In our society, the women who break down barriers are those who ignore limits.
~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
I would hope that women get exposed, personally, to women who break down barriers. Actually, I hope that men get exposed to women who break barriers too, because this is still something that needs to happen. I am lucky, in 1980 my cousin was the second best archer in the world. Amazon comparisons aside, this was HUGE. Women have been slinging arrows for eons, but to get to a level where you are second best… in the world… wow, she is pretty impressive in this respect (and many others). How wonderful is it that we live in a world where we see more women breaking barriers and becoming awesome at what they do.
This took a long time to come for me. Born in an era that was just starting to feel out the women’s rights movement. Add to that the fact that I was born and raised in countries that have very “traditional” roles for women. So, breaking barriers was not something I even thought about until, that is, I moved to the United States. Before that, I think my most adventurous aspiration was to be a flamenco dancer.
Now, please know that I do not mean to demean flamenco dancers by that statement. There is a ton of back story to that. My father bullfights. I spent the first ten years of my life either watching him bullfight or helping out at our ranch that raised fighting bulls. Bullfighting is the glue that hold my relationship together with my father. I live in a world where I both hate it and love it. My more intimate knowledge about it provides for this. Like many things in life, it is both beautiful and brutal.
My father is well-respected among bullfighting circles around the world. I went to visit a friend of his when I was an adult and he told me how he met my dad. My dad had been trying to get a chance to bullfight right after we had moved from Spain to Ecuador, but it is not something one can just go to the park and find a pick-up game. So this friend of my fathers recalls that he ans his friends kept getting these calls about this silly American that wanted to join them in a bullring. After several months they realized that they were not going to get rid of his persistence so they had him come along. At this point in the conversation, my father’s friend looks me in the eyes and tell how he and all his friends saw my dad get in the ring and were stunned by how good a bullfighter my father was. He is still good. Anyway, I grew up with enough privilege that I really believed that I would end up a mother of many children with a wealthy enough husband and live in a country other than the USA. Needless to say that did not happen.
I recall moving to the US just at the start of the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Which was the same time that my cousin was an Olympic archer, my aunt had won Emmy’s and was becoming an artist. There was something empowering and horribly frightening about this. So, at this point in my life, my tweens and early teens, I realized I could be anything I wanted to be if I wanted it hard enough.
So, I hung on to my dream of having lots of children (I have always wanted six, for what it is worth) but now I could be that and do anything. In high school I was stunned when a friend stopped me after me describing my future self and said that it was great I had these ideas about what I would do with my children, but she had noticed that I never mentioned their father or a husband. I am sure that my mother had to work so very hard and had to fight to provide for my brother and I after my father took off with another woman and left us high and dry was the impetus for this visioning I was doing.
So, I chased dreams.
It wasn’t until I was thirty that I was able to revisit my father and his bullfighting passion. I was back in the US and newly married and he invited me to join him for a special convention in Texas. Through a random series of events I was able to share a room with a female bullfighter. I had never even really imagined this. I was aware of women like Conchita Cintrón and Bette Ford, but hadn’t really thought about it in terms of how many crazy walls they had to tear down. To put this in perceptive, in 1998 I attended the bullfights in Ecuador and on the last day I asked the man who was our former veterinarian if I could join him in the callejon (the inner ring, where the bullfighters and their assistants hang out in a bull ring). His reply was to tell me that I could because that the ban on women being there had been lifted a few years ago… which makes the ban on women in the inner circle to have been lifted around 1997!!!
So, here I was in a room with a woman bullfighter by the name of Raquel Martinez. A petite and beautiful blond woman. I felt like her opposite in everything, I was tall to her short, brunette to her blond, squishy to her toned, make up less to her flawless make-up. I was in awe. Never in my growing up as my father’s daughter had I ever considered this, and now in the presence of a woman bullfighter I was in awe. She was kind, gracious, gentle… had a great sense of humor, she was both strong and vulnerable. It was an amazing time. She was the first woman I ever asked for make-up advice. We talked about the men we had loved, and how crazy it was to try to be a woman bullfighter. I have not seen her since that time, but she has remained on of my treasured experiences. She was part of a group of women who were tearing down walls, and she was amazing.
For the record, I do not want to be a bullfighter… I would much rather dance the flamenco.
Word of advice; do not, for the love of well made chicken soup and all other things holy, ever ever ever Google the words and look at the images for “The brutal art of being”.
“There is brutality and there is honesty. There is no such thing as brutal honesty.”
~ Robert Anthony.
That said, living is brutal. It is hard on our bodies, what with that getting old crap… then there are certain aspects of how we treat one another. Why the fuck are we so stupidly cruel to each other?
There is another part of me that kind of finds this sentiment above a bit ridiculous. I mean, we are animals after all, it’s not like opposable thumbs and the ability to breast feed instantly granted us some sort of “nice card”. As a matter of fuck fact, I learned at an early age that life had this brutal part to it. Between friends with bodyguards, sleeping in the same room as my brother so one of us would have the chance to scream for help in case we were kidnapped, watching my dad routinely killing bulls through his grand love-affair with bullfighting… this were in my face demonstrations that life could have a nasty bitter after-taste. It is super interesting to note that the same place that gave me all this… hmmm….. brutality, if you will…. also gave me magic. Beautiful, glorious magic.
