What a pre-pandemic Walla Walla bullfight taught one family about embracing the day

The last cultural event Kate and I went to before the pandemic shutdown was an old-fashioned bullfight at a winery down in Walla Walla. We didn't know how big the sport was down there; we didn't know anything about the sport — if you want to call killing animals a sport. I call it murder. And that's why we loved it so much.

click to enlarge Samuel Ligon
Samuel Ligon

Even before quarantine, all we could think about was murder — as if we already knew how hard everything was going to be from now on. Yes, we had read the Hemingway books, so we did know about the goring and the sadness and the beauty. And, yes, we knew matadors wore fancy pants and carried red capes and shiny swords. I don't know how we knew that stuff. Cartoons maybe? Or maybe it all came from Hemingway? How do any of us ever really know anything? Where does our knowing come from? That's the kind of stuff you think about at a bullfight.

And when I say we knew nothing, I mean we thought the bulls would be fighting each other, like at a yak fight. But that's not how it works at all. We certainly didn't expect dragons or children singing folk songs.

The way it actually works is hard to explain. But, yes, you will be covered in blood by the end of it, yours and the bulls and the wine people's. And, yes, you will laugh and cry harder than you ever have before. Our baby was only a fetus when we went so he didn't get to enjoy it as much as he otherwise might have. Once the pandemic's over, though, we're going straight back to a bullfight, and we're taking the baby with us. Kate's going to write sad poetry about it, and I'm going to write sad fiction. The baby's going to cry.

And somehow all that sadness and death will help us understand why we should treasure every moment a little more than we already do, even if we have to quarantine forever. Like Hemingway said: "Baby shoes are for babies." Or like my older son said so many times as a toddler telling his toddler joke: "You gotta poop in your pants." And while the matadors aren't supposed to poop in their pants because the pants are so expensive, sometimes they do it anyway. Hell, we all do.

That's what bullfighting finally teaches us, everyone out in the sun, diapered up, drinking wine, the dragons circling — something about: I don't know. Fairness? Sportsmanship? Is QAnon part of it somehow? You want to know what it's really like? It's like Burning Man or the Great Depression or one of those really good Civil War battles, but with bulls running around. At least, I think they were bulls. We didn't really watch that part. There's a lot going on is what I'm trying to say. And all that stuff, plus the bulls — that's why we're so excited. ♦  

— Samuel Ligon is the author of three novels and two collections of stories. In 2012, Ligon and his wife, Kate Lebo, started Pie & Whiskey — raucous literary events featuring pie, whiskey and readings about those eponymous things — and together they edited a 2017 collection of works called Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze.

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