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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Postcard from Vieques: Boys' Night Out

You may recall that a few years back it was fashionable for dark-haired men to go blond. Well, trust us when we tell you that, despite the participation of Ricky Martin, this trend did not make it to Vieques. 

One year during that era we were invited by a friend who was celebrating a birthday to attend a fiesta in Bravos de Boston hosted by an acquaintance of hers, a gregarious art director from Manhattan. Also at the party were a couple of fellows who were starting out in business on the island, as well as the partner of our host. As the evening progressed and by the time several bottles of wine had been consumed we had all decided to go the next night to Gallera Puerto Real. What, you may ask, is Gallera Puerto Real? Two words: cock fights!
In the Tylenol light of morning we began to have serious doubts about our sanity. After all, here we would be, a band of gentlemen who, how shall we say it?-  all play for the same team-  and we were contemplating entering a dark and mysterious bastion of brutal Latin machismo. Even crazier, we were all blond! Our only refuge was our special security pass: Art Director's partner worked the bar. A Viequense who had returned from stateside, he was helping out at the family business. And no, he was not a blond.

That evening, after a little liquid fortitude at Art Director's house, we made our way to the Gallera. As we walked towards the door we still felt trepidation, we admit it. Do you remember that scene in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert where the protagonists, in their full Sydney drag, burst into the Outback saloon and the world momentarily stops, all eyes suddenly and silently staring with stunned incredulity at them? That's what we feared!
And goodness knows, five blond men in various combinations of white shirts, stylish shorts and tastefully distressed jeans about to walk into the swarthy world of those who bet on fighting birds may as well have been wearing chartreuse feather-topped glittery platform boots! We probably looked like a boy band past its expiry date.

To tell you that the place fell silent as we entered and that we faced stony stares would only be a lie, though. In reality, barely a few people bothered to give us curious glances, and with blustery bravado we made our way straight to the bar where we could huddle and assess our surroundings. We were in a small room, not much more than a shack appended to the structure that housed the "arena". And to our surprise there were quite a few women present. On closer inspection, though, we quickly realized that these were not the kind of woman you take home to meet Mama. These girls looked like they were there to do a little business with the evening's winners. And so for them to have had one of the retired generations of Menudo suddenly walk into their world must have been like dinero from Dios- they swarmed us in a flash!
Women like these, though, are wise in the ways of the world and as quickly as they had embraced us they realized the futility of their efforts and chose to conserve their resources for later in the game. Unshackled, we were free to cross the final threshold into the clubhouse of dark-haired testosterone.

Inside, the gallera is an earthen- floored shell of a dilapidated industrial structure, ventilated only by high level louvres of dubious functionality. Along the long back wall are the "stables"- rows and rows of cages each containing an immaculately kept rooster. The beautiful birds were something to behold- all elegant plumes of lustrous feathers- and they exuded all the cockiness (it's now obvious from where the term is derived, and it is apt) of human prize fighters.
The exchanges are fought in a small ring with side walls about four feet high on the spectator side. Rising from the ring is a steeply raked set of round bleachers, each of several rows having excellent sight lines to the brightly lit floor. Wishing to filter our experience somewhat, we made our way to the top row. Those most directly involved in the match- the owners of the birds and the heavy betters- sat or stood nearest the floor. The stands were nearly full, and the young man beside us as we sat down gave us a courteous nod of welcome. Like every other local there he was in attendance not to assess the fashions and proclivities of fellow spectators, but for the love of the fight. That we were interlopers was obvious- he explained that as visitors we were not permitted to bet- and yet we were welcome. What a relief!
The spectacle was mesmerizing. Men in the front row were leaning over the walls into the ring, banging the padded boards with their hands. The crowd was screaming, disorienting and terrifying the birds into attacking each other. The noise was deafening!

We've heard tell that cock fights are matches to the death, a fact that we find pretty abhorrent, but to be honest that is not what we saw. We watched two rounds and in each, one of the roosters became submissive and the two birds were quickly separated. Is this the norm? We don't know. What we do know is that we were welcome guests witnessing a well tolerated local custom.
Without friends in the competition or financial stakes in the results we fairly quickly tired of the repetition. We took our leave and headed to Al's Mar Azul- Ex-pat Central- for a nightcap where we're sure we saw a couple more blonds. And they may even have been natural!
Gallera Puerto Real
approximately 1 km. west of Isabel Segunda on Rte. 200
Photo Credits:
 Priscilla: New York Daily News
Menudo: World Star Music
Modern Fight Ring: redbloguera.net
Historic Fight Scene: Ultimate Fowl Forum
Al's Mar Azul: Bohemedream.virtualtourist

1 comment:

  1. Great post...don't suppose you remember what nights they run the matches do you?