Capitol Hill's the Saint is a tequila lounge and Mexican restaurant occupying an odd wedge of a building with pretty walls the color of blue milk glass. Inside is a nice collection of old-timey matador photographs. They're a spotlessly poised set of fellows—standing all alone, confronting their own special mixture of thoughts, and looking quietly delighted to be wearing such wonderful clothes. Their traditional traje de lucas (suit of lights) costumes are slathered with glitz and dangles—errant pom-poms, galloons, embroidery, glossiness, and epaulettes spread hard and wide.
Bullfighting is a serious art form that's not for candy-asses, and all this splendor both intones elegance and deepens the horror. Sometimes the "gold threads and sequins" get crammed into the matador's wounds, along with "sand, horn splinters, cloth, wood," and other unsavory items, writes John Fulton in Bullfighting. (Fulton was the first American to rank as a full matador in Spain, by the way. He was also alarmingly handsome. In his free time, he painted pictures of the bulls he'd killed, using their blood.)
Getting dressed for the fight is a meticulous and unhappy ritual. It takes an hour and a half, amid a sprinkling of death preparations—processions of friends, lighting of candles, bursts of prayer, unnerving glances in the mirror. The matador's gear is draped over a chair: linen underpants, maybe a nylon leotard, and two sets of stockings—white cotton, worn under silk. (The layering eliminates wrinkles, and the outer pair is always vivid pink. No one knows exactly why.) The ornate jacket is silk with sleeves left unattached at the underarms, allowing swiftness in movement. Though the jacket's material is remarkably stiff, it brings no protection. (It wouldn't really help much, even if it did—gorings most commonly occur in the upper inner thigh.) The satin breeches are so skimpy, the matador has to bounce painfully into them while straddling a rolled-up towel held by attendants. Many bullfighters say that "it takes years for a man to get over the sense of absolute exposure" the fit inspires, writes A. L. Kennedy in On Bullfighting.
The apparel comes in a rich spectrum of colors, though in La Fiesta Brava, Barnaby Conrad mentioned one matador who would wear only dark fabrics—he'd always pee himself as he heard the opening trumpets, and I can't blame him. "The sight of the actual entry of the bull, its explosion from the black passageway into the sunlit arena, is so frightening to some matadors that they do not watch," writes Fulton. He'd stare instead at his shoes—black leather slippers with delicate tassels.
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