Reub's journey

23 February 2009

The lady bullfighter

After a corrida, a bath is a torero's greatest pleasure.---Conchita Cintron

Downstairs, in a closet, there resides a pair of matador pants. They are black, itchy wool, with gold brocade trim, dozens of brass buttons running up the sides, a flap in the front, and you would have to be very very skinny to fit into them. Who wore these pants, before they became a costume for a play, 35 years ago? I don't know, really, but just looking at them you can imagine yourself, head and shoulder cocked down at the bull, eyes locked, with one hand lifting your cape, this moment suspended, the crowd roaring in the background. Who among us hasn't imagined themselves with such bravado, if only for a moment, or only in the far regions of a dream? Ahh, if only the pants fit. But who could kill an animal so violently, systematically, slowly? Not me; I couldn't even bear to watch, yet there is that aura of drama, courage, and finesse that surrounds bullfighting.

This week I was completely captivated to read about the life of Conchita Cintron, the only woman ever to fight bulls both on horseback and on foot. She was born in Peru of American/Puerto Rican parents who had never had anything to do with bullfighting, but they did pay for riding lessons in Lima--and that was the start of it. (Unsuspecting parents: be aware that your children will use the education you give them in ways that you could not possibly imagine.) Her Portuguese riding teacher was a former rejoneador (horseback bullfighter), and like all great teachers, he inspired his student to apply her talents in a new and unexpected way. She went on to kill 750 bulls in her lifetime throughout Latin America and Europe.

Orson Welles described Conchita Cintron's last fight as "a single burst of glorious criminality": the Franco regime had banned women from bullfighting on foot, so Conchita, fighting her last bull in Spain, dismounted from her horse, approached the bull and touched the place on his neck where the spear would have landed. She was promptly arrested, and the crowd went wild, demanding her release. Now that's more like it, my kind of bullfight.

But there is more! Here is the part where the damn matador pants don't have to fit, the part of Conchita that I would like to thank her for. That is, to her surprise in 1967, she was contacted by the widow of Vasco Bensaude--the Portuguese shipping magnate who was determined to keep the Portuguese Water Dog from going extinct--that Conchita was the sole heir to all of his beloved dogs: 4 males, 10 females, and many boxes of archives concerning all of them. She then spent the next 5 years, breeding dogs and writing letters to people in the US, imploring them to help resurrect the breed. And she did. It is because of her that the Portuguese Water Dog has been successful in the US.

We love Eddy. Thank you, Lady Bullfighter.

Goddess of the Bullring: The Story of Conchita Cintrón, the World’s Greatest Matador by Lola Verrill Cintrón (Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1960)

International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports, Vol. 1, edited by Karen Christensen, et al. (Macmillan Reference USA, 2001)

Memoirs of a Bullfighter by Conchita Cintrón (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968)


  1. I wonder if bullfighters are haunted by dreams of bullfighting.

    I like water dogs too.

  2. I wonder about their dreams. Maybe they escape their world by dreaming of peaceful things, like sipping tea, then washing and drying the cup and spoon.


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