Tauromachie, or loosely bull culture, is HUGE in southeastern France. For those who also find etymology fascinating, tauro= bull, machy= fight. I was first exposed to it in Aigues-Mortes, stumbling upon an abrivado. It’s a bit startling to be walking around and suddenly see bulls and horses running down the street. I arrived just after the Féria des vendanges (grape harvest) and I narrowly missed the Féria de Pentecôte in Nîmes, probably the French city best known for its féria. Luckily, the Féria de Pâques in Arles was a bit earlier, so I have been to a féria and in a UNESCO World Heritage site to boot. Don’t worry, les nîmois, I do still believe the arena in Nîmes is more impressive.
What exactly is a féria? It’s a big celebration of tauromachie centered around religious or local festivals. They are common in Spain, parts of Portugal, and southern France. The party is in the streets of the city and fueled by bodegas selling drinks and the music of marching bands, peñas and bandas.
In the Camargue region in southeastern France, there are several manades, herds of bulls and horses used in bullfighting and in les courses camarguaises. The bulls are bred in semi-liberty. The gardian, sort of like a French cowboy (cowboy boots and brimmed hat included) watches over the herd of bulls for the manadier, owner of the herd.
Les courses camarguaises are typical of the Camargue region. Men (I’ve never heard of women doing this event) pull rosettes off the bull’s horns in a certain order. They must be in really good shape and really good at jumping, because jumping over the barriers to get away from the bull is necessary. The bull is not killed in this event.
In order to get the bull into the arena, there is a sort of running of the bulls before the corrida. It’s not on the same grand scale as the ones in Spain.
The standard corrida is the event that most people think of- the actual bullfight. The event starts with a paseo, parade of all the participants. The bullfight is divided into three parts, or tercios. In the first tercio a picador on horseback weakens the bull or two picadors on foot will weaken the bull. If on horse, the picador is dressed similarly to the rejoneadors, but looks a bit more like a cowboy and their horse is more fully protected. Then, the torero further weakens the bull in the second tercio before the matador (often the same person) kills it in the third. The picadors, toreros, and matadors wear what is referred to as a costume de lumière, that sparkly, colorful, skintight outfit. They use capes to weaken and attract the bull. Their capework is referred to as capeos. Reading The Sun Also Rises gave me a better appreciation of this capework.
In a mixed corrida, there are rejoneadors, bullfighters on horseback. Rejoneador comes from the name of the lances stuck in the bull, the rejons. The rejoneador tries to get the bull to attack the horse, then gets the horse to move past the bull’s horns. Once the bull is close enough, they stick a lance in the bull’s back. After weakening the bull, they place banderillas, colorful pointed sticks on the bull’s back before using the final sword to kill the bull, which they may do on foot. After the bullfight, the dead bull is dragged around the arena by two horses. A rather macabre sight.
The bull fighting culture is ingrained in the culture of southern France and has a long history reaching back to the Roman conquest and gladiator fights. While we may have moved away from human-on-human combat, there is still an animal which dies and humans who put their lives at risk all for show. And what a show it is! There are costumes, there is protocol, and it puts you at the edge of your seat. I feel guilty to admit it, but I really did enjoy watching the bullfights. However, I’m still not so sure that I approve of it and know that I’m leaning towards believing it should not be allowed. As for the good things it brings, when talking to some pro-bullfighting teachers, it causes bulls to be bred that would not otherwise be bred. These bulls are bred for their violent tendencies. It creates jobs in the agricultural sector and brings in tourism. Culture is also a big argument; bullfighting really flavors the region. Literally. Bull meat is a specialty of the region and I’ve been told that the bulls are eaten after the bullfight, though I imagine the bull would be too stressed for that meat to taste good. You get a sense of this culture the short stories of Alphonse Daudet. You get a sense of it in many of the people that live in the south and who are considered beauf, or as we Americans say, rednecks. Rednecks in a sort of cowboyish way. You see it in the several events around the year that revolve around tauromachie.
Tell me, what do you think of bullfights? Should they still exist?