous game for the man. Of the famous matadors of history many have been killed in the ring and all have been wounded time and again. This can happen even to the most skillful toreros. Here in Mexico City we are still sad for the death of Manolete, who was killed a little more than a year ago in Spain. He was our idol, perhaps the greatest artist since Belmonte, and yet he lost his life in the ring. It is for this reason that the bullfight is to us the most emotional of all sports. We Mexicans love daring. It gladdens our hearts to see a brave man gamble with death.

“The Americans who come to Mexico like those things which are old and picturesque, so I must tell you that the bullfight is of very ancient origin. When the Moors introduced it to Spain in the twelfth century it was to encourage the use of warlike weapons. In the beginning the bull was attacked by a man armed only with a short javelin. Later on, the noble knights of Spain would go into the arena on horseback and fight the bull with a lance. On great occasions even a king or prince would take part in the contest to show his bravery to the people. In time it became the custom to kill the bull with a sword because this required the greatest daring.

“The bullfight of today retains these old-time traditions. There is the matador, what you in America call the star of the show. He is the espada, the man with the sword. You will see two picadors, mounted men who carry the long wooden poles with a short tip of steel. The picadors take the place of the knights of those old days. Then there are two or three banderilleros, men who go on foot and place the darts, which we call banderillas, in the bull’s shoulders. These men are like the Moors who fought with javelins. So there you have the persons who will face each bull.

“In the beginning there is the grand procession of all the toreros who will take part in the six fights of this afternoon. This is very picturesque. You will also enjoy the music of the band between the fights, for it is always very gay. Everything moves so quickly that each fight is finished in fifteen minutes. We say in Mexico that everything else is for mañana, and only the bullfight is on time.

“A bullfight is a little drama in four acts. Many exercises take place in a short time, but I shall mention only a few of those which are most beautiful to watch.

“First you will admire the bull when he dashes out into the sunlight of the arena, filled with the desire for battle. You will think that no man would dare to face him, and you will be happy that the barrier around the ring is so high that he cannot jump over it and attack the spectators. But see now how the banderilleros, carrying only their big capes, run to meet this bull and make him charge here and there. This is very important, for while they do this, the matador stands at the barrier observing every movement. He must determine if the bull charges straight, and if the bull favors one horn or the other when he hooks a cape.

“Now the matador will wave the other men away and go in himself to play the bull. He will go slowly, for it is undignified for a matador to run. He will present his cape and force the bull to charge again and again. And you will see how he appears to wind the bull around his body with those butterfly movements of the cape which are called verónicas. This is a very graceful exercise named in honor of St. Veronica, who presented her handkerchief to the Saviour, holding it, so we are told, with both hands as the matador holds his cape. Seven times he will bring the bull around as he wishes, always very close in; then to show that he is the master, the matador will turn his back upon those sharp horns and walk slowly to the barrier.

“Now it is the turn of the picadors. Each of these must strike the bull’s shoulder muscle with the point of the lance when the bull charges the horse. This is a dangerous exercise, for often a strong bull will toss the horse and rider, and the picador, who wears heavy steel plates on his legs, cannot rise quickly from the ground to avoid a charge. But when this happens it is very interesting to see how the other men with the capes come quickly to the rescue, drawing the bull away so the picador will not be gored. Today, as you will see, the sides of the horses are heavily padded to protect them against the bull’s horns. For this reason horses are not so often killed as before. But if you watch the men with the capes, you will not think of the horses, which in any case are very old and have not long to live.

“The banderilleros, who come next, are very interesting to see. Each one in turn will go to the center of the ring and stand with his arms raised, holding the long darts in his finger tips and calling to the bull like this: ‘Hue, hue, Toro!’ Then the bull will charge, the banderillero will run directly towards him, and at the last moment leap gracefully aside, placing the two darts in the bull’s shoulders. The banderillero must be very skillful and quick to achieve this, yet it is not so dangerous as the final turn of the matador.

“We Mexicans say that the last act is the most beautiful and emotional part of the little drama because it is the true test of courage for the man and the beast. Already the bull has gained experience in the ring; he is more wary, more determined, yet the matador must go in very close or he cannot kill the bull with a thrust of the sword.

“Now I must explain to you that with the sword alone the matador could not conquer the bull. It is with the muleta, which is a red cloth attached to a short stick of wood, that he will control the bull and prepare for the death stroke. He must force the bull to charge always at the muleta and follow its movements. It is magnificent to see how still the matador will remain, not moving his feet or body as he brings the bull in so close that the horns will even touch the embroidery on his jacket or breeches. But watch the muleta, see how it controls the bull’s head to raise or lower it so the sword may pass over the horns and between the shoulder blades.

“Many times you will think that the matador must surely be gored, but if the bull is good this will not happen. A cowardly bull is very unpleasant to watch, for he will not respond to the movements of the muleta and fight bravely. He will not continue to charge straight because he is afraid, then he is very difficult to kill, and no one can enjoy it. It is sometimes what we call butchery, without grace or beauty. But do not worry. You will not see this, for I have been told that all of the bulls for today are good. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I hope my little explanation of the bullfight has pleased you. Our cars are waiting, and we shall now go to the Plaza de Toros.”