by Mario Carrión

The 39th Annual Congress of the National Association of the Taurine Clubs of America--- NATC---, was held in the city of Tlaxcala, with its a prelude and epilogue in Mexico City, from October 26 until November 4, 2001. It was hosted by Los Aficionados de Los Angeles, a taurine club from that city in California.

The NATC is an umbrella organization that groups thirteen American taurine clubs. The goals of its annual convention are to deal with business matters related to the organization, to offer its members and guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in multiple taurine events, and to promote the connection and rapport among its members as well as between them and the aficionados and the taurinos from the place where the convention is taking place.

The Congress opened with a reception at a downtown Mexico City hotel on Friday evening October 26. There, Sergio Hernández, the coordinator of the Congress in Mexico and owner of the "Rancho Seco" bull breeding ranch, and Betty Stracke, NATC President, together with Jimee Petrich, Los Aficionados de Los Angeles President, welcomed the conventioneers, and introduced some of the people responsible for the organization of the Congress as well as Tlaxcala matador Leopoldo Casasola and other Mexican taurinos and aficionados.

The next morning the participants departed by bus to Tlaxcala where they stayed until Sunday November 4, where they participated in the various events programmed for the convention.

The City of Tlaxcala provided the ideal location for these events due to its strong taurine tradition. The NATC had previously held its convention in this city in 1985. This colonial e historic city is the capital of the state of the same name, and is situated about 100 miles from Mexico City. It is the cradle of several famous matadors, and has a significant number of aficionados, and a small but very picturesque bullring. Moreover, more than forty brave bull-breeding ranches are located in the countryside near the city.

During the time of the convention the town celebrated the well-known and popular "Feria de Todos los Santos", a week-long celebration during which many events are programmed, such as cultural exhibitions and contests, rodeos, cock fights and concerts, but the biggest attractions are the taurine events.

This year four corridas were scheduled with Mexican and Spanish matadors highlighting the cartels. The Spaniards were Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza, "Joselito", "El Juli" "Morante de la Puebla", and Antonio Barrera, and Mexicans "Armillita", "El Zotoluco", Alberto Rafael y Ortega, "Jerónimo", Carlos García, Leopoldo Casasola y Paco Gonzalez. "El Zotoluco", "Jerónimo", Gonzalez and Barrera each cut one ear, but the overall winner was "El Juli", who received three ears and a tail for his outstanding performances. Barrera and Alberto Ortega were slightly injured. The NATC members who attended the corridas were pleased with the entertaining and artistic results, although, except for the second corrida where good bulls of "Montecristo" were fought, the work of the bullfighters was made very difficult by the lack of bravery of several of the bulls.

Other taurine activities included two 'fiestas camperas' held at the bull breeding ranches of José María Arturo Huerta and of Sergio Hernandez, where the NATC conventioneers watched the testing of several calves and later enjoyed an authentic Mexican buffet while being serenaded by a mariachi band. The experienced and enthusiastic 'aficionados practicos' Tim Mahin, Sal Miliziano and Bob Blocker had a chance to perform in the tientas. George Knull also made his successful debut with a calf, and Alastair Drew, a retired British coronel, also tried to cape a becerra, but he learned the hard way that the brave calves do not obey commands as readily as soldiers. Also at "Rancho Seco", and at the invitation of Sergio Hernandez, retired matador Mario Carrión, a member of NATC, had a chance to give a few passes with a calf to remember his almost forgotten bullfighting skills. Furthermore Sergio surprised the conventioneers by donating a bull to matador Leopoldo Casasola which he fought well and killed with difficulty in the arena of the ranch. Everyone left "Rancho Seco" satisfied with the rewarding activity and grateful to the host and his family for their kid attention.

The NATC Assembly was held on Sunday, October 28. After dealing with several internal matters, the members awarded the 2001 trophies, approved the proposal for the organization for the next congress, and elected the officers for the coming year. The trophies are granted to aficionados who have contributed to the advancement of the fiesta brava in the United States, and Sergio Montes, Irene Iglesias y Hugh Hosch were the recipients of the awards. The Club Taurino of New York will host the next congress in Dax, France, during its August fair with some activities taking place in San Sebastian, Spain. The elected officers for year 2002 are James Nieto, President; Bette Stracke, Vice-president; Hugh Hosch, Secretary; and Vi Hylander, Treasurer.

Not all activities, however, were of a taurine nature, since there were organized sightseeing trips and social events. Due to Tlaxcala being a very old colonial city and because the state contains many interesting tourist spots, the conventioneers took several tours to visit historical and typical points of interest in the city and its surroundings. A visit to the extensive archeological ruins of Cacaxtla was quite impressive. Of the social activities, of which there were several, the Halloween Costume Party on Oct 31, held at the Posada San Francisco, were the NATC members were staying in Tlaxcala, and the Congress Closing Ceremony-Gala Dinner, on November 4, at the elegant and luxurious Casino Español, in Mexico City were truly outstanding. Furthermore, there were many opportunities to interact informally with fellow conventioneers, to meet bullfighters, bull breeders and local aficionados. Each person seemed to have some personal experience to relate. For example Rafael Iglesias played tennis with matador "Morante de la Puebla" a few hours before he appeared in the Tlaxcala bullring; the 'practicos' were commenting about their early morning practice in the hotel courtyard, and about their performances at the tientas; Antonia Mohs showed her autographed picture of "El Juli" who she met at the hotel; Jim Nieto was previewing plans for the next convention in Dax; and Ed Williams, from Phoenix, diverged a bit from the taurine conversation to keep listeners updated with the football scores and the World Series results, which was won by his hometown team.

Congress Tlaxcala 2001 concluded on a high note in Mexico on November 4. The attendees left Tlaxcala in the morning to return to Mexico City to attend a corrida in the Plaza de Toros Mexico in the afternoon, and for the convention closing activity that night.

By luck, since it was not planned that way, the bulls fought by Manolo Mejía, Juan José Padilla and "El Zapata" that afternoon in the Plaza Mexico were from "Rancho Seco"; and even had he tried, Sergio Hernandez, their owner, could not have provided more magnificent or braver bulls to win the admiration of his fellow NATC members. The three matadors performed well, especially Padilla who cut an ear. Sergio provided a model of what a real brave bull should look like and how it should behave, and for that he was rewarded with a vuelta on the shoulders of the aficionados.

That night, during the closing ceremony, Jimee Petrich jokingly claimed that "Sergio owes his success of this day to me, since I programmed it that way". However, she really should have claimed that thanks to her planning skills, and to the help of Bette Stracke, Hugh Hosch, Sergio Hernandez and other "Aficionados de los Angeles" members, the Tlaxcala-NATC 2001 Congress was an extraordinary taurine, cultural and social success, which will be long remembered by the participants.