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San Miguel de Allende: Toro Toro Toro

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One part of the sublime madness that was the royal wedding of D/C luminary Parker Channon and the luminous Rita Ribera in San Miguel was a day of amateur bullfighting.

Fifteen wedding-goers were scheduled to venture into the photogenically parched central Mexico countryside to learn how to take on a toro. Due to unfortunate circumstances involving the after-effects of nocturnal tequila, only four proto-toreadors actually showed: the groom himself, Juan Carlos “Mi Gemello” Jimenez, John “Not Jon” Stewart and this correspondent. In America, such perilous endeavors, if permitted at all (which they never would be), would be accompanied by a blizzard of insurance waivers and an irrevocable signing away of one’s life and rights. That did not turn out to be the case in San Miguel. So while we were to receive the most excellent and diligent instruction from Acacio Martinez, a retired toreador, and his toro-fighting son, within an hour we were facing the bull, gloriously free of coverage — legal or, frankly, testicular.

They did, however, encourage us to drink a margarita.

Just to clarify, this was not your mechanical bull down at Gilley’s. And it wasn’t the overgrown calf we had imagined (“No way they’re gonna let us fight a real bull…”). Nor was it some geriatric pet toro that had long-ago managed his volcanic toro temper. No, this guy may have been a teenager, but even at just 200 pounds, he was well-equipped to do some serious, if not terminal, damage. And, sure enough, here he was, head-down and hoof-scraping mad.

Dude wanted to kill us.

Acacio set it up for us to fight the bull in pairs. Parker and John. Me and JC. Apparently, it’s one of the standard configurations, two guys sharing a seven-foot canvas cape (ours had both duct tape and blood on it). The pair stands shoulder-to-shoulder, folding over the excess fabric of the cape between them, and advances on the bull. When the animal responds to this unspeakable affront by charging, the bullfighters are to pull apart, two to three feet, releasing the excess fabric and letting Senor Toro go between them and under the cape.

The thing is, suddenly, you’re there. In the middle of the ring. Wait — how do I work this?!? And that crazy cow is running right at your nuts.

There’s not even time to be scared. And running away is just gonna make things worse. So you have to get it right. The first time. Under penalty of contusion, castration or worse.

Toro thunders down on JC and me. We move apart. Toro dives horns-first into the cape, snorting with rage, not an inch from my left thigh — actually turning in my direction as he passes through, preparing to circle around and finish the job. I drop the cape entirely. Fortunately, there are two other matadors in the ring with you who know what they’re doing and now distract the bull, so he doesn’t finish you off. And, truly, you don’t get appropriately alarmed at your brush with homicidal cow flesh until several minutes later.

Which is when you say to yourself: Damn!

Parker and Stewie had even more cause for alarm when, amidst an evasive move, John slipped and fell. At first, we thought he’d been hit. Then we held our breath, worried that he would be trampled. In the end, he wasn’t either. But the difference between him being gored and/or trampled — or not — and us having to make that awkward call to his wonderful wife Heather with the address of the hospital was literally a matter of inches.

After “fighting” the bull a couple of times (that is, making big, fat targets of ourselves), we were more than ready for rounds two-through-infinity of margaritas, tequila shots and cervezas that the ranch staff provided and convivially shared. Our native Spanish speaker, Juan Carlos, regaled the assembly with dirty jokes and teasing, the staff gleefully returning fire, and you didn’t have to know the language to fully enjoy what was going on. By four pm, our quartet of newly-minted matadors had actually disposed of every drop of the booze that had been stockpiled for a party of 15. Which is when one of the San Miguel cowboys opined that, while he and his crew had initially been disappointed at the low turnout, “This was the most fun they’d had all summer.”

All we could add was a slightly slurred Ole!.

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