A Night at the Cock Fights

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.

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.


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