Margaret and Dick   


July 2012: Feria!

Sometimes I think we don’t stir up enough controversy with our Limoux stories.  I’m about to fix that.  (Margaret writing; Dick supporting quietly from the sidelines.)

It was four years ago that we discovered tauromachie (bullfighting) at Limoux's first féria.  Mind you, a week earlier we would have counted ourselves squarely in the anti-corrida camp.  But the Limoux féria is a far cry from the Spanish fight-to-the-finish corrida, and it gave us occasion to experience the sport and re-examine our preconceived notions.

Take an adept torero, of whom my personal favorite is Jeremi Banti, the first torero we saw in 2008.  Place him in a ring with a muleta (small red cape) and a truly wild beast.  The bull’s rage and the torero’s sang-froid provide a perfect counterpoint, and we spectators settle back to admire the dance.  Banti’s personal style doesn’t involve flash or bravado or (at least in our little Limoux arena) the glitter of the typical torero costume.  He steps into the arena wearing a tailored suit and entices the bull to charge, calmly directing the charge with a flick of his muleta.  There may be some blood if the event involves banderillas (those decorated sticks that are jabbed into the the hump on the bull’s back), but in Limoux the bulls live to charge another day.  And Banti leaves the ring to thunderous applause with barely a crease in his suit.

In America, we don’t have much occasion to see wild animals other than the occasional rodeo.  The Spanish bulls of the true corrida live their whole lives without human contact except for necessary vaccinations.  When they storm into the ring, they are effectively encountering humans for the first time – human interlopers into their territory which, by the bull’s own definition, is wherever the bull happens to be.

And they charge.  It’s what they do.  The director of the Limoux arena explained to us:  “You feed a lion, the lion will sleep.  You feed a bull, the bull will still charge.  Under all circumstances, a wild bull will charge.”  In the events that involve novilleros (junior bullfighters still in training), there are frequent occasions when the newbie drops the muleta.  While the novillero quickly seeks shelter, the bull will rage on the cape.  Red, the color of blood, drives them berserk.  They mercilessly attack their captured prey until various arena assistants distract them and allow the novillero to harvest the cape.  Think carefully before you wear red to the arena, as the bull will notice your every movement.  It's just scary.

Yesterday we went to see the novilleros and sat near the spot where their teacher, just inside the barrier, would instruct, cajole, congratulate, and mold their behavior.  That machismo  exhibited by the toreros can’t come all that naturally, especially early in their training.  Yesterday’s event allowed us to contrast the confidence levels of a senior novillero (left) with his junior colleague (right, a shockingly young South American prodigy) who was allowed into the ring only after the bull had been thoroughly exercised.

The main event was scheduled, as usual, for Sunday evening:  the star toreros in a line-up that was to showcase tauromachie from various countries (Spain, Portugal) and traditions (Camargue).  Alas, the weather did not cooperate, and the entire event was cancelled.  A quick check of the calendar shows that we already have scheduled plans for the weekends of the big corridas in the south of France – Nîmes, Arles, Céret – but we’ve blocked those dates out on next year’s calendar.  And Pamplona isn’t so far away…who knows?  Having caught the bug, it’s unlikely we’ll be entirely skunked in future years.  We’re ready to see a corrida, the real deal.

So here’s where I incite the hate mail.

When you go to the supermarket and buy beef, you’re supporting a system that condemns animals to a sad boring life of eating industrial food in an artificial setting.  For the males, this means lopping off their nuts so they don’t exhibit any of their natural behaviors.  Are you really certain that a corrida, where a wild beast that has lived like a king comes to die like a hero, is a greater evil?

So bring it.  But unless you’re vegetarian, you’ll have some explaining to do first.

For your viewing pleasure, Dick has added a video of a novillero doing a few passes.  Enjoy! 


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