Christopher North went all the way to Lima, Peru to see one matador at work, and the very long trip was clearly worth it.
I have just made a 13,000-mile round trip to watch a bullfight. I’d like to tell you that I also went to admire the exquisite latticework of Lima’s 18th century balconies, to savour the city’s matchless cuisine, to linger reverently in its Viceregal churches. Doing so would make me come across as a more rounded human being. But the truth is that I went for one weekend and for one matador.
And what a matador! Andrés Roca Rey is the world’s Número Uno, the first Peruvian ever to claim the top spot. Eighteen months ago, interviewing him for this magazine, I wondered whether he could rise any higher. He was already the torero of the moment, combining easy grace with suicidal courage. But this summer in Spain, he went up another gear, triumphing in plaza after plaza, culminating in an extraordinary performance in Bilbao. Despite being badly knocked about by both his bulls, he came back with such unhurried elegance that with a unanimity I have never known before, the critics proclaimed it the corrida of 2022.
Peru, like many less developed countries, gets excited when one of its citizens achieves recognition overseas. Even those Peruvians who have no interest in toreo know about Roca Rey — rather as English people who know nothing about cricket know about Ian Botham. To watch the return of the national hero to the ring where he began his ascent — that, surely, was worth an 18-hour flight. …
I made my way to the 257-year-old Plaza de Acho, the greatest bullring in the Americas. Bullfights in Lima are always special, but the buzz that Sunday had a different quality. You could sense the excitement everywhere — among the touts, the anticucho sellers, the lines of police. Crime in the Lima borough of Rímac is normally rife but that day even the muggers and pickpockets were more interested in getting hold of tickets.
Lima brought forth the fatted calf for its famous son. Before the opening parade, we were treated to a performance of the national dance: the marinera, performed both on foot and on that other national symbol, the Peruvian pacing horse. Bands from the army, navy, air force and police played marching tunes. Then 14,000 voices belted out the national anthem. Afterwards, high on the patriotism of the moment, they chanted against Peru’s Leftist president, Pedro Castillo.
A modern bullring, like a Roman amphitheatre, is a forum for public grievances. I happened also to be in the Plaza de Acho in November 2000, when word came through that Alberto Fujimori, the effective but corrupt autocrat, had resigned. It was fascinating to watch the news rustle through the stands. The Fujimorista crowd noticed a Congressman who had been accused of taking a bribe to vote against the president. Without any pre-arrangement, they began tossing coins at the poor fellow until he was driven, puce with rage, from the ring.