I recently read The Lady Matador’s Hotel, a very disjointed story revolving around a specific time and place but with no real plot. However, I should have expected this because the author Christina Garcia writes in a very non-linear style.
The word “matador” refers to a man who fights bulls. The female version of this word is actually “matadora.” Bullfighting a male-dominated sport and the few women who have participated often face resistance and hostility from male fans. In The Lady Matador’s Hotel, the matadora is a formidable foe in the arena, and has a commanding presence in her day-to-day life as well. Many of the men in the novel view her as both intimidating and a challenge or desired conquest.
Originating in the 1670s, “matador” is derived from the Spanish “matador,” meaning “killer” from “matar” meaning “to kill or wound” and the Arabic “mata,” meaning “he died.”
In Spain, a matador is actually called a “toreador.” This is derived from “torear,” meaning “to fight bulls” and toro “bull,” from the Latin “Taurus.”
One of the implied definitions of matador involves the idea of honoring the bull, or sacrificing it through death. The Latin word “mactare” means "to kill or honor by sacrifice", from “mactus,” meaning “honored.”
There are also several levels of bullfighters. The matador is the one who kills the bull, but he has many people who assist him as well. A picador uses a lance while on horseback to test the bull’s strength before the matador begins. The banderillero places little flags (colorful sticks with a barbed point) in the top of the bull’s shoulder while running as close to the bull as possible.
Brave commoners (a.k.a. poor people) would also jump into the ring to show their own prowess. These maletillas or espontaneos would be taken away, but some legitimate bullfighters also began their careers in this way.