Tag: corrida

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 Food and Fashion

In Arles there seems to always be a party going. Arles’ Feria du Riz is one of the best.

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, celebrates 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 for Arles’ Feria du Riz

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.

Arles' Feria du Riz

 

Arles' Feria du Riz

Arles' Feria du Riz

At cafes along the way, the ohm-pah-pah bands are warming up the crowd for the afternoon festivities.

Arles' Feria du Riz

Road barriers lined the street for the running of the bulls scheduled for the early afternoon.

Arles' Feria du Riz

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.

Arles' Feria du Riz

I sat on the steps of a fancy hotel and restaurant and gulped down the serving of paella with a bottle of water. It hit the spot on the already hot day.

Arles' Feria du Riz

Arles' Feria du Riz

As I walked down the street, I wasn’t certain the place I stopped was the best choice. It all looked so good!

Arles' Feria du Riz

These photo-perfect folks were putting out some fabulous kebab dishes.

Arles’ Feria du Riz is about food

One 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).

Arles’ Feria du Riz is about fashion

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!

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Arles’ Feria du Riz is about the scenery

Beyond the vendors I walked to the entrance to the park and walkway to the old town.

Arles' Feria du Riz

Arles' Feria du Riz

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.

Arles' Feria du Riz

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.

Arles' Feria du Riz

 

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 bullfight in the south of France. Stay tuned!

 

Arles' Feria du Riz

 

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