Tag: bullfight

The Bullfight: A Dance with Death

The Bullfight: A Dance with Death
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When I decided to move to France, bullfights never entered my mind. Who knew the traditionally Spanish events exist in the south of France?

Years ago, I attended a bullfight in Spain. It was the “thing to do” for a 20-something college kid visiting Barcelona. All I remember about it was that I bought a poster; I carried it around for years; and life went on.

This summer I was invited to a bullfight in Nimes. Visions of bulls, matadors and swinging red capes have been swirling in my head ever since.

I had no idea bullfights were such a big deal in France. In Nimes they’re called “corridas” and draw quite a crowd. My first corrida was a full-fledged “Feria” in the ancient Roman arena.

The Feria de Nimes

Feria des Nimes

Feria des Nimes

Downtown Nimes was packed with people of all ages for the Feria de Nimes. There were white-topped tents with food and drink set up around arena as far as you could see. Music poured into the streets and alleys from every bar and café. Vendors selling matador capes and flamenco dresses lined up next to hawkers with tickets, t-shirts and posters. The circus-like atmosphere was exhilarating.

 

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Bands joined the fun around the arena

Bands joined the fun around the arena

 

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Close to five o’clock in the afternoon, the raucous crowd around the cafes and drink stands started moving toward the arena.

Feria crowd in NImes

Feria crowd in NImes

 

 

Along with others, I filed into the spectator area of the “plaza de toros” to find my reserved seat. Climbing very cautiously up the rough stone steps into the “bleachers” of the two thousand-year old coliseum, I found my place. Better said, I found my “stone seat with backrest.” Fortunately, it was out of the blazing hot sun.

Once in my place, I noticed the people around me were very quiet. Almost silent. The sounds of piped in music filled the space that I had expected to be boisterous, like a pre-game football stadium.

 

 

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In no time my mind wandered off. My imagination kicked in. I was transported to another time, same place.

 

013be59de4a12654927eef3a460b700a86823e64d3It was Roman days again, in this arena in Nimes, with onlookers gathered to see a gory contest of men against beasts.

When the band started playing and the pomp and ceremony of the paséillo began, it was if the first act of an extravagant ballet had begun to unfold before my eyes.

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A dance with death. Put to music. With extravagant scenery. Skillfully orchestrated.

 

 

Dance with Death Feria de Nimes 2014

Dance with Death
Feria de Nimes 2014

 

Act one – The “suerte de varas.”

Corridas have three acts. It’s been that way since early times. Hemingway calls act one the “trail of the lances.”

The opening scene begins with a fighting bull on the stage. There are hundreds of unfamiliar sounds and objects around him. At first he is dazed, then he’s angry. He runs around the arena, butting his head into anything that gets in his path.

 

Two horses with riders come onto the stage (picadors.) 

Picadors

Picadors

 

The bull sees only one of the horses. He recognizes it as a target from his days in the wild.

Picador

Picador

 

The bull charges. His impact, on the horse’s underside, picks the horse off the ground momentarily.Until now, the bull hasn’t seen the rider on the horse. The picador, who is carrying a sharp-ended rod, stabs the bull between the shoulder blades. The bull, seemingly undaunted, pulls back and strikes the horse again.

 

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The act is over when the “president” of the bullring — an official appointed by law to supervise the corrida—- signals the bugler to blow his horn.

The bull thinks he’s the winner. Everyone else has left the stage.

Act two

Act two features a troupe of fancy-dressed “banderilleros ” who run the bull nearly breathless around the ring. Hemingway calls act two the “sentencing.” It appears the dastardly banderilleros with flying darts are in the scene only to taunt the injured bull. The fact they play an important role in the drama of man vs. beast is not at first apparent.

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Banderillero

 

 

Done well, act two is over quickly, without destroying the bravery and strength of the bull.

Banderillero on the run

Banderillero on the run

 

Act three

Act three, the “execution.” The Spanish call this act the “moment of truth.” It is performed in fifteen minutes. The curtain opens with the matador on center stage. Waving a red caped muleta in his left hand, he waltzes around to show how artfully he dominates the bull. If the animal hooks from one side or another the matador corrects his charge.

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He makes the bull lower his head.

To kill the bull quickly, the matador must drive the sword between the bull’s shoulder blades. In doing so, the matador is in line with the bull’s horns. One wrong move can mean death.

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With the muleta in the left hand, and a sword in his right hand, the matador urges the bull forward. He strikes from the front, driving the sword in smoothly.

The bull dies.

Bulls often survive the strike of the sword. It takes a perfect hit by the matador to lay the huge creature dead . For a matador to fell a bull with one sword, in the correct position, he is highly praised and rewarded.

