November 24, 1999
To borrow a phrase from Richard Nixon, I'd like to make several points perfectly clear.
First, the performance of Julián López "El Juli," Nov. 21, in Plaza Monumental de Tijuana was magnificent. This teenage sensation is a wonderful torero, a matador for the ages and this history books. And most of the faena that he gave to the last bull of the day was complete in all respects, save one: he should have killed the animal.
Next, let all aficionados remember that the indulto is an honor reserved exclusively for the extraordinary bull that demonstrate extraordinary bravery, nobility, and strength on the sand, especially against the picadors' horses. But, it is an honor granted to the bull, not its matador, or in this particular case, its no-matador.
And, finally, it is never the right of the matador to petition for the indulto.
Now, let's review the events of the day. Aficionados came from throughout the Americas to enjoy the special camaraderie and ambiance of a very special afternoon, the prelude to a unique, post-season corrida, featuring Uriel Moreno "El Zapata," César Castañeda, and El Juli. More than half of the cars in the parking lot bore California license plates. Nevertheless, the turnout did not approach the anticipated sell-out. This reporter estimated the crowd at 12,00 - 15,000, several thousand short of being a NO HAY BILLETES afternoon.
The unfortunate key to the afternoon was a disappointing herd of bulls from Doña Celia Barbabosa, a ranch which, in past years, has offered some outstanding corridas, but which, this time, presented a heard that resulted in an afternoon that could have been a lot better.
A big afternoon would have been a pluma in El Zapata's montera, and he desperately attempted to realize same. But, his notoriously poor efforts at the supreme moment denied at least a pair of ears.
He opened the afternoon with the 450-kilo "A Jijo," a negro bregado, which the matador greeted with a pair of kneeling largas cambiadas, followed by a set of grand Verónicas, cargando la suerte practically all the way to Ensenada.
After a good pic, el Zapata placed banderillas in excellent fashion, and then delivered a letter-perfect faena to a bull that was filled with evil intentions. Moreno worked both sides--but was superior on the right--while demonstrating great intelligence, courage, and class. A good sword would probably have brought an ear, but El Zapata missed the first entry, then buried the second with a good shot in the rincón. The matador was politely applauded by a crowd that considered his and Castañeda's work to be mere foreplay to one matador who they had really come to see.
With his second toro, "Bonito," a 490 kilo berrendo, el Zapata was elegant and graceful with the cape. But, the pic was placed far in front of where it should have been. Thus, the animal carried its head dangerously high, throughout all three acts.
After placing banderillas, very well, El Zapata offered an admirable faena, demonstrating great temple and dominio, as he ran the hand in classical fashion. He worked intelligently, cleverly extricating himself from several potentially disastrous situations. But, once again, he lost at least one ear, and possibly tow, when his sword failed him. He also received a dangerous glope in the left eye, from a banderilla that he should have removed. Again, he was applauded. To that point, he was the superior lidiador of the day.
If El Zapata ever learns to kill, he can look forward to a successful career.
This torero-on-the-rise presented pretty, but too rapid, Verónicas to the 475-kil "Califorñano." After one pic, Castañeda placed banderillas in fine fashion, the developed a faena that had many good elements, but was rather disconnected. He suffered a strong cogida that was his own fault, as are most cogidas. He was caught, again, as he delivered the sword. Following a pair of descabello thrusts, the matador was granted a turn of the ring.
His second bull, "Metiche," at 465 kilos was a black, to which César again delivered rapid Verónicas. He exchanged banderillas placements with El Juli, which resulted in two errors. Each placed two pair, but César failed to ask Plaza Judge Jaime Gonzalez for permission to place the extra pair. The other error occurred when El Juli missed placing a pair, inspiring a reaction that somewhat resembled that of a spoiled brat. That anger was still evident at the beginning of his work with the last bull of the day.
Meanwhile Castañeda worked hard in the third act, but couldn't encourage an honest attack from a bull that had the personality of a slug. When his honest efforts weren't rewarded, the matador resorted to several series of kneeling muletazos, hereafter to be known as "Lewiskis," which, of course drove the majority of the crowd into a frenzy. It was his excellent sword placement that brought him the ear.
This was the matador who had attracted the crowd, and he seemed anxious to please, although neither of his bulls was willing to contribute to a publicity campaign that already rivals that of any American political candidate.
He opened with admirable cape work to "Fenomeno," a 455-kilo animal that accepted only one, light pic. After placing banderillas in his exciting style, el Juli designed a faena that had fine moments and which accommodated the problems presented by the bull. After missing the first sword, El Juli dropped the bull with a great, second entry. Although he could easily have taken a vuelta, El Juli saluted the crowd and settled for applause. Olé!
It was getting late, chilly, and dark. The natives were definitely restless. That which they had seen was not bad, but it was far from the great afternoon that they had so anxiously anticipated. So, when the 450-kilo Milenio entered the ring, there was great anticipation that it might save the day. And, in their minds, their was to be granted. But, what price, wish fulfillment?
Milenio was the most stupid of a stupid heard, and El Juli was rather disdainful in his opening cape lances to it. His lances weren't bad; they just weren't' inspired. And, a pay day of $100,000 for one afternoon's work should provide plenty of inspiration.
After only one pic, El Juli changed the act, then placed banderillas with ease. But, at the beginning of his faena, it seemed apparent that he did not intend to knock himself out. That was, until his father called him to the barera and chewed out his Julimanic fanny. He said, among other things, "Just kill it. It's obvious that you're not in the mood to try to do anything with it!"
So, probably more to spite his dad than to cause any of the aficionados to be grateful for having paid such outrageous prices for their tickets, El Juli jumped all over the animal. To both sides, he ran the hand long, long, loooooonng, dominating in grand style and demonstrating that he is, indeed, a wonderful torero. He did 360-degree muletazos. Insisting that the animal respond to his demands, El Juli rocked the plaza. The cheers and the music competed with each other.
A good sword placement would have most certainly brought ears and tail, but that would have, of course, demanded that he risk losing everything and chance injury by killing with a good placement. And, el Juli was not willing to take that risk. He began petitioning for the indulto. When Jaime Gonzalez refused to grant it, the matador continued, delivering the message to the crowd that it could pressure Gonzalez to grant the life-sparing indulto.
Twice more, Gonzalez told the matador to kill his bull. And, twice more, El Juli refused to accept the decision. The bull's attack became easier and easier, but it was obvious to experienced aficionados that such wasn't due to bravery or nobility. Stupidity, you see, is not one of the criterion for consideration of the indulto.
Finally, when the stands became a sea of waving handkerchiefs, Gonzalez stood, showed his hankie, granting the indulto, then gave a motion resembling that of King Herod. "I wash my hands of this."
The crowd went crackers as El Juli rode upon the wave of his visceral, but ultimately deceptive triumph. It an anticlimactic to an otherwise climactic performance, tantamount to Nureyev, completing a ballet by juggling chainsaws.
Later, the ganadera, and even Juli's own father admitted that the indulto was not deserved. Doña Celia Barbabosa declined to have the bull returned to her ranch. It was ordered to be destroyed.
And, this, the curtain was lowered on Tijuana, 1999, while revealing the truth that great artistic ability doesn't always go mano-a-mano with great personal integrity.