At the first dogfight I ever attended I expected to be horrified and sickened by what I had heard would happen to the horses. I had been told that what happened to the horses would make me cry and spit up like a nino (little child), even though I am not a nino. What happened to the horses, I had been warned, would make my nalgas (buttocks) quiver like those of a maricon (fairy), even though I am not a maricon. I am an hombre (man). Un hombre mucho macho (very masculine) con muchos cojones (many testicles). I lost one or two cojones in the War, but that is another story which is neither here nor there and I will not tell it to you. I will only mention the War in such a way that you will know I was in it, and then I will tell you what I know of the dogfights in Madrid in the spring when the air is clean and cool and an hombre may drink four bottles of wine and only pay for three, for there is no place on earth like Madrid in the spring and the only dogfights worth seeing happen in Madrid and the only time they are worth seeing is in the spring. Comprende?
I had heard about the horses (los caballos we call them in Spain), about the tragedy of their suffering in the plaza de perros (the dog ring to you turistas). I was delighted to discover that nothing more happens to the horses than happened to me during the War. They are merely disemboweled, and the disemboweling is done so cleanly and so coolly and with such an air of good humor that one cannot help but smile as one smiled at the Kaiser. It is the exact opposite of tragedy to see the horses trot into the ring with the picadors on their backs dressed in bright red polka-dot costumes and wearing red rubber noses and carrying pickaxes, and then to see the picadors swing their picks into one another’s horses and the suddenly red horses falling on their riders and the picadors all killed or maimed in a way that makes everyone smile, some of them crushed instantly, others left to die in the sand from their concussions, for that is the sort of thing that happens to one if one happens to be a picador or a horse in Madrid in the spring. Madrid, by the way, is the best place to see the dogfights, unless you wish to go the extra distance to Valencia, where the air is cleaner and so cool that you will have to wear your mittens and the water is so clear that you can see through it and even the natives will bathe in it if you hold a gun to their heads and smile. The dogfights in Valencia make the dogfights in Madrid look like a slumber party for interior decorators.
After the picadors and the horses have been carried off by an honor guard of bastardos (favorite sons), the dogfight begins in earnest. The Spanish, by the way, have no word equivalent to our dogfight, and refer to the event as la corrida de perros (literally, a running of dogs, or in Cuba, running dog lackeys of the imperialist stooges).
The band plays a march, and very badly, too, and the three doggieadors (dog killers) enter the ring wearing red rubber pants and the little tri-cornered hats folded from yesterday’s newspapers. If the music is happy they skip gaily around the arena while the crowd shouts its approval and throws botellas (bottles); otherwise, if the music is sad, they hold hands solemnly and approach the presidential box, where el presidente jabs each one in the eye with his forefinger and calls them hijos de putas, a term of such respect that I will not translate it for you. Temporarily blinded, the doggieadors stagger to the center of the ring, each crying “Mi ojo! Mi ojo!” (my eye, my eye!). The blinding is mainly symbolic of the Inquisition and, to a lesser extent, of God’s pact with Abraham, but it is also meant to even the chances between man and dog at the Moment of Truth.
The dog, meanwhile, has been kept in complete isolation prior to the fight. His teeth have been cleaned, his coat trimmed, and his cojones tied off with twine to give him more of an edge. Only a cowardly doggieador, a real schoolgirl, will fight an immature or sickly or ill-bred dog. The ideal fighting animal is a pure-blooded adult Chihuahua standing a full seven or eight inches at the shoulders and showing nails at least half an inch long. It is true that in certain towns, like Valencia, the authorities have given in to the public outcry from fairies and ballerinas and dogfighting is no longer the manly art it once was. In such places they fight Chihuahuas whose nails have been clipped to almost nothing and the doggieadors wear hard hats instead of the traditional paper hats, thus entirely avoiding the Moment of Truth. But that is only in Valencia, where the toughest hombre in town could not beat up your grandmother and you would have to beat her up yourself. For a real dogfight, the kind your grandmother knew, you must go all the way to Seville, where the air is so clean you can bathe in it and so cool that you can walk around all day with a block of ice on your head and the ice will not melt and the putas will charge you less because they can count only as many pesos as they have fingers. The dogfights in Seville make the dogfights in Valencia look like a petting zoo full of tranquilized hamsters.
When the doggieadors have partially recovered their eyesight and are moaning quietly to themselves, a muchacho (little bastard) lights the firecracker that has been tied to the dog’s tail. The explosion scares everyone, especially the dog, who will run in circles trying to bite what’s left of his tail. Before he knows what has happened the dog’s antics have brought him to the doggieadors, who by this time have got to their feet and are trying to skip gaily around the arena once more, but the heartiness has gone out of it and they know it.
The dog advances with a death growl rumbling deep in its throat. The doggieadors freeze in their tracks and suddenly the crowd is very, very still. No one breathes. The Moment of Truth is at hand. With a fierce, primitive cunning, the Chihuahua licks the feet of one of the dog killers, and says, “Yip!” In two shakes of a tall tale, the three doggieadors have skewered the dog on their fencing foils and are roasting him over the fire that has just broken out in the stands. “Chinga tu madre!” yells the crowd (roughly, honor thy mother). The doggieadors respond good-naturedly with “Besa mi huevos!” (kiss my eggs, or in this context, our eggs, the eggs of all good citizens).
And so it is over at last and you feel very fine and the bottles are empty and your pockets have been picked and the dog is dead. Is it right? Is it wrong? Who knows? I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by these moral standards the dogfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on and have a feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality and solvency and insolvency, and after it is over I feel very sad but also very fine and dandy. That’s when I can put the gun to my head and smile and say to the world, “Besa mi huevos!”