When I was very small someone told me that bulls got angry when they saw the color red, so I have always associated the color with that animal. I felt relatively safe in the city, but was careful not to wear red when we went to the country. Bulls were not the only animals I was afraid of, but lions and tigers were not usually seen running around loose behind a few strands of barbed wire on the outskirts of Dallas.
Years later, when my husband and I were living in Mexico City, we had visitors from the States who were anxious to see a bullfight. I had reservations about going, but didn’t want to spoil everyone else’s good time.
When we entered the bull ring, our friends, to my husband’s delight and my dismay, bought tickets for the front row. I noticed that, appropriately enough, nearly everything was red. The wooden boards that form a partition all the way around the ring were painted a brilliant red. The band’s uniforms were red. Of course the matadors’ capes were red.
“Red,” I thought, “is supposed to be a warm, cheerful color. Let’s see. . . it means love as in red roses, valor as in the stripes on the flag. . . um, debauchery as in ‘red light district,’ anger as in ‘seeing red,’ . . . . Uh, oh, that must refer to the bull. . . . stop lights, red flags—Red means DANGER!”
I decided to listen to my husband’s conversation with our visitors. The bulls are specially bred to be fierce, he told them. They are not allowed to see a human being until they enter the bull ring so they will be quite unafraid of man. My husband noticed I was turning pale and held my hand. I tried to think about something else.
But the next thought that came to me was a memory. When I was eight, a bull and I quite ruined a family picnic. Picnics were rare events in those days, looked forward to for weeks. My family didn’t have a car, so we took the bus and street car to the country with our lunch in a big basket. In those pre-Tupperware days, a full-fledged picnic lunch was heavy. At the end of the street car line we walked for some time looking for the perfect spot and found it in a grassy meadow under a shady tree beside a rippling brook. We spread out our red checkered table cloth and Mother set out a plate of crisp fried chicken, potato salad in a red Pyrex mixing bowl, a large can of Campbell’s pork and beans, cold biscuits, and a big chocolate layer cake. Our mouths watering, we got ready to partake of the feast displayed before us. That was when I heard a bull bellow.
Daddy assured me that it was at least a mile away, and that it would be inside a fence. I didn’t believe any of it. I was a great overgrown girl who took her responsibilities as the eldest child seriously. When people would say I was old for my age, I nearly burst with pride. However, as that bull continued to vocalize at intervals, I forgot everything but my terror. Eating was out of the question. My dad and mother tried to reassure me, but as soon as I would calm down a little, the bull would bellow again, and I knew we were all in peril of our lives. My parents finally gave up and took us home. I’ve never lived the incident down; it seems to me that at every family reunion my brother or sister brings it up to tease me again.
At the bull fight, I determined not to disgrace myself. I had read that it is a national insult to leave a bullfight before it is over. A big black bull ran out snorting, stopped, and looked right up at us. My husband assured me the bull couldn’t possibly jump the barrier. It looked to me like it could. . . . It did! I had to get out of there!
My husband caught up with me about half way to the exit and talked me into returning to my seat by explaining that the bull had only jumped the wooden partition that the bull fighters run behind, and that no bull has ever jumped the ten-foot concrete wall that separates it from the crowd. I succeeded in watching the rest of the bullfight by concentrating on the skill of the bullfighters as they daringly challenged the bulls with their billowing red capes, then evaded them with graceful dance steps. I almost enjoyed the spectacle.
However, when our friends started talking about going back the next Sunday, I told them I wasn’t going. To this day, if anyone tries to insist I go to a bull fight, I see red.