It’s not easy being a bullfight fan in California. Sure, bloodless corridas are legal, but the Portuguese societies that sponsor them wisely choose to fly under the PETA radar, making them both hard to reach and hard to hear about unless you’re part of the community. Most of the venues are out in the dustiest corners of the Valley, in little farming towns that are hours from the cities. Most of the fights are on weeknights, conducted in Portuguese, and only written up in Portuguese newspapers. There’s a fan website in English, but it’s no longer being maintained, and the URL is up for sale. In other words, you’ve really got to love this sport if you want to see it.
And make no mistake, this is definitely sport. When a team of forcados leaps into the ring, eight brave men versus one angry bull, it’s like being catapulted back into the Stone Age, when bull-jumping and bull-baiting were some of the world’s earliest athletic spectacles.
The cavaleiros – mounted bullfighters – are superb equestrians, and the highly-trained fighting horses they ride are nothing short of amazing.
Some of the matadors are great athletes as well, and since this is a long way from the big leagues, you see a lot of older toreros with years of experience, not just a pretty face and a tight set of sparkle-pants. The fact that they use velcro rather than steel in these fights only makes it better – the bulls aren’t bled out, and their neck muscles aren’t cut, so they fight harder and longer. In fact they often refuse to leave the ring after a fight, and have to be patiently coaxed out by a herd of fetching cows and a team of men with goads. They are bred in California from old-world fighting-bull stock, and bear little resemblance to your typical hamburger-on-hooves. They are faster, meaner, and more dangerous than just about anything left in the wild. And they get to trot out of the ring like champions, surrounded by a bevy of bovine beauties, instead of being dragged out on a meat-sled by mules. What’s not to like?
Because I’m an aficionado, I’ve dug through some Portuguese society websites and put together a partial schedule for this summer. I’ve only included the bullrings that are within an hour or two of the Bay Area, because that’s about as far as I’m willing to roll. Thornton and Tracy are the closest, but I’ve also seen some great fights in Gustine and Stevinson. Phone numbers are included so you can call to confirm that a fight is still on. Enjoy!
BLOODLESS BULLFIGHTS 2009
- Mon. June 1, 2009
- Mon. June 8, 2009
- Mon. June 15, 2009
- 8:00 p.m.
- Festa do Espírito Santo – Stevinson, CA
- 2962 Lander Avenue
- Hall: 209-634-5910
- Fri. June 12, 2009 6:30 p.m.
- Mon. October 19, 2009 8:00 p.m.
- Our Lady of Fátima – Thornton, CA
- 9650 Thornton Road – Hall: 209-464-3924
- Fri. June 19, 2009
- 8:00 p.m.
- I.P.F.E.S. – Tracy, CA
- 430 W. 9th Street – Hall: 209-835-9909
- Sat. June 20, 2009
- 8:00 p.m.
- Soçiedade Flor Açoriana – Chowchilla, CA
- Hall: 800 S. 3rd Street – Hall: 559-665-4961
- Mon. July 20, 2009 8:00 p.m.
- & Sept. 14, 2009 7:30 p.m.
- Vella Vista Arena
- G.P.S. Hall – Gustine, CA
- 500 – 3rd Avenue, Gustine
- Hall: 209-854-1830
- Church (Our Lady of Miracles): 209-854-6692
Thanks to Mayalibre for the forcado video. Cavaleiro photo and video by Stuart Mangrum.