This page is taken from La Divisa 140. It is reproduced by the kind permission of the author, Mike Penning, and the Editor of La Divisa, Jock Richardson.

Desde Mexico XII
Temporada Grande
2000/2001 Part 2

Mike Penning

Disillusionment Again

After the fourth novillo of the afternoon, I left the plaza totally disillusioned. Novillo? This like the others was a becerro. It had horns but absolutely no trapío and would look more at home grazing in the fields than in the plaza de toros. The Juez de la plaza must have seen my disdain as he held up a card with "arrastre lento" on it. So, this becerro with a face which didn’t have an ounce of malice in it is dragged out, slowly, feet first, minus one ear. After a nothing faena, the first sword accidentally kills very well and out come the hankies. This was Israel Tellez of Guanajuato, who at twenty has been around a while. The other two were the hopelessly ugly Adan Mejía from Aguascalientes and the totally inept Miguel Jaén from Zacatecas. The novillada was the opener for the prestigious Feria Internacional del Caballo de Texcoco.

Why is it that they are promoting so much rubbish? They should take six or eight of the best (I’ll tell them which ones) give them intensive training and simply concentrate on them, replacing those that do not make the grade. They can only fill half the plaza with the top three Mexicans, but they insist on having two Mexicans and a foreigner with six bulls. Of course they need to sort out the bulls, but without a single star attraction the situation is hopeless. Actually, nearly a quarter plaza was not bad considering the modest cartel.

The papers only worsened the situation. "Israel Tellez Triunfador" they claimed. He cut an ear in front of a large crowd in the Texcoco opener. Difficult novillos did not allow chances for anybody, hence the greater the success. The other two tried hard against difficult odds: Adan Mejía with much bravery and Miguel Jaén showing "buenas maneras". All three attempted their obligatory series on the left and then went back to the comfort of the right hand, which the Mexican public prefer because of the fluidity that the sword in the muleta allows. Forget the profundidad, who needs it? Actually, that was why I got so annoyed with Tellez. The noble little becerro, which left the ring backwards but slowly, charged beautifully on the left but not so well on the right and this little grinning ape just carried on with his well rehearsed act. Don’t feel too smug in Europe. The other great piece of news was that Tellez is going to Spain, where he has a contract in Vistalegre (lunchtime novilladas in San Isidro) and Toledo (which probably means the province of). Go and see what you are missing.

I shouldn’t be upset or angry. I haven’t contributed anything; but I have been to a lot of novilladas and seen most of the novilleros. There is very little promise but there are a number of names much more worthwhile than these three. I’m disappointed really. After nearly three years of raising my hopes, I don’t think that they are going to develop a world class figura in my life-time.

I started my season at a novillada in Acapulco. That was on 7 January. All seats were generales so we sat sobre capotes with the few aficionados who bothered to turn up. Federico Pizarro was behind us, so we had a chat about his career. He is from the same family as my ex-boss’s ex-husband, whose Plaza Mexico abono I had been using during my first year in Mexico. Everybody knows that he lacks ambition and somehow coasts along in this sea of mediocrity, like so many others, making some sort of a living on 25 corridas a year. He did actually go to Spain a few years ago, ran out of money and came home again. Why did he bother? He is good looking and can make an easy living in the small towns in the Republic.

There were four novillos of Santa María Gallardo, one each for El Pausao, Atanasio Velázquez, Mauro Lizardo and Jorge González–all seen before except the local lad González who is unlikely to be seen again. El Pausao lacks any taurine sense and shows absolutely nothing. He is taking his alternativa over Easter and hopefully that is the last we shall hear from him. Atanasio Velázquez was the hope of the afternoon. He and Mario Zulaica shared the Telmex prize last year. The oficio he showed that afternoon in October was not repeated, nor was his good cape work. Finally Mauro Lizardo, cousin of Manolo Lizardo, about whom I once wrote, was the better of the two. He worked hard, running round to place himself in front of the animal, grinning as he went by. There were no passes of course and much jerky muleta; all was finished off by a low, but effective, kill. He, too, was the triunfador, cutting an ear to much applause. Even Federico was clapping.