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Epilogue


The story of the “Dance with Death” is fairly simple. It is the story of a fighting bull and a matador who meet in a crowded arena and fight for glory and honor to the death. Through the story, actors with minor parts parade on stage with much colorful fanfare.

For thirty minutes of the performance, the bull and the matador try to kill each other. The matador gets a lot of help from his friends. The bull, however, is nobody’s fool. He shows his innate ability to spar with each aggressor, to self-protect, and to prove what the Spanish call “his nobility.”

It seems at times the bull might win.

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A twist in the story comes when the matador, seeing the bull in his full glory, realizes that he has fallen in love with the bull. But he must kill him.

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The matador has fifteen minutes to decide between love and glory.

He brings the bull close to him for their last “dance with death. ” He weighs his options: “kill my beloved ” or “miss the final act of my masterpiece.”
The outcome of the drama is a mystery until the end of the last act.

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The bravery of the bull is at the heart of the corrida drama. The honor of the matador determines the outcome. There are no re-runs, no second seasons with the cast. Like other art forms, the truth and beauty is for the beholder.

Writer’s Note
Since the Feria de Nimes I have attended twenty or more corridas in the south of France, I’ve read books by Hemingway and I’ve studied books and articles by experts who love bullfights and by those who hate them. I’ve also done a lot of soul-searching.

I’m an animal-lover. it’s not pleasant to see an animal killed in front of my eyes.

In my research a statement by Orson Welles, great American film maker and writer, helped me understand how I can draw a line between the “animal-lover” part of my brain and the part that really enjoys corridas
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“Either you respect the integrity of the drama the bullring provides or you don’t…. what you are interested in is the art whereby a man using no tricks reduces a raging bull to his dimensions, and this means that the relationship between the two must always be maintained and even highlighted.”

 

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Arles’ Feria du Riz: Bullfights and Fanfare

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If you haven’t noticed, I’m deliberately attending as many types of events that feature bulls as the main attraction as possible. It’s becoming an obsession.

Someday soon I’m going to write a post about a bullfight. Right now I’m trying to sort out all my emotions about the controversal pastime that’s such a rage in this part of France.

Arles

 

The Feria du Riz in Arles was the perfect opportunity for me to do more research on the subject. Not only was there a bullfight, or “corrida,” there were also bulls running in the streets, an abrivado.

 

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Running of the bulls – abrivado

Now that I’ve witnessed a few abrivados this year, I’m catching on to how they’re staged. Most importantly, I’m  finding there are certain vantage points that are better than others if you want to actually see the bulls.

It works like this.

Both sides of the street are lined with metal fencing. That keeps out people who wouldn’t get near the bulls anyway because it’s easy to squeeze between the bars of the fencing.  At the starting place of the abrivado there’s an enclosed truck that’s filled with bulls. At the opposite end of the route, in Arles, a flatbed trailer truck was stationed between the two sides of fencing.

 

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For my first abrivado/bandido, I watched from the starting point when the bulls ran out of the truck. In Arles, I wised up a bit and went to the opposite end to get a better view. That’s where the bulls and horses turn around to run back to the starting place.

At the beginning of the abrivado, men and women on horseback — bandidos — start the spectacle by riding in tandem along the route, which is usually the main street of the town or village. These “cowboys” proudly parade their white Camargue horses before an appreciative crowd.

 

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Arles

 

After the horses and riders parade past a few times, the bulls are released.The bandidos run along beside and in front of the bulls to keep them herded together.

 

 

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When they reach the end of the course, they all turn around and race back up the street. 

 

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That’s when all the kids in town chase after them all.

 

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Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

 

 

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Now, if that sounds boring, it’s not. It’s exhilarating — for me, at least. Let’s just say, it beats watching grown men run back and forth for hours chasing a football. (Sorry sports fans!)

The arena and corrida

Anything that takes place in Arles is going to be a unique experience. It is an ancient city where the present and the past intermingle seamlessly.

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When walking down the street, on several occasions, it took my breath away when I realized I was standing beside a Roman forum, or strolling through a park Van Gogh had sketched.

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The arena in Arles is not just a shrine to the Roman days of Gaul, it’s a lively gathering place for local events, including ferias and rock concerts.

 

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During the Feria du Riz the steps of the arena were the stage for a “battle of the bands.”

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The inside of the arena is a vision straight out of a history book. Having attended events at both the arena in Arles and in Nimes, I’m surprised there has been so little “modernizing” of either structure. These facilities would be off-limits to visitors if in the States. Getting up and around in the seating areas in the arenas is treacherous, even for the able-bodied. I’m not complaining… just saying .

