After a longlasting love and hate story with corrida, I decided to share its astonishing effect with a foreign friend. My husband and I took him to a Fiesta at the Roman Arena in Nimes. I was wearing white with a touch of red, simulating the aficionado I actually was not and I had foreseen white napkins to award orejas to the skillful toreros. In the event's brochure, we read some quick facts about each torero. Thus I discovered that the oldest of the three (he had almost 20 years more than the youngest of them) had had 37 bullfighting wounds!!! So I made this loud self-sufficient comment:
- Oh my God, this one must be a totally irresponsible, immature guy!
One hour later, I was watching some sort of amazing ballet that an one-eyed pirate-looking torero-dressed-like man was doing with the raging bull. I was under the spell and felt like I had never seen this before. He was looking into the bull's eyes, they were moving like one, with only the cape between them in an incredible round up of lunges, charges and complete stops. The guy, named Juan José Padilla, was crazy: he was kneeling in front of the bull, he was inserting the banderillas himself with his slender look and panther-like agility, he was even caressing the horns in the blink of an eye. I was happy to award the oreja at the end of his first bull and I was disappointed for him at the end of the second bull as I could not raise my white handkerchief since the bull had not been killed by only one quick hit.
At the end of the corrida, we all discussed a bit, nothing much... since my friend was a bit appalled by the cruelty of the show.
Two months later, I happened to be in Santander at the time of the fiesta. I saw Padilla's name on the poster and I told my husband that I thought we should go. The show would be there for granted...
It's just that this time I would not be unprepared...So I started to read about the crazy man I was beginning to like and eagerly shared the info with my husband who, I think, appreciated the man's courage just as much as I admired his obvious love for bulls and his incredible empathy with them. Because a torero and a toro cannot act like one unless this empathy exists... Altogether, my intuitions were confirmed in this lovely piece from GQ.
I hope you read it but if you do not, here's what you will miss beyond great writing:
Juan José Padilla is the eldest of three sons of a Jerez baker. As he was also the bravest, his father used to take him for the weekends to the closest ganaderia and train him with small cows. Juan José became a baker apprentice in his teens but he never quit his passion for toros as he kept on training himself. It's just that he met a girl, Lidia, and they started to go out... As the relationship between them evolved, he warned Lidia he would become a bullfighter... Lidia agreed with one condition: he would never ask her to be present during his corridas.
Padilla's dream came true. He became a novillero (a junior matador), then he got confirmed as a real matador... He spent several years among group C toreros (the least valuable) until he entered group B and then, eventually, he made it to group A. He had 37 bullfighting wounds among which one triple wound in his neck, failing to cut his carotid artery. He also had a happy mariage with Lidia, two wonderful children and two accomplished parents who watched over him.
Until one day...
On the 7th of October 2011, a television crew was at his parents' house in order to tape a video about how the families perceive risky professions of their loved ones. That day the corrida of Zaragoza, where Juan José was fighting, was broadcasted. The camera was turned on when, during the insertion of the banderillas, Juan José was severely gored by a toro bravo, and his left eye popped out. Yep, popped out... The bravest of you can watch the cornada here. Beside the eye, the facial nerve was sectioned and a part of his mandibula crushed. A seven-hour surgery was performed as quickly as possible but results were far from promising for Padilla's further career. He was never to regain sight again to his left eye and he was doomed to lose hearing of his left ear and mobility of the left part of his face. Everybody was skeptical about him bullfighting again as bilateral sight is crucial in correctly estimating bull's position. For months, specialists did not give him much hope until one day he saw Garcia Perla, a neurosurgeon in Seville who dared to coordinate a complex team in order to reconstruct Padilla's facial nerve.
Months of intensive training and recuperation therapies followed. Eventually, before the following year's Christmas, Padilla dared to enter the arena again as his facial pain diminished and mobility slightly improved. He was performing only for some family and friends among which the doctor who dared for him, Garcia Perla... He did it! Then he started doing it again and again, every time better, in arenas all over the world. He returned even more skillful than before surgery, he lost a bit of weight, he became more athletic, he was enhancing his performance during the faenas and, most of all, he did not lose his love for the bulls.
Juan José is always dressed in bright colours like pink, violet, white or light blue, all blended with gold, the way 19th century matadors were dressed. He was initially called The cyclone of Jerez. He is sometimes waiting for the bull in a daringly kneeling position. Some other times, he kneels and he turns the pink cape around his own head. He repeatedly says during his bullfights: "Toro, toro, hehehe"... He promises to get orejas for his kids (bulls' ears are given as trophies for courage and skill). He does not drink alcohol and he does not usually go parting after corridas. He fights 70-80 corridas per year being the leader of group A (group A matadors are forced to fight in at least 48 corridas/year). He is the first to help the other matadors when they are wounded (he placed a compressive tourniquet in front of us in Santander). Last but not least for the future of his profession, he fills the arenas in a time when Spain is going through recession and corrida tickets are pretty expensive.
In Santander, many kids were there just to support him. They had pirate flags, they were throwing him their t-shirts at the end of the fight and they were shouting: "Padilla! Padilla maravilla" (Padilla the Marvel)
They were also waiting for him on his way out. We happened to be at the tendido next to his door out so he passed next to us surrounded by his team. They all had the smell of the bulls in their suits and they were silent although the day had been triumphant.