I so enjoy reading “The Economist.” I love to learn, and each issue provides me with such deep satisfaction in that department; I feel like I’ve really accomplished something when I finish a week’s publication. But you might be surprised about my favorite section. Yes, I feel a little guilty that I love “Books & Arts” and “Science & Technology” in a magazine by the name of “The Economist.” But those aren’t what I look forward to the most when I open a fresh issue. No, it’s the Obituaries I love.
One of my dreams is that when I die (hopefully a long time from now), I will have led a life special enough to warrant an Economist Obituary. The respect with which the writer(s) treats the deceased — even the less than savory characters, ie warlords or mobsters — and the poetry the writer evokes… I am always, always moved after reading about these people. These are no daily newspaper she’s-with-the-Lord-Jesus-now-please-donate-to-your-local-pet-shelter Obituaries. I find “The Economist” Obituaries to be some of the most beautifully-written pieces I’ve ever read. And for the most part, I’ve never even heard of the decedents prior to reading about them in the penultimate section of the magazine. Yet, for a moment, and sometimes longer, I mourn them.
Six months later, I still think about Conchita Cintrón, who I had never heard of prior to the March 5th, 2009, issue. I hope you will read her Obituary in full. I wept at the end.
Mar 5th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Conchita Cintrón Verill, bullfighter, died on February 17th, aged 86
FOUR in the afternoon is the vital time in bullfighting. Most corridas start then, when the declining sun shines full in the bull’s eyes, dazzling him. And that was the only time Conchita Cintrón felt afraid. Behind the closed gates of the patio de cuadrillas, mounted and ready, she would feel a sudden lightning bolt to the pit of the stomach, the realisation that she didn’t know how the bull would be, or what was about to happen. At that moment, everyone was quiet. All she could hear was the tinkling harness of the mules that would drag the bull out of the ring, the chink of spur on stirrup, “and the voice of some well-intentioned supporter wishing you luck, and you can hardly bear to give him your hand.” Then the gates swung open, the trumpets blared out, “and it’s just God, the bull and the bullfighter.”It was also at four in the afternoon that she had dared to knock, years before, at the door of Ruy da Cámara’s riding school in Lima. It was a cold, pale day in winter; she was 11. The place was deserted. Da Cámara found in front of him a slender child with blonde page-boy hair and blue eyes, dressed in overalls, which she wore as nonchalantly as if she had no other clothes. She handed him a ten-soles note and asked him to give her a lesson. Yes, she added, she knew how to ride a little; she had been given a horse as a present on the day of her first communion.
Da Cámara noticed then what fans treasured later: her delicacy, her solemnity and her fearlessness. She was a gringa, with a Puerto Rican father and an Irish-American mother; this accounted for her fair northern colouring, which earned her the name “Golden Goddess” in Mexico, where she made her reputation. Her fine hands allowed her to flick and twirl the muleta, luring the bull and teasing him, with extraordinary artistry. Beside the huge black beast, one commentator wrote, she looked like a Sèvres figurine, but one brimming over with duende—courage, grace and defiance. She was known especially for her verónicas, slow backward swings of the cape with both feet rock-steady as the bull raced towards her, almost upon her.
But Ms Cintrón had not intended to work with capes or muletas. She had started as a horse-rider, until the day when da Cámara encouraged his pupils to stick banderillas in an old chair from horseback. She took to the new game so eagerly that, at 13, he tried her talents on a frisky bull that was being driven to the local slaughterhouse. Her horse, as she gave it rein and raced forwards, leapt “like a swallow” with fear, but she saw her banderilla planted firmly for the first time in the black, mountainous neck. That was it. At 16, though her parents wished she would do something ladylike, such as learning French, she was touring professionally round the bullrings of Latin America.
Learning to kill was harder. She practised at the slaughterhouse, serenely confident, as she would tell preachy Americans later, that these bulls would otherwise die by the hammer, an “unsporting” end. At first she closed her eyes, missing the vital spinal gap where her dagger had to fall. She forced herself not only to look, but to stay still as the bull charged her. Only then could she see the spot. The keen, true thrust, and the instantaneous death, made her sing with joy. In her fairly short career—she retired in 1950, at 27, wanting to marry a man who would not roll over so readily—she killed more than 750 bulls, happily collecting their ears, tails and feet.
A passing caress
Her skills were not always welcome. This was, and is, a man’s world. She had been trained as a rejoneadora, in the Portuguese version of bullfighting, and was supposed to stay on her horse. Men went on foot to do their duelling with the bull, and to kill it; this was not women’s work. But Ms Cintrón found her horse got in the way. “Twos always work better than threes,” she liked to say. In her rejoneadora gear—no flashy suit of lights, but a silk jacket, leather chapped trousers and a wide-brimmed hat—she would slide from her steed and right into the close, bloody dance.
One late fight, in Jaen in 1950, was especially famous. Women were forbidden to fight on foot in Franco’s Spain, in case they were gored in unseemly ways. (Ms Cintrón was often injured and twice gored, once in each thigh, but managed to finish off the bull after fainting briefly.) On this occasion, having slipped illegally from her horse, she snatched a muleta and sword from the waiting novillero, raised the sword as the bull charged, and then dropped it, instead caressing the huge black neck as it hurtled past. For this “burst of glorious criminality”, as Orson Welles described it, she was instantly arrested and as instantly pardoned, as the crowd rained down hats and carnations. That final caress, with her delicate fingers, was a gesture only a woman might have thought of making.
She married well, to an aristocratic nephew of her riding teacher, and spent the rest of her life writing articles, breeding Portuguese water dogs and doing the diplomatic round. In old age, she would complain that she had lived too long; a bullfighter, after all, “sees no importance in living beyond the fight”. Ordinary life dragged. But at times, laughing, she would make her hands into horns and imitate the rush of the bull out of the gate, at four in the afternoon.
Copyright © 2009 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.