I, at this very moment, am wondering if I lost the ability to see this magic? A temporary (I would hope) blindness? Or maybe I am seeing another side to the magic, and I need to learn to recognize it. Perhaps it left when my faith in the divine disappeared in a puff of smoke? When I used to feel this kind of angst (for the lack of a better work and to a much lesser degree) I used to think it was a part of my search for grace. Maybe it is an extension of searching for grace? A more fevered search.
When I left my life behind and moved to Ecuador to attend medical school, one of the more incredible things that happened was that a boy followed me there. I had no idea that he loved me, but he did. My Ecua-mami (my mother figure in Ecuador) and I talked about how this made me feel… I was nervous and apprehensive, I had never even considered even an attraction to him, yet here I was planning a vacation with him. We talked about assumptions and implications. She told me that I would make my own decisions, but that life would, in a way, make them for me. That is exactly what happened.
I never was able to love him the way I think he wanted me to. I learned recently, that he just earned a significant year chip in the Bill and Bob club. This dramatically coincides with when he realized I was not going to spend the rest of my life with him. While I can’t confirm that his experience with me served as some catalyst, my gut tells me it plays into that. Life is brutal. I took so much for granted with him, though not in a shameful way. I still think about that experience traveling around Ecuador with him with a certain fondness. It was, however, rather brutal… thankfully it was imbued with a certain magic that the landscape provided and in some ways became one of those significant romantic moment of ones in my life.
So, fondness… there is a gentle art to fondness. I used to be a master of it… it being genuine fondness. Maybe this is where I should explore next. That area is a place in my experience, my life, where some hard truths about self are to be acknowledged (like the story of the boy above, for example). The nice thing is that fondness is gentle, and even the hardest of these truths are tempered with a certain gentleness.
Describe how the idea for your book first came to you. Where were you? Who was the first person you told? How did they respond?
Goodness, the idea for my first book (the one I wrote and illustrated when I was 6 or so) must have come from a frank discussion about the “birds and the bees” that my mother had with me. I must have asked a ton of questions, because I filled out an entire notebook with what I had learned. I often joke, with a sense of seriousness, that my friends were very lucky having me be the one telling them about the “facts of life” in that proverbial gutter of education of all matters taboo.
In all seriousness though, the story that is still working itself out of me came after telling a friend a story, about how I grew up, when I was in high school. I don’t recall the story but I do recall their reaction. My friend looked at me and asked if I realized how un-real my life was. This had never ever occurred to me. My father is a bull-fighter, my mother an adventurer. The life I have is the one I know. It is familiar, and knows of no other alternatives of how it is to be lived. The country that I was born in and the other one nearby that raised me are magic… with ghosts and magic and mysteries that one just has to accept. The terrain of these places are story book, with fences that grow, and many snow-capped active volcanoes, with ties to islands that inspired many where birds are born with bright blue feet or magnetic magenta ones, where other birds puff out a chest so bright red and large that it seems impossible to be real. I grew up talking to jungle shaman, Amazonian head-shriknkers, writers, poets, artists, musicians, and bullfighters.
I realize how precious that was, to grow up in such a complex environment.
And so it was that one conversation that pinpointed just how unusual it was that prompted me to write something semi-autobiographical about the magical world I grew up in, and it is because of that started me on that journey.
Several attempts have been made, many scrapped because I allowed others to come in and direct the tale to the extent it became theirs and was not mine any more.
I am working on making it mine, one step at a time.
Today, my hat tip goes to Ashley Howland because her tale about how her book Ghostnapped came to be made me smile, and I love that she had her husband redo the cover when it was re-published.
So, I left this comment: I am a bullfighter’s daughter. I feel for all of those men and their families. The bulls did what they were bred to do.
But after all these years, I still get sick to my stomach when I reply to these things and/or bring up my familial ties to bullfights.
I still so vividly recall one day after bullfighting came up in my college English class and people were saying so many things that I knew to be incorrect that I spoke up and corrected them. After class, a woman in her 50’s that was in the class with me came up to me and said “You and your family disgust me”, she then spat on me (my feet, actually) and left before I could have replied. Admittedly, I was pretty speechless.
I can understand why people hate bullfighting, it is so in your face with forces of nature that humans tend to ignore. But, I am so lucky to have seen a very different side (through my father and our bull ranch where we raised fighting bulls), one that is so much more impassioned with things like respect and admiration between two very different animals (the human and the bovine).
I think that if there is a good side to being subjected to the vitriol of those who loathe bullfights… I know what it is like to be bullied (isn’t that an interesting phrase to use here). In my case, I did not choose bullfighting, it is what my father loves with an immense passion. I love my father, I have to include that in our relationship, I have had to come to peace with it, to dig deep and find out why and strangely enough it is through that process that I have learned that every time I want to react strongly to something I know that I also need to dig deeper (hard to remember, but it is there), to know that there is always more to the story. I have to be gentle, I have to love and most of all… I have to learn how to forgive. It is sure hard when people spit at you though.