I think that the killing is the key, too much so by far, here. The ones that get to the top are the totally awful who know how to kill. The toreros with star quality are not given the time to learn to kill and generally fall by the wayside. Is that really true? I would like to get some reports back from Spain about Ignacio Garibay or any of the Mexicans currently chancing their arms on the other side of the Charco. As a novillero, Garibay had a good capote and muleta. He killed well and, indeed was a real promise. I saw him last spring in Alpedrete and El Molar, both small towns north of Madrid which usually have a novillada or corrida on the Saturday rejoneo days in Las Ventas during San Isidro. He was more or less proficient but nothing else. In the Plaza Mexico he was different again. He cut trophies and pleased a number of the more serious critics; but I thought that he was wasting everybody’s time. The capework was excellent. In one of the photographs, I confused him with Morante for a moment! His muleta was good to start with, starting off on one knee and then moving into a series of derechazos, the obligatory series on the left, and then he played to the gallery. He killed relatively well but had let his animals get away. Had he gone straight on to the left like José Tomás or Morante de la Puebla, we may have seen something much more profundo, something of quality. Pleasing the Plaza Mexico takes much less doing than pleasing Las Ventas (unless you use the descabello), in fact I can’t think of a less discerning public. Alicante? No, they are quite good. Málaga? Perhaps, with its mixture of afición and tourists.

The start of the 2001 Telmex Feria Nacional del Novillero on 25 March, at the La Florecita ring in Satelite was just as disappointing: Manolo Lizardo, Atanasio Velázquez and our Mario Zulaica, with novillos from Huichapan. Mario had been successful recently in Guadalajara and Aguascalientes. I was hoping to see more oficio and the development of his arte. He actually pulled off some good naturals, staying on the left for several series but on both novillos, which were not straightforward, he killed poorly. He had come over to say hello before the novillada but I had to dig him out afterwards. I told him that the naturales were worth more than the price of the ticket. His expression told me that he had liked them as well. Atanasio Velázquez looked as if he was taking control and then lost it. His capote was good with both animals and his serious approach appreciated by the recognisable faces in the crowd, but that was it. The owners of the same serious faces were soon clapping Manolo Lizardo, having left their afición in the Plaza Mexico. The applause was to recognise that this clown, covered in blood (his and the bull’s) had been tossed so many times and landed on his feet still grinning. Not being able to distinguish between bravery and stupidity, the crowd loved it. The low sword did not matter, down went the novillo and the tendidos were awash with free white handkerchiefs. After the drunken Juez incident in La Mexico in February, our judge of the day correctly awarded one ear, much to the annoyance of the crowd. Janice and I clapped him but this lone appreciation was not heard, let alone understood. Probably thought we were Gringos. Our friend Colorado was clapping his little hands off. He had moved from seats near us to sit next to the middle-aged blond who sits on the other side of the railing to us in the Plaza Mexico and round to the right of us in the Arroyo. The half bottle of tequila he smuggled in would be empty by then. He only claps anybody taking a vuelta because he likes to throw his jacket in. Lizardo actually caught it and threw it back. It is usually left for the peones, or worse, scraped off the sand by one of the monosabios. Today, he had left it for me to shout "regular, regular, regular".

Temporada Grande–Second half

We did not attend the last corridas of the original 12 listed. It would have taken a great deal of energy attending the 1 January cartel of El Pana, El Chaval, Chilolo and Mari Paz Vega facing six bulls of La Mision and two of Carranco, but after a heavy New Year’s Eve party, it was simply impossible. I did drag myself in front of the TV to watch it and to see poor Mari Paz lying in front of the toril pointing to her twisted leg. It had been bent side-ways as the toro stumbled over her. This was the fourth bull and El Chaval had been gored on the third leaving El Pana and Chilolo in a mano a mano. They somehow killed four each, with Pana hearing three avisos on his second, which had gored Chaval, and Chilolo cutting an ear from his second, which had broken Mari Paz Vega’s leg.

