Magazine article Insight on the News

Matador Moves from `Massacre' to Moment of Grace in One Day: Expected to Be the Star of the Bullfights in Arles, France, El Zotoluco Instead Was Almost Booed out of the Arena but, Given a Second Chance, Earned Redemption and Admiration. (Sports)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Matador Moves from `Massacre' to Moment of Grace in One Day: Expected to Be the Star of the Bullfights in Arles, France, El Zotoluco Instead Was Almost Booed out of the Arena but, Given a Second Chance, Earned Redemption and Admiration. (Sports)

Article excerpt

For El Zotoluco, known to his mother as Eulalio Lopez, it was supposed to be a triumphant return to Arles, where at last year's Feria du Riz he performed with gusto and grace against the fighting bulls of the Miura ranch, the oldest and most prestigious finca in Spain. Instead, it was a massacre. His first fight was so bad that the crowd stood up to boo him from the arena, and booed him again when he came back for his second bull.

He claimed top billing as a matador and hailed from Mexico, giving him an exotic flair at the annual bullfight, which is held in the excellently restored Roman amphitheater in this otherwise undistinguished southern French town.

The fight impresarios managed to ward off a legal challenge from the hard-left "animal-rights" crowd, which tried to convince a court in Carcassonne recently to ban all traditional bullfights in France. But the biggest challenge to the final day of this year's three-day feria in Arles was an act of God: torrential rain which, just one hour before the opening trumpets were supposed to sound on Sunday, Sept. 8, drenched the city, emptied the streets of revelers and food vendors, silenced the itinerant mariachi bands and filled the tiny canal saddled to the disheveled main street with gray muck. (Floods killed six people in the area that evening and the next day).

Seating at bullfight arenas varies in prestige (and price) according to whether you sit in the sun or the shade. It's been that way since the Romans first built the arenas that the French have restored. But today, more prized were cheap blue ponchos, available for $3, and the proximity of the huge stone porticos where the nonafficionados took refuge from the periodic gusts of rain.

But it wasn't the threat of rain that spooked El Zotoluco when the first bull charged out of the gates at the far end of the arena. The top-billed torero and his entire cuadrilla (the team of junior matadors, banderilleros and sword carriers that accompanies him) scattered like scared monkeys, taunting the dark brown bull with a quick fling of their yellow and pink capes then running as fast as fear could carry them for the gates.

The bull was good: Despite his weight--600 kilos (1,323 pounds) of lean muscle--he was fast and his movements were quick. He was a noble bull. His charge was frank, focused and direct. He never swung his head around as some bulls do when they come in close, a gesture of apparent distraction that can be deadly to the unsuspecting. In one of his first passes, he tore away El Zotoluco's cape and tossed it up on his horns. When the picador entered the arena the bull charged from midring, slamming the armored horse like a freight train, nearly knocking the picador to the ground. Two of the banderilleros swerved away as the bull charged them and managed to get in just one of the long festooned banderillas each.

Perhaps it was the recollection of another Miura bull that had ripped apart his friend and fellow matador Juan Jose Padilla in Pamplona last year that spooked El Zotoluco. Going in for the kill on his second bull at the Fiesta de San Fermin, Padilla caught the horn and was opened up from his neck to the base of his spine. The encornada severed his esophagus like a razor and finished by smashing two vertebrae in his lower spine like a hammer. It was the type of wounding you never forget.

El Zotoluco never came close to this bull in the final faena, when the torero works his magic with the red muleta held stiff by the killing sword. His rough, hurried veronicas, instead of flourishing backward gracefully with the bull following him around, all ended in flight. His shoulder-high pechos were so distant from the bull that the audience jeered and catcalled. His performance screamed fear, not mastery, of the bull.

But the worst was the final death ritual. El Zotoluco faced off with the bull, then made a hurried thrust from the side as it charged toward him, getting the long sword in two-thirds of the way. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.