I imagine that when one is the child of any parent involved in something that requires spectators (think; athletes, actors, rodeo clowns, what have you) you grow up attending a lot of those spectator events.
Holy mother of god, I am betting that they attend a ton of those said events. But in a very integral way… you are on the field, on the set, in the barrel.
My life was spent much like this.
And by this, I mean THIS:
I look bored. Dear lord, I probably was… at the point the picture was taken anyway.
See, while I grew up watching my father bullfight, it was so much a part of our lives (at least until my brother was almost killed and my mom stopped going – more below) that I think I thought of it as if all kids my age were forced to attend these things.
Not all bullfights were boring though, the one in the picture of me above was actually pretty heart-stopping. All of us kids at the bullfights, played while the bulls were being fought, it was pretty normal in that respect. This day, however, would prove to be somewhat different. My brother would fall in to the bull-ring.
See, my mother, brother ,and I would always sit at the barrera. Those are the front row seats… which are right at the callejon or that alley way in between the two red walls in the ring (in the picture below), it goes all the way around allowing for the people working the bullfight to move to different places to help the men that are actually inside the ring.
My brother happened to fall in to the callejon just as the bull had jumped into it. Picture something like this, but with a real chubby 4-year-old running in front of the bull.
It was heart wrenching. We ran to the barrera, watching my brother run as fast as he could from the bull that was not to far behind him. Other people seated around the ring reaching in trying to grab him and pull him to safety. Almost like they were doing a “wave” at a stadium, but more life-threatening… screams from women, men shouting directions at each other… it was tense and full of that kind of energy. The men in the ring frantically running around the inside of the ring trying to figure out how to get the bull out and back in to the center sand, once they realized what else was going on. I can recall that experience so vividly, that my hands still shake and I get choked up as I type about it.
A gray-haired gentleman and his son (who must have been in his thirties) managed to catch my brother as I can recall watching as one of them held his chubby little arm and the other was holding on to his chubby little leg, raising him high and back into the stands.
I think my parents marriage might have really ended that day.
I didn’t come to hate bullfights, but I didn’t love them either. It was what my father did, and where I would get to hang out with all the kids of his friends… and eat, seriously, in Ecuador bullfight food is awesome… I smell an empanada de morocho and I can be right back at those memories.
My better memories of being at them involves hanging out with him before the big game/performance. It is a more tense experience in some ways, a lot of decisions need to be made and a lot of things need to be observed. Essentially, you look at the bulls and often have a lottery of sorts to see who would draw which bull. Then there would be talk about who gets to go first (seniority – often based on first kill or first fight). It is still my favorite thing to experience. After this, and in cases where it is just a tienta and no one should get hurt in a matter that requires major hospitalization, I like helping my dad out, passing him his swords and capes from the callejon, talking about the strengths and weakness the calf (no bulls here) may have.
Growing up though, during the actual bullfighting, eating and playing were the best part… of course, when my dad was in the ring I would often sit and watch.
I remember a lot of playing and a lot of eating. It infiltrated my weekends as well as my weeks… The picture above is of my son… somehow wrangled into helping my dad practice, there was always a lot of practice.
I still remember a lot of bullfights, but not anywhere near the barrera… after that day, anyway.
But none the less, it was how I grew up.
See, my father loves bullfighting. A lot. and by a lot, I seriously mean A LOT. He has been doing this since he was little, there are pictures of him as a pre-teen making his little brothers pretend to be a bull while he mimics moving the cape.
And then there was college, where he managed to talk his brothers and friends into doing this with him:
The thing is though, that between all the bullfights and the ranch we had where we raised fighting bulls… I managed to pick something of what he loves up.
I know a good fight when I see one, and while I can’t recite all the names of the passes, when they are mentioned to me, I have a pretty clear idea what they are talking about. The same goes for the bull descriptions, bull afflictions, and other such terminology employed by those who live and breathe this stuff.
And I don’t really hate it… I mean, I get a huge gut wrench when I see the bull killed and often find myself praying for the bulls quick demise and I can’t even begin to describe what happens to me when I am watching my father bullfight (and I am not as scared for my dad’s safety as I am concerned about his doing well).
My dad insists I have the “gusano”.
I am not as convinced. Sometimes, talking about bullfights gives me a serious headache… trying to explain subtle nuances to those who are not in the know, trying not to get spit on by those who abhor it, trying to let those who detest it get their anger out without being insulted, trying to catch the key pieces when I am around those who know far more than I… it is enough to literally give me heartburn.
I just can’t forsake something I grew up so intimately with. That in order to more fully understand I have tried to actually do something so I would get what it was about, to put the terminology and subtleties I understand into practice.
I am just at that point where I have given in and said, yes… this scary as shit thing that on occasion involves killing something is something I grew up with and I don’t think I would have it any other way… the good and the bad that it brought in to my life.
I have been in a ring with an itty bitty that managed to hurt me pretty darn bad (you don’t kill the itty bitty’s, you are actually there for other reasons).