Margaret and Dick   


July 2011: Toro piscine

Due to an error in scheduling, Dick and I missed this year’s feria in Limoux.  It’s an event we look forward to.  So when the neighboring village of Cepie announced a feria for this weekend, we decided to go.  A little village like Cepie can’t launch a big feria like Limoux – our temporary arena alone reportedly cost €15,000 – but they were advertising jeu camarguais (games of the Camargue), which sounded like fun, and toro piscine (bull swimming pool), which has to be seen to be believed.  Basically these involve bulls, horses, brave young men, and normally no injuries to man or beast.  And sometimes the bull wins.

As frequent readers may recall, La Camargue is known for its breeds of white horses, valiant but relatively small bulls, and brave proud people.  The jeu camarguais didn’t disappoint.  The best jeu was musical chairs on horses, where n riders rode around n-1 chairs and scrambled to dismount and sit in a chair when the music stopped.  The riders had plenty of opportunity to show off their talents.

The toro piscine, by contrast, involves not talent but raw nerve and stupidity, and sometimes alcohol.  This year we were relieved to see that the contestants appeared sober and athletic.  They also appeared young and foolish, a prerequisite for the exercise.  Testosterone also helps.

The stated objective of toro piscine is for contestants to place a little hoop over one of the bull’s horns.  To do this, the young men need to get within arm’s reach of the bull.  The unstated objective of the game is to get contestants and bull into the swimming pool and provide amusement to the assembled crowd.  In today’s exercise the "bull" was a vachette (a young female cow) with horns capped, so in principle the task seemed manageable.  But attention!  This is the Camargue vachette, bred to be wild. 

The vachette thundered down the ramp of a truck, and the ramp was raised to keep her in the ring and her companions in the truck.  She charged around the ring and on several occasions tried to run up the ramp – alas closed! – to return to the safety of the truck.  But as the boys became brave enough to venture off the fence into the ring, she became interested in the game.  The announcer goaded them.  “Come on, guys, get closer!  You’re bigger than she is!”  Not quite true.  They kept their distance.

The announcer continued to goad.  “If there are any girls out there who want to try, you’d be a welcome addition.”  An lo and behold, a young woman jumped into the ring.  She was older than the boys and her confidence led us to believe she had done this before.  Or was it alcohol?

She brazenly challenged the vachette, staring it down, teasing it, and kicking water into its face.  She was hit in the back by one of the horns in one of their scuffles but laughed it off.  The vachette responded with mounting rage.

The owner of the vachette was the first to notice that the stakes had been raised, and he sounded the alarm. 

“Bring in the vachette!” he hollered.  The teasing continued.

“Bring in the vachette NOW!” the owner bellowed. 

Too late.

The animal charged for serious now, even before the young woman realized the game had changed. 

She took a full body blow by the vachette’s head – fortunately not by one of the horns.

I stopped taking pictures after she hit the ground.  The vachette continued to rage over her, a fury of head, horns, and hoofs.  The boys hollered and waved to distract the vachette, the truck’s ramp opened, and the vachette quickly disappeared into her safe haven.  The would-be heroine got up and managed to make it over the fence on her own.

Many years ago, about the time that McDonald’s was being sued in the US by a diner burned by a hot cup of coffee, our notaire was musing on the differences between French and American tort law.  “In France, the law is not written for imbeciles.”  Namely, if you buy a cup of hot coffee, you’re expected to know that it’s hot.  And presumably if you jump into the ring with a bull or wild vachette, you’re expected to know you can get hurt.  In any case, there did not appear to be any waivers signed by the participants. 

And guess what?  Sometimes the bull – or vachette – wins.

Limoux stories index

<<< Le Tour in Limoux           End of the world >>>

If you'd like to receive email alerts for future Limoux stories, sign up here.