Bullfighting brothers-in-law Luis Miguel Dominguin and Antonio Qrdonez, Ernest Hemingway's heroes of the '50s, came back to the arena here this weekend -- aging, paunchy and timeless in their art -- to raise money to build an old people's home.
The charity fight, billed as the Corrida of the Century, was a group-therapy session that explored nostalgia, passion and human values as middle-aged men mocked death. They could not forget how to be courageous, graceful and proud, these old men, who attracted jet-setters and villagers alike to the pueblo on the sun-baked plain of Castille, where Dominguin's father was born. The spectacle was one of two Spains, of two cultures bound together by the ritual afternoon death tragedy that is so authentically and uniquely Iberian.
The morning before the fight, Dominguin, 54, joked away his worries. He was terribly pleased that the fight had forced him to quit drinking and start jogging and that he had shed nearly 14 pounds. "If everything goes wrong, at least I'll have saved on my tailor. Couldn't get into this jacket before," he said. But he was worried. "The wind has got to drop," he kept saying. The wind, always the worst enemy, got him gored in the "dangerous summer" of 1959, when his rivalry with his brother-in-law Ordonez was at its height. Dominguin found it hard to forgive Hemingway for writing that Ordonez was better able to cope with the wind.
Dominguin's bull shot into the ring, heading straight for the barrier behind which Dominguin and Ordonez stood. It slammed against the wood, making the makeshift portable plaza shudder. Dominguin, looking serious, stepped out near the barrier. He stood still, his feet together, as the bull came at him. He caped three times with his arms held low. Then, opening up and moving always forward, he caped the bull to the center of the ring, where he cut the animal short, leavinghim still and winded as he pulled him around his waist in a "half Veronica" that ended the caping series. p
As Dominguin walked back to the barrier, his weather-beaten face was a smiling patchwork of wrinkles. He had dominated the bull as he always did, and everything was going to be all right.
The wind did drop in time for the fight, but Dominguin, all confident in front of his father's villagers and his own international beautiful people, could, after the initial caping, have coped with a gale. What was best was his pride. It made the bull do it his way, as he worked on the animal to come smoothly on the left in the "natural" pass. The bull was vicious on the left horn and appeared always to know where the man's body was. Dominguin could have fought him easily with the right hand and nobody in the adoring crowd would have minded or even noticed.
But Dominguin, more than 20 years after his days of glory, had to prove, if only to himself, that he was the 'numero uno." So he chopped the bull round, brought him high a couple of times in a two-handed high pass, patiently and expertly "teaching" the bull to charge on the left. Then he embarked on five long, smooth, deep "natural passes, holding the "muleta" limply in his left hand while his right held the sword against his hip, arching round to follow through the bull's charge. For all the cheering of the crowd, and they were ready to applaud anything, it was a very private few moments, a very personal gesture by Dominguin, in his middle age, to the glory of his youth.
Ordonez had fared worse in the weight stakes of retirement. Wind apart, the other problem in the morning came when he turned up in Quismondo in his elegant summer suit complaining that he couldn't fit into the tight-fitting Andalusian cowboy gear that was de rigeur in a charity fight. Dominguin, whose sister Carmen married his greatest rival, calmed Ordonez, saying scissors, needle and thread could work wonders.
They did. Ordonez looked almost slender and supple as he bent on one knee to avoid the bull's wild-looking horns.
"Huy, Huy," Ordonez said, commanding in staccato barks of authority that the bull charge. The thinning hair and the sagging belly were forgotten, and the bull was mesmerized again and again until Ordonez finished off the series with the classic moves that made him famous. In all the years since he quit, no one has been able to recreate his style.
"Come back, you old ones, show the youngsters what it's about," yelled a veteran in the crowd. Also on the bill, looking in great shape, was the famed El Cordobes, his incredible grin taking u pall of his face and his shaggy mop of hair longer than ever, who spent all afternoon horsing around, performing theatrical tricks.
Paco Camino, who is young only in comparison to the likes of Dominguin and Ordonez, was there as well.While Camino is pure and classic, it was clear that his own brilliant career in the bull world has been modeled on imitating Ordonez, the master who retired when Camino was a teen-ager starting up in the early '60s.
They were cutting up the bull carcasses on a lorry parked outside the ring and laying out the skins on the ground to dry as the crowd spilled out after the corrida.
Making their way through the locals came the Marquis of Villaverde, Franco's son-in-law, and out of another entrance, the Duke of Cadiz, the cousin of King Juan Carlos, who is now divorcing Villaverde's daughter. Some way behind, with another group, was the Marquis of Villalonga, novelist and wayward aristocrat.
The village gaped at the women in baggy pants and at the silver-haired, bronzed men. The jet-setters spoke English, French,Italian, and they crowded into Quismondo's three bars, where old men play checkers and young men plan their escapes to Madrid -- only 30 miles away, but a different planet.
Many jet-setters made it to a one-story house on the edge of the village that belonged to Dominguin's chauffeur, Teodoro, where the maestro was changing and Teodoro was handing out beers and smoked ham. Dominguin took the praise with his accustomed cool and insisted that it was a one-day comeback. The next day the ring would be dismantled, and they could build the old people's home. The matadors, fighting free of charge, had raised more than half a million dollars.