July 2, 1999
I was 1949. Bullfighting was still politically correct. Manolete had been killed only two years earlier. Mexico was in a Golden Age, with the likes of Armillita, el Soldado, Carlos Arruza, Rafael Rodriguez, Silverio Pérez, and so many others, tearing up the crowds. It was a grand time. Movie stars were always present in their front row, shady side seats in Tijuana's only bullring, El Toreo. The unofficial bullfight headquarters was La Sierra Motel, which, a couple of hours before the paseillo, was filled with aficionados, especially those from north of the border.
Within that setting of great taurine passion, a small group of aficionados established the first Peña taurina in the United States, Los Aficionados de Los Angeles. That event would inspire the creating of aficionados clubs across the United States. Eventually, they would unite under the auspices of the National Association of Taurine Clubs (USA), which has annual conventions, throughout the planet of the bulls.
Everything seemed to roll in fast forward mode. Eventually, Major López Hurtado gave birth to Playas de Tijuana. He even built the road, leading to his Beautiful Bullring by The Sea, a plaza that attracted the greats from throughout the bullfight world, and which, a quarter century later, would still be known as the "new" ring. The wonderful Antonio Ordoñez, the spectacular Manuel Benitez "El Cordobés," and so many others, came to torear in Tijuana. Bulls of Piedras Negras, Mimiahuapan, Pastejé, and Tequisquiápan were favorites of the crowds, which were mostly gringos. Those were the days, my friends.
And, last Saturday evening, in The Quiet Cannon a prestigious restaurant and banquet center on the Montebello Golf Course Los Aficionados de Los Angeles celebrated its 50th year. Aficionados from taurine clubs throughout California, and celebrants from taurine clubs in New York, Chicago, and other cities, came together to celebrate and pay their respect to the longevity of the oldest bullfight club in the United States.
Author/artist Barnaby Conrad and his wife, Mary, lent extra prestige to the evening. Even the great Mexican taurine journalist Addiel "El Pollo" Bolio addressed the assembly of at least 150 people.
It was an exceptionally well-planned event, which had been put together by Los Aficionados President Jimee Petrich and many other volunteers. They designed a wonderful evening, emceed by Art Diaz, of reflections on the past. A video production of still photos, music and commentary, spotlighting the personalities of the past half century, many of whom, sadly, are no longer among us. Directed by Petrich and produced by Mario O. Garcia, of Speed Video Duplication (SVD), in Los Angeles, it was a beautiful retrospective that brought tears to this reporter's eyes. At the end, anybody who wanted to offer his/her own comments about Los Aficionados and bullfight history was invited to do so. They just don't make nostalgia like they used to.
The next day, many of those who had attended the party arrived or more correct, some of them staggered, in various states of la cruda to El Toreo de Tijuana, for a corrida de toros that would prove to be far less than memorable.
It was a day of the unknowns, an unknown ranch and three matadores who were known only to their immediate families. The bulls of San Pablo were a handful of trouble for Alfredo Lomelí, Humberto Flores, and Iñaki Elias. Only one of the sextet qualified as a decent animal. The others presented a wide variety of serious problems, most of which could have been overcome by toreros of greater experience. It was not an afternoon of great bulls and perfect lídias.
The first, a 490-kilo black, was filled with sentido, but Lomelí handled it well enough, with mostly horn-to-horn work. With his second toro, the only good one of the bunch, a pretty black, with small horns and a brave, noble attack, the matador opened with decent, but wide Verónicas. Following three honest pics, Lomelí offered an excellent set of Gaoneras.
The faena was classy, although it ended with a tanda of far too many high passes that inspired only the sunny side villamelones. The matador suffered a cogida, from which he escaped with only some very painful golpes. He did place an excellent sword, but the two ears that were cut were quite generous. One ear, for the sword, was deserved; the other was decorated in gift wrap.
Juan Belmonte once said, "Como torea es como es." (How a man fights is how he is.) By that definition, one could assume that Humberto Flores might find better luck as a professional wrestler. I had never seen this kid, but if the cheap tremendismo that he showed was indicative of his talents, I don't care to ever see him again. His biggest accomplishment was some animated facial expressions, interspersed with incompetent muletazos.
He opened to the third bull with a pair of faroles de rodillas to the 500-kilos Riojono. He followed with some shaky Verónicas. Without a remate (an unforgivable sin), he segwayed to some sloppy Chicuelinas. Riojono was terribly far-sighted. But, even so, it had a proper lídia. However, flores didn't come close to demonstrating that he even knows what the expression means. It certainly doesn't mean, if all else fails, resort to cheap tremendísmo, which is what he did. After his incompetent faena, the matador encountered difficulties with the sword, mostly by bailing out at the last second, and finally killed, on the third try.
His second bull could have been an interesting story, and for a matador of greater integrity and artistic talent, it might have translated to triumph. Pepin weighed 535 kilos and seemed to have been the offspring of a Texas Longhorn mother and an aurochs father. It was filled with evil notions, but it failed to offer any consistency in its attack. And, although it attacked the picadores with gusto, it was manso.
Flores was clueless. His cape work was terrible, and in his razzle dazzle, catch-as-catch-can faena, he and the bull seemed to be working in different zip codes. Flores put plenty of distance between himself and those evil horns. To be kind, one might conclude that Flores had great respect for the bull. To be truthful, one might conclude that he was terrified of it.
The third matador, Iñaki Elias, showed some genuine class, but just couldn't find the right prescription to triumph. His first bull, a black with big horns, had something wrong with its neck. Its attack was erratic and unpredictable. Elias offered some very courageous muletazos and suffered a hard tossing. Had he killed well, he might have won an ear. Instead, he heard an aviso.
His second bull, which did not appear to be en puntas, was a cárdeno oscuro which the picadores turned into machaca. There was nothing left in the third act. The only good thing about the performance that followed is that it was the last of a lackluster afternoon.
This coming July will see a herd from Fernando de la Mora for Mauricio Portillo, Fernando Ochoa, and a newcomer, Jeronimo, the grandson of the late Jorge "Ranchero" Aguilar. This is a fine card that should attract a large crowd.
On June 20, in Sevilla, novillero José Garcia "El Doctor" suffered a very grave goring, while entering to kill. The wound had two trajectories, one of 30 centimeters and one of 40, in the rectum. His condition continues to be critical.