For the purposes of my attempt to describe Poala San Roman’s accomplishment and honest reporting, I must first write generally about the killing of the bull.
John Fulton points out that historically, say in the time of the artist Francisco Goya, cape work by the matador with the bull was much more perfunctory. The cape was simply used to set up the bull quickly for the kill, all of which took little time comparatively speaking.
In the Twentieth Century flourishes with the cape became enhanced in Acts One and Two of the drama with the capote, the large dress cape, and in Act Three with the muleta, the smaller red serge cape. It was Juan Belmonte who first started to do this cape work very close to the bull producing a unity of motion of the matador, the cape, and the bull that I can only describe as visually stunning when it is done well. Other famous matadors invented other moves with the cape, some of which are named after their inventors.
John Fulton goes on to say that there are many tricks that can be employed by the matador in order to produce the illusion that the matador is working more closely to the bull with the cape than he really is. He then flatly states that there is one thing, however, in which no tricks can be employed, the killing of the bull.
Without getting lost in the details of the thing, I will say that the matador must lean in over the horns of the bull and place the sword in a target between the shoulder blades about the size of a silver dollar. He does this by using the muleta with his left hand to lure the bull’s head down with a sweeping motion back across the front of his body. At the same time he leans in over the bull’s right horn and crossing over with his right hand places the sword.
Fulton describes this extremely difficult maneuver as akin to patting one’s head and rubbing one’s stomach at the same time. The matador fails at this upwards of 50% of the time on his first try. Because there are no tricks available, everyone in the arena knows immediately whether it has been done well or badly. When done well, the sword goes in to the hilt like a hot knife into butter.
On the other hand it is during this maneuver that the matador is in the most danger of being gored.
The most beautiful cape work earlier is quite forgotten if the matador must struggle with the kill. In the worst instances I can only describe such a struggle as disgusting. The crowd can be as brutal as any at a fútbol game or at an opera in La Scala. One hates one’s self for having come to witness it. By the same token when it is done well, the crowd engages in an orgy of adoration. I do not know how any sensate human being can watch this without becoming emotionally engaged . . . intensely.
There are those who do without, however. I personally put them in one of two categories. First, there are those in whom none of this registers in any real way for whatever reason, and second, there are the drunks. As Christ said, “The drunks you will always have with you.”
Nonetheless, it is in this sense that the killing of the bull remains the point of the whole affair.
I will close this part by setting out a portion of an interview with John Fulton in the year before his death in which he bluntly states his own view of the crowd, which relates to the discussion undertaken in the last comments on my 7 October entry.
Matador, I said (always until the day he dies, a bullfighter is addressed that way), is it true that all bullfighters live in continual fear?
Yes, both before and after the fight. But we are not afraid of the bull. We are afraid we will fail.
But you must have some fear in the arena itself.
True, but our pride and even our anger push it away.
Pride and anger?” I asked.
Pride because we are watched by other matadors as well as our cuadrilla [team of assistants]. Anger because sometimes we get mad at the bull if he is a bad bull.
And the crowd?
They do not matter. Most of them do not understand. All they want is blood. We must satisfy ourselves, not the crowd.
There may be some valiant souls who continue to visit this blog after having read the first two installments and now this installment–the third and final one, according to the plan. They must be asking at this point, “But I thought you were going to write specifically of Poala San Roman’s performance on Sunday?”
I can only reply that this series of three parts has now been magically transformed into four parts. I wrote at the beginning that I wanted to make the part devoted to her totally about her. Obviously, I cannot put that here now. I assure you that I am working on it.
Tomorrow. I promise.
Édouard Manet, 1865