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Seating in the arena is on stones. Some sections have wooden seats over the stones. Depending on how close you want to get to the “action”, the price of seats runs accordingly. The most expensive spots are less than midway up the side of the arena and out of the direct sun.

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As mentioned at the start, more detail about bullfights is yet to come. I’m finishing up Hemingway’s novels on the subject.  He studied bullfighting with some of the greatest matadors of all times. Next my mission is to learn more about the modern corrida and the local controversies.

Stay tuned.

 

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For  more posts on bulls, bullfighting and events, check these out:

Arles’ Feria du Riz: Food and Fashion

The Bulls are Here!

The Fete Votive 2014 Finale: Bulls, Belles, Bands and Bubbles.

Uzes’ Fete Votive: The Psychedelic and Bizarre

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

 

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Expat Moving Tips for France

Nimes, France: Gardens and Gladiators

Visiting Nimes took me back to Miss Clegg’s Latin class in high school.

Some of you reading this story remember Miss Clegg. Or you had a teacher like Miss Clegg. She never knew that I had English translations of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey and Virgil’si Aeneid, loaned to me by my beloved Aunt Edna.

I still have nightmares that Miss Clegg discovers my secret and I get an “F” in Latin and I never graduate from high school.

Nimes (pronounced “Neem”) dates back to the first century BC and was named for the Celtic God Nemasus. It was created as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar who gave land in Nimes to his soldiers after they served 15 years in the army, During the rule of Augustus, Nimes was a prosperous city and boasted a population of 60,000 citizens.

Maison Carrée in Nimes FranceMighty structures such as the aqueduct Pont du Gard were built to serve Nimes (see earlier post on Pont du Gard), and a regal temple was erected, Maison Carrée, to honor the Roman Gods.

Arena in Nimes FranceAnother landmark is the Amphitheater that dates back to the 2nd century BC.. Both the Amphitheater and Maison Carrée are in a huge area in the center of town that is designated as a historic district. The sides of the district are bounded by four boulevards. It takes about 25 minutes to walk the circumstance of the area– if you don’t stop.

I bought the Gran Tour ticket to visit 3 sites for 11 euro ($14.50). It included an self-guided audio tour of the Amphitheater (or Arena), a 3D video in Maison Carrée, and entry to The Tour Magne for a panoramic view of the city.

Maison Carrée
Maison Carrée in Nimes FranceSeeing the stately Maison Carrée, formally a Roman temple, truly made me feel I was in Rome, not France. The 3D video production, shown almost every hour during the day, told of the heroes of Nimes who lived through the various ages of the city. La Madeleine in Paris was modeled after the Maison Carrée, as was the Virginia state house in the US, designed by Thomas Jefferson It is said that Jefferson was so taken by the beauty of the Maison Carrée, when visiting Nimes as Minister to France, that he wrote his friend Madame de Tessé: “Here I am, madam, gazing whole hours at the Maison Carrée like a lover at his mistress.”

Today it is one of the most well preserved temples from the Roman Empire to be found anywhere.

The Amphitheater

The Amphitheater, also called the Arena, is one of the ten best preserved Roman arenas in the world. Currently it is being renovated, but even now, the space is being used for public events. A stage was being erected while I was there for an upcoming rock concert. The Arena accomodates up to 25,000 people.  An audio guide was available and it was quite worthwhile. You can walk into the arena, sit in the stands, and relive stories of gladiators and lion slayers.

 

Le Tour Magne

The Tour Magne stands on the highest spot in Nimes and can be seen for miles around. It is all that remains of the Wall that surrounded the city built by Augustus. To take full advantage of my Gran Tour ticket, I walked to the top of the hill, then up the spiral staircase to the top of Tour Magne. It’s one of those things I can cross off my list and say, “Whew!! Don’t have to do that again!” The view was amazing. The walk? Let’s just say that’s why I ate pizza when I returned to Uzes. I earned it!

 

Jardins de la Fontaine

One of the most enjoyable parts of the walk to the top of Tour Magne is that to get there, you walk through the Jardins de la Fontaine, considered by many the most beautiful gardens in the world. As I was on the path up the hills winding through the garden, I thought to myself how wonderful it must be to live near such a place.

 

The people of Nimes and visitors were out by the hundreds today, enjoying the perfect weather and well-maintained property. Like other tourists areas I’ve seen on my trip, the place was immaculate– from the trimmed shrubbery to the stone stairways.

A city of two worlds 

One of my most striking impressions of Nimes is how two worlds — the ancient and modern– are coexisting in such harmony. The rock poster on the Amphitheater says it all.

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