Deaths in the afternoon
An 11-year-old breaking a bullfighting record is no surprise in a world where maestros start young
In the spring of 1999 a matador called Julián López Escobar – El Juli – was gored by a bull called Ostrero in the ring at Seville. The afternoon had been cinematic, almost implausible, in its drama – El Juli, a young and already much-admired torero, takes risk after risk until he is gored, drops to the sand and is helped up by Enrique Ponce Martinez – Spain‘s leading matador and his partner for the afternoon’s corrida.
El Juli, bleeding from his thigh, shrugs off the maestro’s assistance while his support team, the cuadrilla, lure the bull away. At this point El Juli allegedly tells Ponce: “If you want to help me, get them out of here. I have a bull to kill.”
It was the stuff of legend, a wounded man staring down a wounded animal before the kill is made with a single thrust. Both stood one swaying moment more then fell. The bull was dragged from the ring, the man was carried shoulder-high to the infirmary amid an unheard-of tumult. I was there to see it because I was researching a book on bullfighting, and I lingered with the rest of the crowd outside la Maestranza bull ring, waiting for news of El Juli’s injuries. And in the crowd? Boys. So many boys. Boys lost in the solemn and passionate seriousness that only children and lovers seem able to sustain. One child standing close to me, he was probably seven or eight, sported a thin pigtail – a coleta – the mark of a torero – the mark of a dream.