Whereupon, there being no Estrellas around, the pair went at each other in a whirlwind of fists, and suddenly it occurred to the observer that this is just what old boxing writers of the bareknuckle era meant by "milling." No attempt at defense on either side, only a furious, rhythmic two-fisted onslaught, as nonstop, as mechanically flailing as, well, a mill.
Nothing of this, though, impressed bystanders Natividad Perez and Jesus Mati, who are three or four years senior to the milling pair.
"These two are well-known street fighters." Natividad sniffed.
"I am not in a cuadro," Jesus said. "We are not making them anymore. Our trainer said we must not fight in the street."
"I hate to fight in the street," said Natividad. "These boys fight too hard, like they are fighting to kill."
And, indeed, Perfecto had an inch-long scar over his right eye. A boxing injury? "Nah," Perfecto said. "My cousin threw a rock at me."
By then the fury of the younger boys had spent itself, and together, chattering happily, they continued on to Celia's corral. There a ragged hemp rope was passed around some trees to form a ring, and the yard was cleared of pigs, turkeys and ducklings. Celia turned out to be a lined, battered-looking woman ("My God, the fight she got herself into last week!" said Dilsa the nurse). She received a grand total of $2 in pass-the-hat proceeds for the promotion.
In minutes the stockade became a whirl of activity. Tiny boys, unmindful of the action in the ring, milled, sparred and flung themselves Kamikaze-style at a woebegone bag that hung from a mango tree and slowly leaked its stuffing. Jesus and Natividad, the purists, worked out solemnly, one jogging rhythmically on an old tire, the other skipping with a frayed and knotted rope.
In the ring, two youths, 17 or 18 years old, fought with some style. Cutting in now and then to instruct them was Alesandro Herrera, Palenque's official trainer, the man who is most against cuadros and street fighting. By Palenque standards, he was dressed in the height of fashion: embroidered shirt, pressed pants, lace-up shoes. "Tiempo!" he called suddenly, and the fighters instantly quit.
Until recently, de Friedemann said, rounds had been signaled by someone whacking an old tin can with a stick. And she had noticed something else new: the young boxers had appeared wearing protective headgear. The headgear was fourth-hand, to be sure, but it represented yet another stage in the evolution of Palenque's fighting tradition from guerrilla warfare to the sophistication of modern boxing.