Corrida number 12 was on 7 January, whilst we were enjoying Acapulco. I really have to avoid seeing Rafael Ortega’s anti-taurino antics, let alone those of El Cordobés. Jerónimo, who substituted for Oscar San Román, is worth a second look. The bulls were from Vistahermosa plus the El Cordobés regalo from Julio Delgado. Ortega cut an ear off each (great picture of him in 6T6 doing a chicuelina, there is enough room for a London bus to slip between him and the toro). El Cordobés took a vuelta on the toro de regalo and Jerónimo received saludos y palmas.

An El Juli natural, Plaza Mexico 14 January 2001

We managed to acquire barreras for El Juli on Sunday 14 January, in the first full plaza of the temporada so far. I have mentioned the announcement of the death of Julio Robles and El Juli’s brindis al cielo. He was very good indeed. He appears to want to continue with the whole repertoire, as he should, but with a much more mature approach (at eighteen years of age). There were several protests from what can only be the reventa, but, amazingly, the TV commentator mentioned that it would seem that Las Ventas is not as serious as the Monumental de Mexico because they give out ears after a descabello. "Dios mío", when did these people land on our planet and from what little world? It is unlikely that more than five faenas have been performed at this level during the whole history of the plaza. Oscar San Román was totally out-classed, letting an important opportunity slip by. The Bernaldo de Quiroz bulls were very good but he could not manage anything except boredom, which he exaggerated by buying the sobrero. Ignacio Garibay was at least in control, as he is of his destiny. He cut two ears from his first whilst still not getting any good naturales going but at least he was decisive (Diego Puerta hardly ever went on the left but that was in the 60s). Let’s hope that Garibay’s career can be kick-started again. He needs to take his confirmation in Las Ventas on 6 May, extremely seriously. It could make him. If not, he will join Pizarro and the rest of the also-rans. Or perhaps, more likely, he will become another Rafael Ortega, proficient but superficial.

On Saturday 20 January we passed by the plaza early to buy our tickets for Sunday and having secured 3rd row barreras de sol, we planned to set off for Pachuca. The cartel of Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza and El Juli, with Zotoluco and Rafael Ortega was going to be a sell-out and there was no way of ordering tickets in advance. As we went back to the car, a young couple who had a couple of tickets for Pachuca approached us. Pachuca, where is that? El Juli, he is good isn’t he? We were assured that it would be a good afternoon and bought them at face value. The seats were more than half way up in sol, as you can see in page 9 of 6T6 No 344 (I’m in a green shirt) but in the event, there were hardly any entradas left. The last numbered seats, which were someway behind us, and a few generales in the gradas were all that were available.

It was a great afternoon of 7 Bernaldo de Quiroz bulls again and one of San Martín. Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza was incredible with his second, using his first team of horses with Cagancho sliding sideways between toro and barrera and Chicuelo spinning to perform a remate. The toro stood watching with disbelief. He killed first go and the ears and tail were his. El Juli was not to be outdone. He produced a good performance on his first, cutting one ear and another tremendous piece of toreo on his second, cutting two ears and a tail. Zotoluco cut two ears from his first, as did Rafael Ortega. Ortega’s second was indultado, so he lost a possible two more ears. It was a really great afternoon and only the second full plaza in Pachuca in the past few months. The lesson is there for all to see. Juriquilla–full, Plaza Mexico–full and now Pachuca–full, which is normally much less than a quarter full. Put on a first rate cartel, double the prices and fill the ring.

Sunday 21 January and we were happily eating sopitas and drinking beer, still re-living yesterday’s corrida. Another good day today would really be a tonic for my afición. We left the El Ruedo bar at 3:45 p. m. on our way to our third row barrera sol seats anticipating the toreo of Manuel Caballero and Eugenio de Mora but with not much anticipation for Mariano Ramos and none for Rafael Ortega. These long corridas are one answer to the 50% Mexican regulation, but they can go on far too long, especially when the sobrero is purchased. Surely the answer is two Mexicans and a Spaniard one week and two Spaniards and a Mexican the following week, or perhaps, three Mexicans one week and three Spaniards the next. That would save a lot of money for some of us.

