I became acquainted with Peter Stanlis through my connection with The Rockford Institute, yet he is always associated in my mind with New Mexico, where our late mutual friend Jim Rauen had retired from his construction business in Chicago.  Jim and his wife, Ann, were for many years benefactors of TRI.  I no longer remember how they met the Stanlises (then living in Rockford), but it must have been through some Institute affair or another.  Jim was a huge admirer of Peter’s writing, his first book on Edmund Burke especially, and personally very fond of its author.  He was also an Hispanophile, and an aficionado of the corrida and its inseparable partner, flamenco.  In 1990 Jim introduced me to the world of bullfighting when we attended the Easter Sunday fight, which inaugurates the Mexican season, at the Plaza Monumental in Juárez.  I was an instant convert and promptly wrote up the experience in an article for Chronicles.

One can never anticipate, when one goes into print with anything, the possible consequences of publishing.  Certainly, it never occurred to me that my piece would fire the imagination of a gentle Burke scholar and an authority on Robert Frost.

Three years later, I had a call from Jim in Belen in regard to the upcoming corrida at the Plaza Monumental.  We would be a party of three this time, he explained: Peter Stanlis was flying down from Illinois to join us.  I was skeptical, but always pleased to see Peter.  “You might suggest he bring a book along,” I told him.

We met at a Motel 6 in El Paso the afternoon before the fight.  Jim had asked for adjoining rooms, for convenience.  We let ourselves into ours and threw our luggage on the beds.  A knock sounded on the communicating door, and Jim opened up.  Peter stood there, wearing a bewildered expression and anxiously patting his pockets all over.  “My key.  I can’t find my room key.”

“Peter, you just let yourself in the door.  How could you have lost your key?”

He found it (somewhere) after several minutes, and the three of us agreed to shower and be ready to go for drinks and dinner in half an hour.  Thirty minutes later, Jim knocked at the communicating door.  Peter was ready for us, but his hair was wet, soaked bathroom towels lay draped about the room, and puddles of water were everywhere.  “I had trouble with the water,” he explained.  “I’m not really dry.”

We drove in Jim’s big Buick to the river, parked it in a lot, and started over the footbridge into Mexico.  Jim had a bad hip, and I lagged behind with him while Peter, powered by youthful expectancy, pressed ahead of us with remarkable vigor for a man of 73.  He had a notably peculiar gate, walking rapidly without swinging his arms, which hung completely motionless, perpendicular to his sides.  It looked highly uncomfortable but didn’t slow him up at all.

On Avenida Juárez, we hired a cab to take us to La Fogata on Avenida Triunfa de la República.  The restaurant, built in the form of a log house, sat on an otherwise vacant lot.  The food was excellent, but as usual the place was nearly empty, and a couple of years later it had vanished without trace, as if taken by a tornado.  Jim and I concluded the whole business had been a money-laundering operation by some drug cartel.  Peter studied the menu for five minutes and announced that he wanted the chicken mole.

“Peter, you won’t like it,” Jim told him.

“Yes I will.”

We had drinks, and then the food came.

“Peter, you’re not eating your chicken.”

“It’s very odd.  I think it has chocolate in it.”

The corrida next day was superb.  The bulls were fast and powerful, the matadors stylish and very brave, taking all the required chances.  A novice could not have drawn a better fight, and the quality of the performance was not lost on Peter.  Jim had told me that he never saw anyone take to the corrida as immediately and enthusiastically as I did, but Peter’s reaction may have surpassed my own.  I doubt it ever occurred to him that Edmund Burke would probably have found the ritual, from start to finish, a two-hour-long Continental barbarity; if it did, I don’t think Peter gave a damn.  At the conclusion, he was amused by the cushions raining down from the tendidos, and possibly by the articles of feminine underwear as well.

We went for dinner across the street, and more drinks.  I didn’t notice what Peter ordered this time.  I was too busy reflecting that they don’t make absent-minded professors like this one anymore.