August 15, 2002

8/15/02 Hacinas

Matadores at the Plaza de Toros

Oh, 11am came way too soon this morning. Poor Nati had sleep in her eyes when José took me to class. Because of the festival, I haven't been able to study much, so Amparo decided to concentrate on pronunciation. I have a great difficulty with the trill of the 'rr'. As far as my Spanish goes, when Amparo speaks normally, I seem to understand about a big portion, as long as I realize what subject we're talking about. But when I speak to others, especially new people I'm introduced to, I get nervous and can't seem to understand or respond to anything.

This morning was also the "Vuelta de Burgos", a single day professional bicycle race that rode through Salas twice. From Amparo's balcony I was able to watch the cyclists, and the whole support motorcaid, zoom through the city streets. It didn't start or finish in town because a city must pay for that privilage. Santi says that the city is still paying for a race run several years ago. Todays race ran up and down the mountains in the surrounding area. A U.S.Postal Team member placed 2nd in the final standings.

After class, José picked me up and we headed over to Nati's mother's house for lunch with the whole family. Nati's twin brothers, Oscar and Sergio were there along with everyone I met yesterday at Javier's birthday lunch. Just like most mothers with a new guest at the table, whenever my plate became empty, another serving was piled on it even though no one else was having seconds. Maybe later I can describe all the foods that are eaten here in Spain. Today was paella, saffron rice with shrimp and small clams, and desert was a type of ice cream you slice and place between sugar wafers. Mmmm good!

We hurried to the plaza where we joined the other peñas for a parade to the bullfighting arena across town. The weather today hasn't been great, with rain putting a damper on the whole day's festivities. On our way, we ended up sharing a buildings overhang with the festival queen and her attendents whe the rain got too heavy.

Another dancing parade to the Plaza del Toros

The bullfighting arena was less than half-full because of the bad weather. The two bullfighters would each face two different bulls, total for the day four. After the bull is released into the ring, several novillos, sort of a bullfighter assistant, use large pink capes to begin tiring the bull as it charges each of them. Then they stab the bull's shoulder hump with several pairs of barbed spikes called banderellas that further weaken the bull as it bleeds. Then the matadore alone faces the bull with his red cape. The art is in how he faces the bull as it charges, like turning his back or kneeling on the ground as the bull thunders past the flowing cape. Finally, with the bull weakened and exhausted, the matador must make the kill with a sword thrust through the spinal cord as the bull drops it's horns during the final charge. After watching it, this must be the most dangerous part of the whole bullfight.


Today's event included two new matadores and it showed, although I don't think the rain helped them any. The first matadore had great style and made the dangerous moves look easy. But he needed four or five sword thrusts to finally kill the bull. I could sense in the way the crowd reacted that this was terrible. The second matadore didn't have as much style but he killed the bull with a single thrust. And he was awarded one of the bull's ears to signify his skill in this fight. Two ears is better and awarding the tail means the best. But the same matadore needed several attempts to kill his second bull. The difficulty is trying to keep the sword from bouncing off the vertebrae or missing the spinal cord completely.

By the end of the bullfights, the rain had finally let up as we walked back to the town center in search of other members of our peña.

Like yesterday, my peña danced through the streets from bar to bar. Everyone was drinking casually. They were there to have fun, not to get drunk. Besides there was a long day ahead, and the dancing sure burned up a lot of the alcohol.

Dancin' in the street

Alberto, who works for a company in Madrid that buys and distributes American-made products, became my unofficial interpreter during the festival. I asked Pedro, who travels a lot, why he's never been to the US. He said that the Spanish seemed to be treated so badly at customs because they speak Spanish, that most Spaniards would rather go somewhere else.

At 11pm, the city put on a huge fireworks display. Then we headed to the hall for dinner with the peña. Tonight was pork with mushrooms and peas, along with salad and bread. After wine, coffee and Parcharan, there were many songs sung, most requiring audience participation. Then came a sort of new member initiation. Sort of a test of reflexes which having had a few drinks didn't help me any. I jumped up to the challenge along with a few other new peña members. Everyone gathered around to see but they had to hush the crowd so one of the girls could explain in English what I needed to do.

One of the bigger members of the peña sat on a bench between two of us. He was to be a 'cobler' making shoes. I was sitting next to him with a shoe in my hand. As he made his make-believe shoes, his hand would occassionally 'slip', hitting me in the thigh. The test of my reflexes was to hit his hand with the shoe in my hand before he hit me. He was very fast and I wasn't able to hit him even once. But the crowd loved it with a lot of laughing. The surprise came when I outlasted several other new members, and they told me I passed the initiation with flying colors. And just to be fair, they had a different contest in which the same 'cobler' sat on his knees in front of one of the new members. The object was to slap your hands together as the kneeling man dipped his head between the hands like a chicken pecking at food on the ground. Our 'chicken' was super fast and could fake out everyone. Not one person could get him. The people in the peña are a lot of fun.

Someday I would like to return to the peña and experience the fiesta able to speak some Spanish. We headed out for a few more drinks, finding ourselves back home around 3am. And we left early! The concert in the plaza was still going strong.