Ramos was well accepted again by the public but only because of what he was or might have been. Unlike veteran Spaniards who make a come-back, the Mexicans do not change their style or even try to develop it to today’s higher level because their toreo has not developed and is not at a higher level. Rafael Ortega did not even convince the public today except for a couple of very fine pairs of banderillas. To be fair, the bulls of Teófilo Gómez were overweight and soon ran out of steam. Manuel Caballero worked very hard to try and get his first to go, which he did after a very spectacular tossing. He cut an ear but could not repeat the performance on his second.

We didn’t see Eugenio de Mora’s first appearance earlier in the season but the afición were very pleased with what he did. Apparently, he produced a very good faena after good cape work, which was mentioned again only last week when the Aguascalientes cartels were issued. This was not his day, running out of ideas on both of his non-charging toros. There was no bronca, just silence.

Curro Rivera's last vuelta in Plaza Mexico, carried by his sons Curro and Rafael, 29 January 2001

El Juli was back again the following week-end, with new-boy Antonio Bricio, who has spent so much time in Spain as a novillero that I had not seen him. He actually ended the year as top novillero in Spain in terms of numbers of novilladas fought and had taken his alternativa in Guadalajara a few weeks before this confirmación. The padrino was the loveable becerrista, Eloy Cavazos. Before the corrida a Mass was celebrated in memory of Curro Rivera, who had died of a heart attack a few days earlier whilst fighting at a tienta. He wasn’t one of my toreros by any means, too cocky by far but at the age of 48 it is a sad loss that such good looking and fit individual should pop-off so easily. He was nine years younger than me and I have never been as fit as he was when he died. Later, when we entered the plaza, his two sons Francisco and Rafael, were doing a vuelta with dad’s ashes. Having seen Rafael in the plaza as a novillero I wouldn’t bet on him taking many more vueltas in the Coso de Insurgentes. En Paz Descanses Curro.

The toros of Fernando de la Mora did not provide great opportunities for anybody. Eloy had a grey afternoon but was no worse than usual. I think that the crowd had simply become fed up with him. A proportion of the Mexican public treated El Juli very badly. They should not be so jealous of this sensational Gachupin. After all, they helped to develop him and it is their fault that the Mexican toreros are so mediocre. They have to be more "exigente" and stop supporting lousy bullfighters. El Juli was rewarded with saludos on his first and the same on his second but he had provided another interesting afternoon. I found it difficult to judge the work of Antonio Bricio. What he did he did well, but somehow did not appear to be trying too hard on this important day of his confirmación de alternativa. He could become a very good matador de toros but will need time to develop his oficio, know-how and style. Good advice and plenty of practice is the only answer. He is far ahead of the run of the mill toreros and could be their best, unless Ignacio Garibay wakes up. He should go back to Spain again this summer to help develop what he has already learnt. For the record, his results were, saludos, aviso con silencio and finally ovación on the toro de regalo, which is extremely commonplace here.

Fin de Semana Muy Taurino

With the 55th Anniversary Corrida being celebrated on Monday 5 February, another corrida was arranged for Sunday 4 February. "Pollo" Torreslanda did not miss the trick and organised a "Corrida de Arte" in Juriquilla on Saturday 3 February, giving us a real feast of bulls over a long week-end. We set off to Juriquilla via the Hotel María Cristina to pick up Rose and George Prebil. They were waiting for their Plaza Mexico tickets to arrive, so we took the advantage of sitting with Dolores Merino and the Great White Hunter, John Hoffert. I offered to help them eat their breakfasts, and what could they say, even the gentleman friend with them passed his rolls over. I knew that I recognised him, it was the great Alfredo Leal. He was interesting to talk to, not having time for any of the current crop of toreros. Not even the Gachupines like Ponce and El Juli? He wasn’t too impressed. OK everything is dynamic, it changes, it develops. You have to be pretty old to appreciate the toreo produced by Leal’s contemporaries. He may have been something special; I knew of him first because his pasadoble was on the first toros record I ever purchased.

