This was to be
his last fight for a couple of months. He and his wife were going on a vacation
to Germany. He was always nervous about a fight that was to be his last for a
while. If you had a succession of fights ahead of you, there was no use fearing
the one at hand for who knew what lay down the line. But here the tendency was
strong to think, well, if I get through this one I'll be all right for a
stretch of time.
In a corner of
the room were boxes of Pampers, the disposable baby diapers. A visitor might
think that these were of some use to the bullfighter, for stanching a wound or
padding. But, no, their use was strictly as intended. They were cheaper on the
United States side and Armillita's wife always asked him to pick up a supply
when he was fighting on the border. She never went to his fights. He said,
"Sweethearts like very much for you to be a matador. Wives never do. You
are no longer the brave, glamorous bullfighter then; you are a
He was not
nervous yet. But some people came to visit and he was glad to see them. One, an
American tourist, asked if he was afraid. He answered honestly,
"Siempre—always." Did he feel sorry for the bulls sometimes? He said
that the man must never have seen a fighting bull. You felt love, affection,
respect for a good bull, but never pity or sympathy. He tried to explain that
in his halting English. The man didn't understand how he could love the bull
and still kill him. He wanted to know how Armillita felt when the bull was
dead. The matador smiled, largely, and said, "Contented."
He didn't try to
explain bullfighting any further for he knew that was impossible if someone did
not feel it inside himself. Bullfighting was making art, and art in the face of
death made it great art. But some just saw the blood and the mistreatment of
the bull. They thought it quite all right for a steer to be killed very
ungracefully for beef at 18 months by being hit on the head with a
sledgehammer, but they found it cruel for a fighting bull who had lived at
least 2� years more than the steer to be killed with a sword. There was no
explanation for it, and Armillita no longer tried, even though the subject came
up fairly frequently because he fought so many fights on the border.
He had been a
bullfighter for many years, beginning in his teens under the tutelage of his
father and practicing on cows at their ranch. Since then he estimated he had
killed somewhere around 1,200 bulls. He had fought all over, in Mexico, Spain,
France, South America. There were not many years remaining, he expected, even
with good luck—which was something a bullfighter had to count on.
At a few minutes
to four Chato came and shooed the visitors out of the small room. Armillita
went to the bathroom and showered and washed his hair. Then he returned and sat
on the bed and cleaned his fingernails. He was meticulous about being
completely clean when he went into the ring.
began with him sitting on the side of the bed with a towel wrapped around his
middle. First came the long white undersocks. They were silk and required a lot
of smoothing before they were exactly right. He secured them over his knees
with elastic bands. Next he shucked the towel and pulled on the white linen
pantaloons, the style of which is almost as old as the bullfight itself. These
tied at the knees with strings. Next came the pink outer stockings, also silk.
Except for the pants, which contained stretch material, the suit of lights
remained traditional in style and fabric. But even with the stretch material,
the pants were not easy to put on properly; it was a difficult job. To get them
fitted in the crotch a rolled-up towel was used. Armillita held one end and
Chato the other. The bullfighter straddled the towel and they both tugged and
pulled. The pants in particular had to be skintight. A bullfighter wanted
nothing loose that a horn might accidentally catch. Many people thought the
pants needed to be tight in order to plainly show the bullfighter's cojones,
but this was something dreamed up by tourists.
Next came the
ruffled shirt and then the sash wrapped snugly around the waist. Then the thin
tie and the vest of the heavy, brocaded jacket. This was pulled tight by inner
snaps and Armillita had to hold his breath like a woman getting into a corset
before Chato could arrange the fastenings.
shoes, like ballet slippers, and the black hat with lead in it, and they were
ready to go. The friend had carried down the equipment, the swords and capes
and muletas, and put them in the trunk of the car. Armillita paused to say a
prayer in front of his portable chapel, going to his knees awkwardly in the
tight pants. Chato stood just behind the matador, praying too. Then Armillita
made the sign of the cross, kissed his thumb, and they left.
was very hot and Armillita began sweating almost immediately. The car did not
have air conditioning and it was hotter still on the road to the bullring. The
suit of lights weighed a little more than 12 pounds. It had cost about $600 and
he would use it, barring accidents, for a dozen corridas. Special-class
matadors paid more for theirs and used them for only six or eight fights. When
he had to buy a new one Armillita would sell his old suit to a banderillero or
novice bullfighter for one or two hundred dollars.