Gored Through the Neck Matador Who Cheated Death Makes His Comeback
Part 2: A Celebration of Spain
The photo was taken on May 21, 2010, a pleasant spring day in Madrid. A festival in honor of San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid, was underway in Las Ventas, the city's bullfighting arena. There are bullfights every day throughout the three-week festival.
But this year football was on the minds of most people in Madrid. Bayern Munich would play Inter Milan in Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in the Champions League final the next day. Many in Madrid were happy that FC Barcelona had lost to the Italians, which meant that the Catalans would not be winning the cup in Madrid this year.
Football is more important than bullfighting in Spain. Bullfighting is not viewed as a sport, but as a cultural spectacle, a celebration of old Spain, particularly beloved among conservatives. Among Spanish newspapers, the right-wing daily ABC devotes the largest amount of space to the corridas. It critiques the fights in the arts section, right next to the theater reviews.
Aparicio was wearing a black-and-gold outfit for Las Ventas. If all went well on that day, it would soon be "raining contracts," so to speak. Empresarios from all over Spain come to Las Ventas, where they sit in the stands and decide which matadors to book for their plazas.
So far, 2010 hadn't been a good year for Aparicio. He had been booked three times in March and once in April. He fought two bulls each time, and perhaps two of his eight fights were favorably reviewed. He was booed at his last fight, in the southern French city of Nîmes. Frenchmen booing a Spanish matador -- it was the ultimate disgrace, he thought to himself at the time. On this day in Madrid, Aparicio knew that he would have to put in a strong performance -- this was the day that would shape the rest of the season.
He has never had a problem with nerves. At 41, Aparicio is no longer a young matador. He made his debut at 18 in a small arena in Gandia, not far from Valencia. Bullfighting runs in the family. His father, Julio Aparicio, a famous matador of the 1950s, was carried out of the arena in Madrid by adoring fans seven times. Not surprisingly, the senior Aparicio married a flamenco dancer. He was a darling of the press.
Julio was born in 1969. Julito, as he was called, was never as good as his father. He was never particularly glamorous, never the sort of daredevil to come dangerously close to the bull, and never one to force the bull to dance. But Julito became a solid fighter. He could put on an acceptable performance when the bull behaved predictably. But even those performances had become rare. People who mean well call Aparicio an artist of a matador, because of the way he sways and the lost look in his eyes when he stands in the arena. Nerves have never been his problem, but talent was. If things had gone differently on May 21, Aparicio would have been known, and perhaps gone down in history, as a matador whose claim to fame was his famous father.
The bull assigned to him in Madrid was named Opiparo, a light-colored, 530-kilogram specimen produced by the breeder Juan Pedro Domecq. Everything went well at first. Neither of the two -- Aparicio or Opiparo -- was exactly wowing the audience. The matador wasn't taking many risks, but he had the bull under control.
Aparicio performed a few derechazos, the classic right-handed flourish, with his cape. Opiparo charged. Aparicio switched sides and presented the cape with his left hand, holding the dagger in his right hand. The bull charged again.
During one of the movements, just as the bull's horns had passed the cape, Aparicio took a step back and tripped over one of Opiparo's hind legs. He had failed to notice that the bull had turned around.
The matador fell to the ground. At that moment, he made a critical mistake: He tried to stand up.
- Part 1: Matador Who Cheated Death Makes His Comeback
- Part 2: A Celebration of Spain
- Part 3: Miracle in the Arena
- Part 4: A Story of Courage