Today I wish I was in La Gloria, Texas. Tonight the Santa Maria Bullring there will erupt with the “oles” of a thousand spectators watching bloodless bullfights. Some of the matadors might be female. I didn’t know such a place existed until a host at a Harlingen welcome center told me that young matadors come to Texas to train during the 2018 season that ends March 11. I had to see this place. Not only did Ruth and I see it, we also met colorful Fred Renk, who fought his first bull at the age of 25 and was a novillero at the age of 28.
A novillero is a young bullfighter who has not yet become a matador. At 28 Fred realized that he was a bit past the age to aspire to be a full matador de toro, but in his autobiography, Two Hearts, One Sword, he said, “I knew that I was destined to find my place, somewhere in the bullfighting world.” He vicariously got to live that dream through his son David.
When Fred married Barbara, she had a two-year-old son with club feet whom he described in his book as “…a skinny blond, blue-eyed kid with crooked feet”. David grew up in the world of bullfighting and, thanks to Fred, got rid of braces and special shoes. By the age of 4 he was a “knowledgeable aficionado” of bullfights. By 1981, when he was only 18, David became a Matador de Toros, the youngest American to receive this honor and only the 6th North American to achieve this level of performance. Nicknamed “El Texano”, David faced bulls in Mexico and elsewhere for many years before retiring. Fred, who is very proud of David’s accomplishments, is still running Santa Maria and raising bulls.
Fred told us that bulls are very smart. “The fighting bull quickly learns the ways of man,” he says in his book. Because one encounter teaches a bull all he needs to know about humans, he can only fight once. That’s why many of Fred’s bulls go to rodeos after bloodless bullfighting encounters, the only type legal in the United States and Canada.
Madrid has 2 bullrings. One of them is considered the most important one in the world. Seville also has a thriving bullring, and Pamplona in Spain’s Basque area is famous for the running of the bulls. There are rings in Mexico City and Guadalajara. Conquistadors brought bullfighting to Mexico 500 years ago. Where traditional bullfighting is still legal, bullrings still fill with spectators, as in Columbia, which has 5. There are 3 in France.
The entertainment in this bloodless Texas bullring tonight will attract visitors from both Mexico and Canada along with locals and travelers. My final question to Fred was, “What is the future of bullfighting?” He smiled and said it was excellent because the more opposition to tradition that governments promote, the more fans become determined to continue that tradition.
PS Fred told us that the only movie to get bullfighting right was 1951’s Bullfighter and the Lady. Ruth and I watched it last evening.