Traveling around with a team of bullfighters at the height of the season is a lot like following around a rock and roll band during a summer tour except there's no time for partying and the lead singer risks his life every night on stage. Some bullfighters fight 100 times a year - that's 200 bulls. They crisscross Spain many times over, sometimes all within a week. It's a grueling schedule, and part of the challenge of being a good bullfighter is simply having the ability to sleep in a car.
Our adventure with Cayetano Rivera Ordoñez began one August Saturday night in Linares, a small city in south central Spain, where 61 years ago, almost to the day, the infamous bullfighter Manolete was fatally gored in the ring. Fans come from far and wide to a ring like this; they can rattle off the tiniest of details about bullfights that took place decades ago as if they had happened yesterday.
Cayetano performed well with his first bull, earning himself an ear (yes, ears and tails from the freshly killed bull are the rewards for good capework in the ring). When Cayetano's second bull appeared, the last of the night, it was obvious he would be dangerous. The bull was distracted and had difficulty focusing on the cape. When Cayetano's banderillero, Angel Luis Prados, went to stick the banderillas (sticks) in the bull's neck, the bull's horn caught his leg as he was getting out of the way. With Prados down, his colleagues rushed into the ring, distracted the bull, and carried him to the infirmary.
Prados was stabilized and taken to a major hospital about 30 miles away in Jaén, and we followed Cayetano and the rest of his team as they raced there. We weren't allowed in, but the situation was reportedly grave. The goring had severed Prados' femoral artery and though his life was not in danger, it was unclear if he would ever be able to walk again. It was a blow to Cayetano; it should have been a great night, and it should have furthered his positive momentum after having just come back to the ring after having suffered a goring himself three weeks earlier. It was now past midnight, and Cayetano hadn't eaten since midday. We walked around the empty streets of the city's downtown looking for a place that was open and finally settled on joint that served sandwiches and fries. It was a far cry from the romantic image we had of a bullfighter's life. At 2 a.m. Cayetano crawled into his the van and tried to get some sleep during the 4 hour drive to Mérida, where he would fight that afternoon.
Mérida is an old Roman city, and looks the part. It was the hometown of Russell Crowe's character "Maximus" in the movie "Gladiator." An old roman ampitheater is being restored there. In ancient times it hosted contests between man and beast, now all that takes place in a more modern bullring less than a mile away.
It was a perfect Sunday afternoon, and Cayetano again had the last bull. He fought it deftly, earning him an ear. But the crowd clearly wanted him to receive a second. The president of the bullring gets to make the final decision. But he refused, and was roundly booed. He apparently said later that he had also been stingy the previous night, and couldn't appear to be inconsistent. Cayetano was angry. It was a hard won performance that in the end wouldn't count for much. It was back to Madrid now after having fought four nights back-to-back.
Throughout our time in Spain, we had been planning to film the Rivera Ordoñez brothers fighting on the same bill. We were to do it in Ronda, where Cayetano's brother, Francisco, is the impresario of the oldest ring in Spain, as his grandfather was before him. The fight was to be held the following weekend, during the Fiesta Goyesca, where the town dons traditional dress and parties for days. Cayetano was to wear a suit of lights specially designed by Giorgio Armani. But earlier that week, the two brothers were also scheduled to fight together in Palencia, a little town 3 hours north of Madrid. At the last minute, we decided we just couldn't pass up this second opportunity to film them together.
That decision turned out to be fortuitous. While fighting his second bull of the night, Cayetano tripped, fell, and was trampled. There was no blood, but it was obvious Cayetano was hurt badly. We spent two hours waiting outside the hospital with his cuadrilla (his teammates), for some hopeful words. His situation wasn't good. Doctors said his liver was bleeding and that he might need surgery. In a few dramatic seconds, Cayetano's hopes of finishing a season in triumph had been stamped into the sand. The rest of the season's appearances had to be cancelled, and Cayetano will have to wait another year to don his Armani suit of lights in Ronda.
Written by Drew Magratten