Petra was very intelligent and very fastidious. She refused all offers from men. Finally she met this guy from Hollywood. He was one of the inventors of the first big movie cameras. He had lived with the American Indians in the Southwest for a long time and was an architect and an artist as well.
I can't remember what his name was, but he married this Indian girl and built her a castle in the middle of Chapala. It had turrets, it had banners, handmade wrought iron things…. He was an amazing man. He was dead before I got there so I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but all of his projects were around and they were finished. He had left her with this amazing house and two daughters.
Petra, as the wealthy widow in town who had also grown up there, was the aspiration of every single man (as well as several that were married). They wanted to get access to her wealth and to her house and to what she had. She was dead set against it. She had two little girls and she was happy just the way she was. She was a little lonesome, but not desperate in any way and she definitely was always defending herself.
Carmen and I were "safe." Petra was good friends with Carmen and they could goof around and go to different places and have a good time. I was Carmen's guy so I could go along. I was not a threat, which was of real importance to her.
Petra would come and pick us up. If there was something going on and she wanted to go to it, she knew we were "safe" and it was more fun to go to places with other people. She would load up her daughters and maybe her mom and come and get us in her big white Ford van.
In the countryside there was an event put on by people who lived on the ranches that was a combination rodeo, horse show, and a caricature bull-fight. It was called a charreada.
The small landholders, the rancheros, held competitions to show off their horses and the skill of their ranch hands. It was a chance to party and have some fun. Those ranch hands were the first genuine charros.
The modern Mexican charreadas have become as elaborate and flashy as the national rodeo competitions in America.
Back then, when we went the charreadas were really funky and it was just farmers, ranch hands, and the patrones from the local ranches and estancias, landed estates, who attended these events. There was a lot of beer-drinking and eating little cucumbers,pepinos, with lime juice and salt and chili, and an occasional torta or something. (I've even had tacos go by.)
In the charreada they ran a bunch of…they were called "bulls," but the animals could be cows, young bulls or steers -- whatever was available that day. Nobody particularly cared. (In fact they didn't want anything too fearsome.) All of the animals with horns had what looked like tennis balls on the ends of their horns.
The horsemen worked these incredibly beautiful horses, doing roping things, cutting out one animal from the rest and generally doing what cowboys do with cattle as a demonstration of their horsemanship and their horse's abilities.
This particular day was a really hot Sunday afternoon and everyone was getting pretty loose. The farmers and ranch hands were really drinking heavily and the fans started getting brave. If you felt like it, if the spirit moved you, you could jump into the bull ring, take off your jacket and pretend it's a cape and do your thing….
What it really reminded me of was …uh…"bullfight karaoke." It was the guys who really wanted to do this but never had the moxie, the training, the time…whatever. They got into the ring and did their thing. They held their coat in front of them and mostly they were just drunk guys who were having the time of their lives waving these bloody coats in front of the infuriated animals.
I think about nine out of 10 of them got absolutely flattened. They didn't even TRY to get out of the way, in some cases. The bovines would just, literally, mow them down…just run right straight flat over them.
I never saw anyone get hurt. It was that one…the thing about the luck of drunks or something, but they never seemed to get hurt, and they would kind of cheer themselves for their bravado, stand up and walk (or crawl) back up into the bleachers and watch the next guys try.
Up behind me about three or four rows was a really big Mexican guy. He was well over 200 pounds and he was fat. He was obnoxious, he was sweating and he was just annoying. We all know this guy; we've seen him before. It was another adventure with Fat Albert.
Fat Albert decided that he was going to be the master bullfighter and grabbed his shirt off the bleacher, pummeling down to where he can hop into the ring. Everybody was watching him. I mean, come on, this guy…go away…you know…but he doesn't.
He kept heading down through the folks. He got right down to where he was on the edge of the bullring where a row of families with their children were sitting there watching the action. And the guy passed out.
He fell. Instead of head over heels, this guy fell sideways, right into the middle of these families with their kids. There was like a two-year-old right in the front. He knocked her head over heels, over the railing, down eight feet where she was plunk in the middle of this dusty bullfight arena with a highly agitated "bull" charging right at her.
The entire audience gasped. You could hear it. (It was like a mantra, but it was a gasp.) The bull charged toward the baby. The baby was just lying there, oblivious to everything. She was just completely stunned.
When the bull got to about four feet from the baby, four guys dove from the bleachers around me onto the bull. Two guys grabbed its horns and started yanking on its head. One guy grabbed its tail and started pulling the other way. The last guy just started bashing it with his shoulder sideways, trying to get the animal out of the path to the little girl.
It worked. The bull turned, they got it to go away in the other direction. The dad hopped down and got the baby and put it back up in the stands. The charreada went on.
After the charreada we went to a party with Petra at one of the estancias in the area. A big, 30-foot long table was set under the trees, filled with food.
I talked with the owner of the ranch and he explained that the ranchers never took their best horses to these events. Those animals were too valuable to risk. However, the events were a grand way for the ranch hands to demonstrate their skills.