Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bullfights on West Side provide other worldly experience

I've always had a deep appreciation for the many culturally diverse activities that occur in our little slice of California we call the West Side. One such event that holds a fond place in my heart, are the bloodless bullfights that occur as the culmination of festivities for the Portuguese Festa de Espiritu Santo (F.D.E.S.) or festival for the holy spirit. The latest came after Gustine's 75th anniversary of their Festa this last Monday September 12th.

Even though this event has been a West Side staple for many decades I still find it amazing how many West Siders have no idea of this wonderful spectacle of Portuguese braun, beast, and tight knit camaraderie.

I caught wind of a free ticket from my friend Audrey, whom we trade free tickets from time to time depending on who gets them first. She took a carload of first timers who had no idea what they were in for. "I always like breaking bullfight virginities," she proclaimed as they drove off.

And break them in she did. A pair of the first timers, Mike and Chris, were awestruck, jaws practically hanging to the ground at the sight of the very visually astounding event before them.

First timers never expect what there is to be experienced on their first trip out to Bella Vista Park between Newman and Gustine. After all, many locals have traveled this route along Hwy 33 many times before not knowing that an archaic looking bull fight ring resided just beyond the fields of corn off of Canal School Road.

After parking the cars along a corn field next to hundreds of other cars, we hiked about a mile in the dark before the lights of Bella Vista Park emerged from the walls of corn.

It seemed if we had just stepped through some sort of time warp where we were in a different world in which everyone was speaking a foreign language (Portuguese) that sounded like a mixture of Russian and Spanish. And although it may have seemed like we were blending in, I knew better, I knew we stook out like sore thumbs.

"I'm coming back every year!" my friend Chris said while turning his head in admiration of the impromptu fashion show going on around him. No doubt, the Portuguese women and men have a country style all their own, and for an event as large as this one, you better believe that folks show up dressed to impress.

After making stops at the beer and food booths, its back into the seats of the arena for a glimpse of the action.

Members of the suicide squad, the Forcados Amadores of Turlock, take the bull by the horns and basically hold onto the bull until it can't move any more before they let it go. Sometimes the suicide squad can't hold him the first try and keep going until they do.

After the fights are over, it's down to the dance floor where a disc jockey plays all of the Portuguese favorites and folks dance a series of traditional dances.

Matador Luis Vital "Procuna" of Portugal dances with a bull in the arena of Bella Vista park.

While photographing the action from the stands, I noticed one of my photographer friends Dianne Moody (right) behind the wall of the arena floor. We caught each other up on news in our respective photo worlds, before I let her get her attention back to the bull fight, warning her about a nasty accident I had witnessed the year prior when a bull jumped the arena wall and trampled unsuspecting folks thinking they were safe from danger.

Area youth mingle and dance after the bullfights.

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