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A Night at the Cock Fights

4 May 2010

Zacatecas to Jalpa, Mexico
3,832 km

 

After the night at the disco I slept in (until 8:00) and then I rode over to the Yamaha dealership in Zacatecas because for a while now I had been detecting a failure of the motorcycle at high speeds and hard climbs when she was exerting all or almost all of her 535 ccs. So I went to the service department and explained the situation to the two mechanics. Juan Federico Gomez de Ana Quezada was the head mechanic and Faramundo Aurelio Ortega was his assistant (both names have been changed). Both thin men, they nevertheless struck me a bit like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb the way they stood over the motorcycle rubbing their beardless chins, wearing rather blank expressions on their faces, and asking me if the motorcycle has fuel injectors and me dumbstruck, nervous now about where I had brought my motorcycle, and pointing out the clearly visible carburetors above and between the two cylinder heads. They listened to the motor and Juan Federico listened through a hose to isolate the sounds. They agreed that the rear exhaust valve sounded loose and so they opened the covering and spent what seemed like ages loosening and then measuring and then tightening and then measuring again and, the measurement not right, them loosening and then starting all over again. After a couple hours the superficial adjustment to the valve was done and I paid them 150 pesos, or $15, off the books, saying ‘Thank you for your time and expertise” and then riding off still feeling that the motorcycle was sluggish but deciding that, in consideration, the money was well spent because she was no worse off than before.

 

About 50 kilometers south of Zacatecas I stopped at the hilltop ruins of La Quemada whose crumbling walls and columns and pyramid are the same parched color of the desert plain that stretches in every direction around it. Across this plain the color of the brush and vegetation changes where the buried remains of pre-Colombian clay roads pass beneath and extend out in several directions. They say – that is, the ‘they’ who say all general and imprecise things that then go repeated until what was originally maybe a guess or a conjecture has become hard fact like the various explanations for why the moon looks bigger at the horizon and how come it always seems that the lane you are driving in is the slower one – anyway, they say that La Quemada was once a city of 60,000 to 70,000 and that it is the mythical Chicomostoc, the place of seven caves, although only six have been found so far.

 

In Jalpa, which is a small city about equidistant between Zacatecas and Guadalajara along the major highway that connects the two, I found a hotel and stayed for the night. I didn’t want to go out because I was tired from the night before but I was in a new place and there were new things to see. So I walked along the main street toward the central plaza, the zócalo is what it’s called in Mexico, and as I walked I noticed that, through two large open doors, there was an area with a small enclosure surrounded by bleachers. When I asked the woman at the door what it was, she said, “Gallos” and I asked, ‘At what time?” and she said, “A las 9.” So I continued on to the zócalo and I bought a Michelada, which is a beer drink that includes ice, salt, some type of mystery sauce, chili sauce, powdered chili around the outside of the cup, and, of course, a slice of lime. It was awful, outright horrendous, I thought, and I consider myself rather a good democrat when it comes to alcohol in various colors and flavors but I couldn’t force down more than three sips before I had to throw out the entire pint. I ate dinner at a food stand in the zócalo and then at 9 o’clock I went to the cock fights.I took a seat in the front row because I figured that if you are going to try a new thing then you should do it all the way or not at all. There were eight ‘breeders’ that each brought four cocks and so there would be 16 fights that night. During the preparations, which is quite a lengthy process, one cock is tagged with green on his leg and the other with red. Then they are weighed and then each corner picks out a steel talon and these are measured and observed by a judge. The talons are then fixed to the leg by a band that is wrapped around tightly many times. Next the toes are pulled at and cracked, to loosen them, I suppose. Then a third cock is brought in and both are held and it is allowed to peck furiously at each of the two combatants in turn, loosing large tufts of feathers, this to anger them, I suppose. The whole while men hurry around the ring shouting, ‘Rojo!’ or ‘Verde!’ and try to entice you to place a bet and women go about selling tickets for the between rounds raffle and another woman takes and delivers drink orders.

 

When finally the combat begins you are exasperated by the waiting, but then, immediately, you are surprised by how fierce it is and how bloody it gets if one or the other cock gets lucky and its great steel talon finds a soft home in its adversary’s belly. The fight lasts a matter of seconds and it ends suddenly when one cock lies on the ground defeated, usually alive but almost always bleeding and panting and the life quickly departing, and the other, the victor, standing over the defeated, refusing to finish him either because he fights only to save himself or because he is merciless in his triumph and he would drag his victim around the ring in a victory lap like Achilles did to Hector if it weren’t that he, too, the victor, is also wounded and mortally exhausted. This is when the breeders leap into the ring and each retrieves his champion and carries him quickly out and behind a curtain. I don’t know what happens to the cocks next, if the defeated is killed or if they are both killed or if something else happens before the killing finally comes. I know only that both cocks have left the dirt ring covered with their feathers and sometimes with bits of flesh and often with a deep puddle of blood. I know, too, that it is exciting as all violence is exciting but that it lacks finesse: it is crude and artless. It is not a corrida, a bullfight, which is not a sport but the playing out of a tragedy, the tragedy of the bull’s death. It is instead all fury and no skill, no story, and so no triumph in victory or bitterness in defeat, only it is a bloody combat between two mindless brutes where one will win and the other will lose and both will break themselves in the trying and then both will be killed eventually.
 

I stayed only for the first few fights and then I was tired by it and also a little disgusted. It was dark and quiet now on the main street, which is only one lane in either direction. The storefronts were all closed and the food and drink vendors had gone home because everyone not attending the cock fights was back in their houses. I walked back to the hotel and in my room, looking in the mirror while I soaped my hands to wash up, I saw on my face and my clothes that the blood from the fights splatters.

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