You know how it is. You’ve been around the bulls for years. You’ve seen all of the important figuras perform. You’ve cheered and you’ve boo’ed. You’ve waved your white hankie, plenty of times. You’ve debated with others, concerning who did what which each bull, and who was the most honest or artistic.
You’ve put up with all of the B.S., the horn shaving, the presenting of underage animals, the politics, the scandals. And, you’ve just about reached the point of saying, “To hell with it. I’m gonna take up golf and leave La Fiesta behind, for others to become addicted, and to enjoy, and to cause them to suffer and to weep, as I have, for so very long. I’ve had enough. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of all of it.”
And, then, out of the blue, you see some new, young torero whose talent is so deep, he re-inspires you, reinvigorates you, and renews your afición. He touches your soul. And, those were the emotions that I felt, last Sunday, when Paco Riquelme, of Murcia, Spain, made his debut in Fred Renk’s Plaza Santa Maria, in Santa Elena, Texas.
I guess that I shouldn’t refer to Riquelme as young, at least by taurine standards. He’s 28 years of age. He has been toreando for the past six years. And, he hopes to receive his alternativa in La Plaza Mexico, the next winter season.
Riquelme doesn’t rely on courage, although he certainly has plenty of it. He calls upon his computer-like mind, his great intelligence, and his lean, lithe body, to combine elements that are reminiscent of José Tomas, Enrique Ponce, Curro Romero, and even Riquelme’s own personal hero, Manolete, into a style of toreo that is uniquely his and stunning to behold.
He makes time stand still.
His temple is breathtaking. It looks as if he and the bull are working in slow motion. His cape work is sublime, as he gains ground with each lance, finally doing a simple, yet spectacular remate, in the center of the arena.
With the muleta, his mandar is supreme, as he figures out the problems that his bulls present, and provides the proper solution. He runs the hand, beautifully, on either side. On the left, he manipulates the muleta with only his fingertips, gracefully receiving, directing, and exiting each pass with supreme domination. He never seems to be in trouble.
His remates and his adornments are honorable and honest. His sword work, at least in the symbolic kills that are the cornerstone of the presentations in the Santa Maria, is effortless. One feels that he has just watched a great, classical ballet.
His facial expression never changes; he doesn’t smile. He says that smiling is something to do after the work is done.
You don’t learn this type of toreo; you’re born with it. And, Paco Riquelme was born to be a torero. As Matador David Renk put it, after the fight, “He’s something very special. If he can make it, without being sidetracked by the monsters along the bullfight trail, he’s going to be a torero who will leave an indelible mark.”
Riquelme performed, Sunday, in a mano-a-mano with Matador Gerardo Rodriguez “El Giro,” from Monterrey. And, if one is going to be a Mexican torero, where is a better place to be born than in Monterrey, the cradle of Mexican toreo?
Rodriquez is known to be rather an exciting, gutsy, almost tremendistic, torero. But, he, too, seemed to be hypnotized by Riquelme, last Sunday, and his work reflected a depth of artistry that many fans didn’t think him to be capable. He offered two, fine performances that were worthy of any first class plaza de toros, much more a common little plaza, in the middle of the Texas bush country. He ran the hand well. He dominated. He thrilled the large crowd, mostly Winter Texans, that was present.
I need not go into the details. There is no reason to examine the efforts of each matador, except to say that they met no nonsense bulls that presented deadly challenges, bulls that could have benefited by a picador, and the toreros overcame the problems that they offered in honorable, proper terms, and left everybody present in a state of magnificent exhaustion. Even Rodriquez’ assistant, novillero Antonio Guajardo, did some fine quites and demonstrated that, he too, will one day be a fine Matador.
For certain, there have been other afternoons in the Santa Maria in which more numerous trophies have been awarded. But, in terms of taurine honesty and genuine, sincere artistry, none could compare to that which was demonstrated by Paco Riquelme and Gerardo Rodriguez, last Sunday.
At the end of the day, each torero had cut four ears, and the large crowd in attendance knew that they had witnessed something special. And, indeed, they had. Indeed, they had.