The south of France has a long tradition of bull fighting, with ferias taking place in several cities and villages from spring to fall.
Azille, a village of just over 1,000 inhabitants about 35 kilometers from Carcassonne, holds a feria around the May 1 holiday–this year it’s scheduled for April 30-May 1–with a second one planned for July 21-23.
Some of the ferias turn into drunken bacchanals as evening arrives. The machismo and surplus of testosterone seems to bring out the worst in young men still high on having chased bulls in the morning. Arles, Bézier and Nîmes all hold huge ferias in their Roman arenas.
But Azille’s feria is more of a family affair, with lots of rides and games for small children. And the village is very pretty and worth a visit on its own.
The big excitement, besides the bullfights themselves (and I can’t bring myself to see those), is the running of the bulls from one end of town over to the stadium where the bullfights are held.
The crowd mills between stands for food, drink and games, the smell of grilled meat wafting through the air. Singers and flamenco dancers entertain from a side stage.
The excitement builds as people are shooed from the main street to take cover behind large grills hooked together on either side. You don’t want to be too close to the grill, because the bars are wide enough for a horn to pass through. Anyway, most people have climbed up on the tables in order to see.
A few foolhardy boys and
men older boys remain inside the barred zone, waiting to prove their masculinity by pulling a bull’s tail.
A band of riders on horseback wait for each bull to be released from a truck. The poor animal usually comes out rather dazed, a condition only exacerbated by the yelling crowds on either side. There’s only one place to go–down the big empty street, and so off it goes, pell-mell.
The horses are guided around the bull to keep it on track. The bull often turns tail, sending the young males fleeing for cover. It would be boring if the bulls simply trotted down to the stadium, right?
As each bull is delivered to the arena to await in ignorant bliss the corrida later that day, the horses head back for the next release. They really are the stars of the show, with their utter calm in the midst of chaos.
Last fall, a court in Spain overturned a bullfighting ban in the Catalonia region of Spain, just over the border from France. Anti-corrida petitions and graffiti spring up regularly in France, but the custom still holds.