He is the enemy. He is a bull—big, perhaps 1,000 pounds of lightning speed and smashing power. The whole top of his neck is a tossing muscle capable of flinging a horse into the air. The muscle flexes and humps tight when he is angry. He comes trotting out of his dark box into the bright sunlight of the ring, head up, looking nervously about. He charges and the sand sings under his feet.
In Mexico City now the high season for killing this bull is at hand. All the campaigning in the country's 200 provincial bull rings—in one of which, Tijuana, Photographer Mark Kauffman took the brilliant series of bullfight pictures shown on the following pages—comes to a grand climax in the big, 50,000-seat Plaza Mexico, the largest bull ring in the world. The young bulls, fought here from spring until December, have been swept away. The plaza has been spruced up; the statues of the famous bullfighters of the past have been properly burnished; the band has been practicing new trumpet trills to go with the traditional Spanish two-steps. And for the season the impresario, Dr. Alfonso Gaona, a good optometrist turned much better bullfight promoter, has assembled some of the best of the world's current crop of officially invested Killers of Bulls:
C�zar Gir�n, the cheerful, tousle-headed Venezuelan, will be there. He failed to impress Mexico last year but since then he has cut 109 ears, 39 tails and 10 hoofs from 108 bulls in Spanish plazas, collected a whopping $60,000 for just three afternoons' work in oil-rich Caracas, and become about the hottest thing in the bull ring.
Present also will be Rafael Rodriguez, the young Mexican. He is shown on the cover taking a bull past his exposed body in a right-hand muleta, pass, and on pages 36 and 37, killing volapi� (in running flight). He is very knowledgeable, very cool, very brave, a student of Fermin Espinosa (Armillita Chico), who once fought bulls with a cold, almost mathematical precision. In his great days Armillita could mark a small cross in the sand far from the bull, hold up three fingers in a signal to the crowd, and then in three passes bring the bull swirling and snorting to a stop with his front foot planted firmly on the little cross.
Another to appear will be Amado Ramirez, the phenomenon of Mexico's recent novice season. He makes his passes with a stylized, classical grace that catches crowds by the throat, and if he proves, now that he has become a full-fledged bullfighter, that he can manage the bigger bulls he may, everything in this world being possible, turn out to be great.
Don Alfonso will pay these young men, and the other stars now gathered in Mexico, from $4,000 to $6,000 per appearance, and since theirs is a year-round business, carried on in countries in which income taxes are matters for gentle laughter, they take home very large sums indeed—Manolete netted $250,000 yearly for his Mexico City appearances alone—larger than those of any other professional athlete in the world. The bullfighter who survives at or near the top for eight or 10 years can expect to buy his own castle in Spain or Mexico's elegant Jalisco and settle in very comfortably.
Don Alfonso has also searched the breeding farms for brave bulls, offering prices of from $500 to $1,000 per animal. He takes the biggest and hottest-tempered beasts he can find, buying them up in braces of eight—six for fighting and two for spares. Don Alfonso and his customers are finicky; they are never completely satisfied by his bull-shopping tours. Sometimes Don Alfonso has even been known to fight small animals himself in privacy just to see what it feels like when horns come close. He once was gored while engaging in this pastime, and since few promoters are ever gored, morale among the bullfighters rose hilariously.
For the past three years Don Alfonso has received no bulls from La Punta bull-breeding ranch, Mexico's biggest, whose bulls are shown fighting on these pages. La Punta's peppery owners, Don Paco and Don Pepe Madrazo, are furiously angry with the impresario for selling the reservations to their traditional seats in Plaza Mexico to former U.S. Ambassador Bill O'Dwyer and others, and they won't sell him any bulls. Even so, from now until the end of April six large and indignant animals from one ranch or another will be present and ceremoniously slain at Plaza Mexico every Sunday afternoon, beginning promptly at 4 o'clock.
THE CLASSIC "THIRDS"
The Spanish historian, Don Jos� Maria de Cossio, has written: "The festival of bullfighting is not merely a pastime, debatable from moral, pedagogical, esthetic and sentimental points of view but [is] a fact of profound meaning in the Spanish way of life and possessing roots so deep and extensive that there is no social or artistic activity, from the language to industry or commerce, where traces of it cannot be found." Anyone who has ever watched a Spanish businessman flourish his pen like a sword over a contract that puts his whole fortune at stake, or had his speeding automobile breathtakingly "passed across the chest" by a small boy with a bit of a rag, will understand exactly what Don Jos� Maria means. Wherever the Spanish writ once ran there are people, not the majority of people but many people, who passionately want to see bulls killed beautifully in the classic "thirds" of the ring—the Third of the Pics, the Third of the Banderillas and the Third of Death.