two-bullsThe 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.

07-april-12-55Some 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.

calmer-with-bullsBut 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.

07-april-12-57The 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.

smash-egg-game
A game that involves tossing a steel pétanque ball onto an egg (see it in the middle of the stump?). The prize is one of the bottles lined up on the sidelines.

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.

surroundng-bullThe 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.

stray-bull
See them trying to hide in the doorway? The bull ran straight into that blue glass window moments later. Didn’t get inside, but the window was shattered.

A few foolhardy boys and men older boys remain inside the barred zone, waiting to prove their masculinity by pulling a bull’s tail.

kid-touching-bullA  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.

lots-of-horses
Coming back for the next one.

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?

chasing-stray
Trying to make a getaway by heading back to the truck.

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.

coming-toward-usLast 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.

 

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19 thoughts on “Charging Bulls

  1. Many things that were once traditional were stopped when people evolved and began to think of them as barbaric or just plain wrong. I cannot now nor will I ever understand how anyone, anywhere, can derive enjoyment from watching an animal suffer. We are contemplating a move to your area and I just saw a nice house in Azille. Thanks for enlightening me on its goings-on as it is now crossed off the list.

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    1. Azille is a very pretty village! The thing is, towns from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to Pau have bullfights, though certainly not all of them. The bull-jumping version seems to get the danger without torturing the bull.

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  2. Great photos, full of the drama of the occasion. I’ve never seen this and would quite like to (although like you I don’t want to witness the corrida action). Bullfighting in Spain is protected now in the same way that foie gras is in France. That is to say, under EU law it should technically be banned, but the country has introduced special legislation making it ‘inviolable heritage’. Bullfighting has no such protection in France so I think it will go here before it does in Spain. In any case, I think animals in circuses in France is a much bigger, more widespread issue and needs to go first.

    The cage style stirrups they are using are interesting. I’ve not seen stirrups quite like them before. Of course, I’m horrified that none of the riders are wearing helmets. Despite the situation and the ‘western’ riding style meaning there is less risk than you might think, if a horse slips on the hard smooth road surface and falls, the rider is almost certainly going to get a head injury.

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    1. I, too, noticed the lack of helmets, and the women riders. Also, the gaucho-style saddles with high ends for firmer seat. I’m wondering how the horses are shod, if they are, for running on a paved road.
      And are those the famous white horses of the Camargues?

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  3. I am mindful of and agree with the comments about animals suffering, but I try and balance that with the fact that these are age old traditions and these are such an intrinsic part of French culture, particularly in the South. I’m not sure a ban would work initially anyway. I haven’t noticed the smoking ban being observed in our area and apparently one can still take ANY creature into a cafe/bar/restaurant (dogs of course, but I have also seen horses, goats, cows, pigs,geese etc) ,

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  4. A few years ago when we visited Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Camargue, we experienced the procession of the bulls to the ring. The Gardians were very dignified and the horses very beautiful. Our car was blocked in and so we waited until the procession past. Just the thought of entering the ring for the final outcome left me reeling.

    To each his own….
    Ali

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  5. Sadly it is tradition and happens more than we think and if you want to fit in to your area you must go with the flow (pardon the pun) I personally dont agree with any part of it as the poor bull must be so scared, it like watching something on TV and moaning about it, you dont have to watch

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    1. That is a good attitude–if you don’t like it, don’t go. That said, the non-bullfighting part is colorful and fun. BTW, Roz, I wanted to tell you I sympathize about Little Betsy, but your blog now only allows comments via google.

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  6. I’ve heard about the Feria in Azille, but have never made it- I’ll make a special effort this year! I’ve no desire to watch a corrida, with the bull being killed at the end, no matter how elegant and beautiful the gestures might be. Nonetheless, as with so many traditions in France, as an incomer they are no my traditions, and I’m not forced to go, so I’m not going to try and change the traditions of my adopted country.

    The courses camarguaises are good fun to watch though, I blogged about one I visited ages ago.

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