The most distinctive sporting event in Mexico is the bullfight, and the Plaza Mexico in Mexico City—seating 50,000 persons—is the largest bull ring in the world. Each Sunday at precisely 4 p.m., from early November until late March, corridor—bullfights in which professional matadors participate—are held there. (In the off-season novilleros, young men who hope to become matadors, appear at the Plaza Mexico, also on Sunday.) Occasionally fights are held in the 32,000-seat Plaza El Toreo, just outside the federal district, but there is no fixed schedule.
How to get tickets
The Sunday program is announced in newspaper advertisements on the preceding Thursday. Disregard the hotel clerk or guide who assures you that "the fight is a complete sellout but because of my good connections I was able to get hold of these seats"—and then offers them at 10 times the box office price. The fight is seldom sold out before Sunday. Go to the box office at Izazaga 23 (just 10 blocks south of the original Sanborns, down the Avenida San Juan de Letr�n). At the window labeled Sombra Numerados (numbered seats in the shade) ask for a program (ticket sellers speak English), study the seating map and indicate the location you want. Pay the exact list price of the ticket. (Be sure to keep the program. There are no announcements, in Spanish or English, at a corrida—only bugle calls to signal the various stages.) If you delay until Sunday and find the fight really is sold out, you can take a chance with a scalper outside the Plaza. Choose one who is standing near a policeman. Pay just 20% above list price; if the scalper objects, walk toward the policeman. The argument will end abruptly.
What seats to buy
The bull ring is divided into two main sections, sol y sombra, sun and shade. Don't buy seats in the sun; these are akin to bleacher seats in Brooklyn, and you are likely to be doused with beer or sprinkled with red, black and blue powder tossed by the uninhibited local aficionados. The first seven rows of shady barrera (ringside) seats cost around $5 to $6 but usually are sold out for the season. The next nine rows, known as first tendido, are the best bet and can be had at box office for around $3. The second tendido (next 23 rows) is priced at about $2 but still gives an excellent view because of the Plaza's steep pitch.
The day of the fight
Plan to arrive at the Plaza by 3:30; as everyone knows, the bullfight starts on time. The Plaza is located about 20 minutes south of the downtown area, just off the Avenida de Los Insurgentes. If you have your own car, there is ample parking space. Cab fare will be 6 to 9 pesos. Your ticket has a tunnel number for direct access to your seat. En route, buy a cushion (50 centavos, or about a nickel); if an usher directs you, tip him 2 pesos (15�).
Once seated, you will become aware that the spectacle already is before your eyes: The great bowl is filling; hundreds of smartly dressed se�oritas are in evidence; high above you the band is playing one snappy paso doble (two-step) after another. The crowd is gay, but if this is your first bullfight you may feel apprehensive. Remind yourself that to the Spanish world a bullfight is not a fight between a man and a bull in which one emerges the winner but rather a test of man's courage and grace against the raw bravery of a wild beast. Face the fact that you are going to see a good deal of blood. The picador's lance does not cause the bull great pain, but it makes him bleed heavily. Do not be surprised if—when the time comes for the kill—the bull does not die instantly. Forget what you have heard about the agony of the horses; these days they are almost never gored, thanks to elaborate suits of padding (right). Finally, don't be cowed (or bulled) by the technical details which clutter up most of the pocket guides to the corrida. To be able to identify all the passes (or to locate the "terrain of the bull") one must see 100 bullfights; there will be time enough for the fine points when—and if—the corrida has touched off an emotional spark and made you want to come again.
The prelude and the cast
On the dot of 4 a bugle sounds. As the band plays Cielo Andaluz, the traditional two-step that opens most bullfights in Mexico, a municipal official dressed in 16th century costume brings a parade of participants across the ring from the "gate of honor" to the judges' box. The three matadors, each of whom will be expected to kill two bulls, follow the horseman. As they approach, the senior matador will be on your right, the next in seniority on your left, and the youngest in the middle. All are dressed in the silk and gold traje de luces, or "suit of lights." Each is followed by his cuadrilla, a group of helpers which includes the banderilleros and the picadors, the latter on padded, blindfolded horses. Trailing the procession are the monosabios (wise monkeys), who assist the picadors and keep the ring cleaned up.
The fight itself
As the parade breaks up, the picadors withdraw and the matadors and their cuadrillas enter the alley between the barrera seats and the shoulder-high wall that encloses the ring. From your sombra seat you will see the first matador take his place below you in the burladero de matadores, a shielded slot in the ring wall big enough for a man to squeeze through but too small for a bull. Across the ring, to the left of the gate of honor, is the puerta de los sustos, the "gate of fright," from which the bull will emerge. To the left and right of the burladero de matadores are other burladeros, in which the helpers wait, holding large rose and yellow fighting capes.
A second bugle call sounds, the gate swings wide, and into the arena comes the bull. Remember, this is no ordinary bull but an animal raised wild on a great ranch, at least 4 years old and weighing 900 pounds or more, bred of fighting stock, armed with the instinct to kill anything in his path. The helpers are the first to challenge him. They lure him back and forth across the ring with their capes. The matador, still secure in his burladero, watches intently, studying the bull to see if he hooks to the right or to the left, high or low.