Margaret and Dick   

     

    
July '08: Running of the bulls

Last year (Tempest in a bullring), Dick wrote about the férias in southern France.  “Think of a rodeo where bulls are king.”  This year Limoux celebrate its first féria – two blocks from our house.  Olé!  Margaret reports.

I walked over to greet barista Françoise at her café upon returning to Limoux.  “Don’t miss the féria,” she said.  It’s Limoux’s first.”  I pooh-poohed the idea.  Bullfights are not our sort of thing.  “It’s not a corrida (bullfight).  You’ll see.  Don’t miss the abrivado (running of the bulls) at

The féria of Limoux was organized by a local club of féria aficionados, who claim that bulls have long been part of local tradition.  Or should have been.  Or should be now, anyway.  Heck, Limoux has been occupied for over a thousand years – there must have been bulls here at some point.


The Camargue region of southern France is known for white horses, bulls, and virile men; the féria is the logical outcome.  The domesticated horses – those that are not running wild through the vast spaces of the Camargue – are trained to manage the cattle.  One of the cowboy’s major challenges is managing a stampede of bulls.  The “running of the bulls”, féria style, is a demonstration of this feat.

 

At high noon and a good hour before the show would actually start, we staked out the perfect photo spot along the long barricaded avenue, well away from the wine stalls and crowds.  As showtime approached, some seriously inebriated youths settled in front of us, inside the barricades.

“Ahem.  We’ve been in this spot for almost an hour.  Could you go across the street so we can take pictures here?”



“But you can take pictures of us!  We're going to stop the bulls!”

Whatever.  Their attention span was predictably short, and they soon stumbled to another spot. 

Finally, at one end of the avenue, the back of a truck opened.  Bulls charged down the straightaway.  In a flash, the horses (first photo) gave chase and formed a tight “V” around the leading bull, heads together and bodies fanning out from the center.  The bulls thus contained are visible only from the rear (second photo).


The demonstration was repeated several times, up and down the street.  On the last run, the horses and bulls had slowed down enough that the young locals could give chase...at no great danger to the bulls.




A bullring had been erected across town for the other events.  The capea demonstrated the talents of student toreros in using a cape to manage the bull.  These amateurs were matched with young bulls whose horns were taped to limit injuries.  A bull would be released into the ring, and various students would use large pink capes to attract it (and wear it out a bit) before an amateur torero would step into the ring with a smaller red cape to demonstrate his talents.  The teachers remained close by and would shout pointers (“Don’t hold the cape in front of your body!”), and the teachers and other students would jump in with pink capes to distract the bull when the performer got in trouble.  Adrenaline was pumping aplenty, and there were many close calls.  Occasionally a student would drop the cape, and the bull would vent its rage at the inert cloth, roaring and stomping and spearing the cape with its horns:  “I won that one!”  The bulls’ reaction to the color red was amazing. 

As each bull was retired back into the truck, the crowd would applaud its valiant performance. 

The finale of the capea was an impressive performance by the senior student (right).  He dazzled us all.  After demonstrating his talents with two young bulls, he strutted around the ring twice to bask in the applause.







In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that the young toreros and the pros were eye candy in the extreme.  Each rascal more handsome than the last, their clothing left little to the imagination.  They were a joy to behold in the ring or out.   








The real fireworks occurred later at the tienta, when star torero Jeremi Banti took to the ring with mature bulls, snorting monsters with untaped horns.  His moves were graceful, measured, and confident, in marked contrast to the barely controlled panic of the beginners.  He would barely move from his position of dominance in the center of the ring as the bull went through a set of enraged charges at the red cape.  At the end of a set (and who, we wonder, defines the end of the set?), he would smile, turn his back on the bull, and stroll away. 

Olé, indeed!


So we are féria converts.  It was swell.  It was great entertainment.  It was great exercise and enrichment for the bulls. 


Same time next year?



 

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