We had to be in Juriquilla before 2:00 p. m. to be able to collect our tickets at the sales caseta before they moved off to the plaza, but the helpful Marta Nogales had one set of tickets for us and another for Rose and George. It’s a drag transferring the money in advance; but sending a copy of the stamped transfer receipt by fax does produce the goods. Sadly it is a reflection of the Mexican persona. Nobody trusts anybody because they know that they themselves will lie or cheat as well if they can get away with it. With the business out of the way, we were able to visit the Mision Juriquilla, which is a super hotel where all of los taurinos stay: nice pool; buffet breakfast on the terrace or lunch in the barbacoa area which is sheltered and virtually surrounded by the pool. We had a well deserved cold beer but saved the lunch for the marquee area under palm trees some 100 metres from the beautifully constructed Plaza de Toros Provincia Juriquilla. Paradise indeed, with the smell of meat being barbequed it was difficult to gently sip one’s tequila and pick at the various botones, which represented the first course in the all-in menu. The steaks, chicken and chorizo were all delicious with nopales (cactus) and grilled scallions. The only disappointment was the jelly for pudding. But it was time to make our way across the well cut grass to the plaza. We had third row barreras in sol at a face value of US$70 (£50) but this small, but enlarged plaza was paying for two ring fillers in Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza and Enrique Ponce. In addition there was possibly the best Mexico can offer in Miguel Espinosa "Armillita Chico" and Antonio Bricio. The bulls were of San Martín with two from Vista Hermosa for Pablo Hermoso.

This was to be yet another great afternoon. Pablo Hermosa gave us his complete repertoire to cut two ears on his first and miss another two on his second for poor killing. Enrique looked relaxed and produced one of his superior performances on his first, a weak animal, which he taught to stand up and follow, cutting two deserved ears. His second was dangerous and complicated but he did it all correctly except the kill for a vuelta. Armillita showed us what a great artist he can be with his second but lost all trophies with the kill. Antonio Bricio looked good and showed that he was developing oficio but was unable to put all of his qualities together. We must hope that it happens eventually. After eight bulls we arrived home late and certainly did not need another meal. We had another eight bulls to look forward to next day and again on Monday. This was going to be exhausting.

Enrique Ponce in a natural in Juriquilla on the way to cutting two ears

We arrived at the Plaza Mexico early to meet up with Hugh Hosch who had organised tickets for his group from the USA and ourselves. Our usual contact did actually come through for the Sunday but was unable to secure anything for the anniversary on the Monday. Hugh was dishing out tickets left right and centre. He had done it again. We slipped off to the El Ruedo and the others went to the Taquito, which we would enjoy with them after the corrida. The Reyes Huerta bulls were toreable but little Eloy Cavazos could only manage pitos y bronca to finish off a Temporada Grande of three appearances cutting one protested ear. Had he been found out at last or has he lost the "spark"? Armillita Chico didn’t let me down. In front of my faithless friends from over the border, he produced a most artistic performance, cutting an ear on his first. Sadly, Manuel Caballero’s bad luck with the bulls he drew followed him through to the end of the Season but the other 50% of foreign toreros cut an ear on horseback. Andy Cartagena was at his best, but that is not to be confused with the art and majesty of Pablo Hermosos de Hermosa. His work was entertaining and not boring like most rejoneo.

The big day arrived at last. I could not take the smile off my face as the band started up La Macarena and El Juli, Enrique Ponce, El Zotoluco and Ignacio Garibay started the paseíllo. The toros were from Xajay and acceptable although perhaps a little anovillados. The paseíllo was enough for Zotoluco to be awarded two ears on each toro. It wasn’t until his second that the protests started and when El Juli’s second was awarded the slow arrastre, everybody could see that the Juez, Salvador Ochoa, was totally drunk. He had made sure that El Zotoluco could be seen to be better than El Juli who could only manage the one ear from his magnificent second toro, having also cut one from his first. Enrique had another bad day, as did Garibay. Enrique’s bache is not consistent, and neither is his toreo, which has always been very consistent in the past. One can’t really complain as he now only averages one excellent performance in two. El Juli has really matured. His knowledge of the bulls is immense. I just heard that he will not get a Victorino in the Prensa but he’ll be facing them in Bilbao and he has the Guardiolas in Las Ventas. My money is on him being able to solve the problems these duros will present.

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