At a mid-1960s charity performance in the Downtown Bullring, Tijuana: the place is packed at premium prices. It's for the Orphans Organization, and the performer is Mario Moreno, Cantínflas.

Part of the warm-up act is a genuine novice bullfighter fighting a genuine novice bull. By agreement it is a genuine false fight, in deference to prominent figures who attend for charitable, political and social reasons, but who would not condone the usual balletic carnage of bullfights.

They finish their dance, the novices, and the two-legged one retires to mild applause. Not so the bovine. The young, unlearned, untrained bull cannot or will not find the exit even with the aid of verbal and hand signals.

Next and usual solution: run in a small herd of female bulls whose history in the ring is to make a lap or two and leave, lowing. They know how, and do, but contrary to expectations, the bull-boy shuffles himself out of the deal and remains inside. More audible and visible instructions, to no avail.

Now, into the breach struts: The Man. El Hombre, for you Jervians. Here is a guy with dignity, with presence, with poise and pose, with macho to burn, with a Mexican Cowboy suit spangled and embroidered from stem to stern. And that big Mexican Cowboy hat, similarly decorated. And a long, new, leather rope.

The crowd is silenced by respect and anticipation. The Charro, for that is what this decorous, decorated cowboy is, builds his loop, laying it out and dragging it along the tainted turf in as sanitary and sinuous a circle as one could have hoped for. Out of the corner of his eye he measures the young miscreant, shows signs of an internal tap-tap-tap-kiss cross, launches his substantial torso in a calculated backswing, pivots on close-clad legs, embraces the arc of his power and sends it through his arm, lifting the reata with a hiss heard throughout the arena, executes a particularly graceful flip of an elbow, and... knocks the big sombrero off his head.

Silence. The rope coasts to a limp halt. The Charro watches the slow-mo descent of the ever-so symbolic headgear. This goes on for about a half-second; then the place erupts. All out of their seats, shouting, screaming, laughing.

The Charro maintains his composure, moving a little stiffly as he retrieves the rope, ignoring the hat. His pale patrician, Spanish-heritage face is coloradito like something very red and very hot.

The young bull surfs gently out of the arena on the wash of sound, and as he goes he looks back at the hat on the ground and shakes his head.

Cantínflas did appear, and did "fight" a "bull" in artful and amusing ways; the charity was well-served; thousands saw and were seen, and were rewarded for their contributions and patience. And the guy whose every sinew and stitch represented anti-clown proved a principle: the gap between being clothed in dignity and appearing naked before all, is as narrow as a rope.

Or as wide as a sombrero.

Or something.


"A Glimpse In The Rear-view Mirror"

I was in Ensenada for the start of several of the Baja off-road races. It's difficult for me to sort among them and say which it was, but It must have been late 1969 or some time in 1970 when actor James Garner was there as one of the sponsors of the AIR effort. I understood then he'd had considerable training at professional race-driving schools but not much actual race experience.

Parnelli Jones was the big dog at the time, earning his reputation for lack of patience with slower entrants he overtook on the course. I heard several of the recipients of his teachings describe how he would emerge from the following dust cloud, look around either side of the student's vehicle, and if there happened not to be sufficient room to pass, he'd apply a bumper in a degree of force and angle sufficient to create that room. There was understandable resentment, but not as much as I'd have expected. The principal complaint was that in the current race one or several of them had been assigned to a position of eventual victimhood by the draw for starting times. Leave before Jones, reluctantly expend inordinate attention on the rear-view mirror, as a matter of survival.

Technical inspection on the year I'm struggling to remember was conducted in a kind of walled bowl near the starting area, a wide spot in the road leading south out of town, but near downtown and the "strip" of hotels servicing tourists on weekends, and midweek, when such races were held, this monstrous crowd of participants and hangers-on. It was quite a sight after sundown the night before the race, looking from outside and above what I guess must have been the site of some form of animal abuse like bull- or cock-fighting: bare bulbs created bright highlights and deep shadows on the assembled hardware and patch-laden inspectors and participants.

Some of the absolute greatest off-road machinery and drivers were there, including those factory Fords and AMC machines and dozens of specially-built privateers like the "Bullfighters", Andy DeVercelli and Tom McClellan. These latter, consistent winners in Mexico, had acquired their nickname in one of the very first Baja 1000 races when they hit a bovine near the finish but continued to win the class and maybe more. Andy, it was said, had to have his head suspended in one of those bolt-to-the-skull apparatuses for several months.

I was standing and peering into the bowl, wondering if it would be worthwhile to feel my way to a gate in the wall and slide down the sandy bank to circulate among the crowd packed shoulder-to-rollcage and knee-to-knobby, when Garner appeared next to me. He was elated, high as anyone on the premises on the excitement. He perused the crowd and bellowed, "Parnelli! There you are, you sonofabitch! Hey, Parnelli!"

Just about everyone there heard him, judging by the number of faces that turned his way. His place in the regard of the people in the bowl was not as high as his actual location above their heads, judging by the eye-rolls and subsequent backs-of-heads presented to him. Parnelli was one of the few who did not turn to look. Garner did find his way into the bowl, and I watched his progress as he bulled his way through the crowd in pursuit of the sonofabitch. I noted how the largest of the jacket patches were turned to him as he approached. He did catch up with Parnelli and throw an arm across his shoulders. Parnelli did not alter his course or speed, near as I could tell, or respond in any way other than a slow glance at Garner's face when he was first overtaken.

I didn't think very highly of Garner after this incident; however, what I have learned of him since has changed that. It seems to me now that he is a respectable craftsman in his field, and a much better than average example of celebrity behavior in general. Your mileage may vary.


Copyright 2000 TwinkleInMyEyeProductions, Frank S, Proprietor

"What genre of photography appeals to you least?"


I like the way the question is phrased. All photography appeals to me to some degree, voyeur that I am; however, I have to say my least favorite to look at is sports-action photography, even though that is one of my most favorite to be doing.

Trouble is, without regard to the personalities or technologies involved, sports-action has been done. There seem to me to be limited poses/compositions, and the masters have done them. Everything else is just emulation. To put a little finer point on it, modern sports-action isn't as interesting as classic sports-action, when the capabilities of photography and athletes and their melding were just being explored. I reckon nothing of significance has been added to either since the late 1930s.

I must admit my most-frequently browsed photo books are the auto-racing essays, by Coltrin, Lyons, Schlegelmilch, and for the most part their contemporaries. The new stuff is colorful and active, but no deeper than the paper they are printed on, my view.

An earlier poster said he couldn't appreciate "still life" (twigs in a vase) photography, there was no story to identify with. Well, no, not that kind of story. But one of the greatest thrills of my life was to stand in front of a Rembrandt painting and reach out from the same spot he stood in when he made it, and with my imaginary brush add a final stroke or two. The men, the brush, the subject, the canvas, each has a story, each interesting in some way, each enriching in some way. I get the same kind of rush from a particular pepper photo, a bovine skull, a porcelain-like nude; all objects on their own, viewable as divorced from their histories, but ultimately tied to their essences and those of their perceivers and the processes rendering them into the shareable world.

When I drop in on writing groups and see someone is bemoaning not having something to write about, I always suggest they go to the eBay auctions of Gargantua. He sells old photographs, usually simple snapshots. Every one of them has a story, some so poignant or inscrutable it is impossible to resist making one's own stories, many so invested with history or emotion, it is impossible to contemplate them for more than a few moments.

All of which may add up to this declaration: style and substance both influence what pleases me least and most. And to this confession: I'll take content over technical perfection, every time.


Copyright 2004 TwinkleInMyEyeProductions, Frank S, Proprietor

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