Just tell me there’s a bullfight close to Uzes and I’m there. As usual, there’s always a party going on that makes the corrida even more fun.
This time the corrida was in Arles, a town less than an hour down the road that’s mostly famous for being one of Van Gogh’s “hangouts”. The Feria du Riz, the annual Rice Harvest Festival, was being celebrated so the focus was on one of the region’s top crops — rice.
Rice in Arles
Arles is on the northern edge of the Camargue which has been the subject of a few earlier blogs. Just as bulls, white horses and flamingos are indigenous to the area, rice has been produced in the Camargue since the Middle Ages. Today there are some 200 rice producers in this small area, representing about 5% of rice production in Europe. Camargue’s “red rice” is a popular local souvenir.
The Feria du Riz is, interestingly, a very Spanish celebration to be in France. The food and the fashions are straight from Spain.
Before I get much farther, though, let me set the scene.
When you drive into the old city of Arles, there’s a long avenue with cafes and shops that leads to a lovely park with a walkway that leads to the ancient areas of the town — the arena and the amphitheater. For the Feria, the avenue is spread with carnival-like booths with food vendors and souvenirs.
At cafes along the way, the ohm-pah-pah bands are warming up the crowd for the afternoon festivities.
Road barriers lined the street for the running of the bulls scheduled for the early afternoon.
Since this is a Rice Harvest Festival the food booths along the way were showing off their take on — a Spanish favorite that matches with the theme of the Feria.
I was starving when I hit town and this was the first paella stand in line, so it was my pick.
As I walked down the street, I wasn’t certain the place I stopped was the best choice. It all looked so good!
Another popular food offering was kebabs — in all varieties. There were kebabs in sandwiches and kebab “stew” served over frites (french fries). The kebab mixtures were steaming away in huge pans, just as the paella.
Then there were the fish specialties — a Fisherman’s plate with calamari and pots of steaming moule (mussels).
My favorite stop of the day was a sidewalk shop with the Spanish dresses, skirts and all the frills. I had to hold myself back from buying one of the skirts. Imagine a holiday party wearing one of these!
Beyond the vendors I walked to the entrance to the park and walkway to the old town.
When up the steps and around the town building, there lay before me the beautiful village of Arles, with buildings and roadways centuries ago. People were everywhere, in every square, eating and enjoying festivities and socializing the warm September Sunday.
One of the famous squares in the city, during the Feria, is a showcase of artisans and regional foods.
To my surprise, one of the new products being displayed was barbeque sauces. In France? I could hardly believe my eyes. Of course, I had to strike up a conversation with the owners to tell him I’d been to Memphis in May — the barbeque event of the year. He knew it well and hopes to make it there someday himself.
After spending most of the afternoon walking around the town and checking out the food stands, it was time for the bulls running in the street. This time I knew how to get up close and personal. For the next post, though. Along with all the fanfare that surrounds a good bullfight in the south of France. Stay tuned!