Death In August

My life has turned kind of surreal here….a combination of the heat, the subtle Mexican humor in everything, and the ambiguity of our whole project….

We still don’t know if we’re going to shoot this film in October or November or early next year. The producers in New York are waiting to hear from the funders, who are waiting to here from the financiers, who are waiting to hear from the Very Famous Actor who might take one of the lead roles.

Meanwhile Becky (the line producer) and I continue our work on the ground, doing casting sessions and writing schedules and meeting people….everyone in Nuevo Laredo is so excited to have a movie being filmed in their city…..and although we are very clear with folks that everything is still up in the air, we still don’t want to disappoint them, even as we know it’s out of our hands.

And if all that weren’t enough, Becky is on the phone with New York every day wrangling the post-production on yet another film, her last project which was called….if you can believe this….Uncertainty. No kidding. So she’ll be at her computer in the kitchen in the morning with a big file open on the screen called “Uncertainty.”

Then three days ago a horde of butterflies descended upon the city and have been flying in clouds around the streets and swirling in trees and into our apartment. Like I mentioned it’s all very dreamy and surreal.

Which is not to say we’re not enjoying ourselves, even under a sun that at times seems like it is hanging exactly over Nuevo Laredo, oozing heat like a great big open sore.

We’re gradually exploring and getting to know this place, this small piece of northern Mexico, and we are very grateful we weren’t posted to Laredo Texas, the sister city on the other side of the river, which at one point was being discussed as a possibility. Having made a couple of trips over there we found it terribly boring, a bunch of concrete sprawl and freeways and very little good food. At least over here in N.L. we can get huitlacoche quesadillas and micheladas….

Also, over this side, there’s bullfighting. And last weekend, needing some R&R, we went to one.

Yeah I know, I feel a little like a certain macho writer writing about this but hell, it was amazing. Everything you’ve aways heard about them is true: bullfights are gory and disgusting and beautiful and ritualistic and macho as hell and homoerotic as heck. I would say it makes NASCAR look like a tea party except that the toreros are wearing PINK SOCKS along with yellow pants that are tighter than a San Francisco hipsterboy’s. And they’re being cheered on by 3,000 roaring drunk spectators with their children. It’s all a family affair here, even when you get mugged, but that’s another story.

I did’t want to run through a whole breakdown of all the phases of a bullfight, but I don’t know what else to say except to do that plus post some pictures. So basically it goes something like this:

A massive bull is sent galloping into a wooden ring surrounded by aluminum bleachers where it runs around and lets all of us spectators drink in the sight of several hundred pounds of testosterone-fueled bovine madness careening around in circles and kicking up dirt, while we all clutch our micheladas in styrofoam cups and ponder the fact that we are rather glad it isn’t us that has to step into that ring very soon.

This is all accompanied by a live brass band crashing away up in the stands to add to the drama. This is all, every bit of it, about nothing more or less than serious drama.

After we’ve all watched the bull charge around for a bit two men bearing spears ride armored horses into the ring and try to stick the horned animal in the folds of its neck so it won’t be able to raise its head too high and gouge anyone too easily.

It does however attempt to gouge the horses through their armor, lifting them off the ground while pushing them against the wood walls of the ring while the crowd roars. The back of the bull’s neck is now bleeding bright red from spear wounds as the horsemen exit stage right and three men in goudy outfits and silly hats enter stage left, and two of them try and distract the bull with pink and black capes while the third tries to run up in front of it and land two short flowered javelins into its back. When he succeeds there is more cheering from the crowd and now the bull runs after the other two men with two colored sticks protruding from its bleeding back.

Then the third most well-known chapter of this spectacle-to-end-all-spectacles begins, and the guy in the aforementioned pink socks and yellow tights enters the ring and begins taunting the by now brutally exhausted and wounded bull.

He leads it with his cape, guiding it in half-circles around him while gracefully spinning and bowing….often turning his back on the animal to wave to the crowd while the furious and deadly bull pants and bleeds five feet behind him.

This goes on for a long time, the stylized circling of the matador and the bull and the cape and the crowd which screams “Ole!” each time the man in the ring successfully sends the animal around him. It’s all incredibly ritualistic, predetermined, and absolutely mesmerizing.

Then the matador goes to the side of the ring and an assistant passes him a three-foot steel sword, which he wraps in his cape and uses it to again lead the bull in a few turns.

With the bull facing him he stands on his toes in another well-practiced and delicate dance-move, and reaches over the animal’s horns and with one graceful motion sinks the blade between the bull’s shoulders all the way to the hilt, piercing its aorta.

The great big hairy black cow shudders and vomits a black stream of blood onto the sand. Then it collapses. The crowd goes absolutely mad as one of the earlier men with the funny hats who stabbed it with the flowery javelins approaches the fallen bull and draws a short knife from his belt. He bends down and calmly stabs it in the brain with a dry crunch, to ensure that it has expired.

A truck drives into the ring, ties the dead beast’s legs to the bumper and drags it around the ring and out. The crowd repairs to the restrooms and snack bars. The three small children sitting in front of us keep chasing the balloons their parents bought for them.

We watch all of this completely enthralled. I admit it.

But for sheer talent, nothing beats the next show:

They let loose a bull, as per normal. But instead of the armored horsemen, a guy gallops out of the gate riding a huge dappled grey charger, with no armor. He’s dressed like an 18th century landowner: a tricorn hat and bright green coat with squared tails and lace cuffs, and he rides like a master.

This decked-out rider chases the bull around the ring with a spear, and then the bull changes it up and begins chasing him. He’s an incredible rider on a very strong horse and the bull comes breathlessly close to gouging them at times. Then the horseman manages to stab the bull while riding and get away, although by this point I’ve noticed that the bull’s horns look like they’ve been blunted for this particular tournament.

Again and again he charges the bull and pokes it with his spear and then with the flowered javelins and manages to ride away on his horse, and each time the audience howls. The brass band pounds in the stands, and the rider loses his ridiculous tricorn hat to the sand and stabs the bull another time.

He eventually grabs a sword from the retainers at the edge of the ring and rides to meet the wounded bull, whom he approaches carefully. Then again he charges and stabs, burying the blade into the bull’s back as his equally foppish predessesor did, only we and the scads of spectators around us are much more impressed at seeing it done from horseback. The stands shake in approval as everyone goes for more micheladas and the rider in his idiotic green coat circles the ring blowing kisses to his adoring fans.

This whole sequence happens several times, and so by the end of the afternoon we have seen I think six bulls die by sword and spear.

I’m not sure what the point of all this is, maybe it has no point other than grotesque entertainment. It’s just like Lucha Libre or drag racing, sheer spectacle.

Of course, in the latter two pastimes they don’t kill six animals each time they perform.

Maybe there’s a bit of the lure of danger, the attraction of seeing someone actually risk life and limb. Like a highwire artist, or a gladiator duel. Maybe we like to see the blood and the knives and know it’s not us out there participating.


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