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September 11, 2008

The Olive Festival in Mouries and the Course Camarguaise in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Filed under: Provence 2008, Travel — anotherheader @ 3:13 am

Vegetables on offer at the Mouries Olive Festival

Vegetables on offer at the Mouries Olive Festival

The group headed out in late morning for the olive festival in Mouries. Mouries is a village to the east and slightly north of Arles. The festival occupied the main tree-lined pedestrian area of the town and booths were set up to offer tasting of local olives and olive oil. Other stalls displayed a wide variety of wares from vegetables and bread to antique tools and linens with many items in between. A group of dancers in historic costumes performed traditional dances to traditional music. Later, a parade of vintage vehicles moved in a line, smoking down the center of the festival street. It seemed as if everyone from the region was there. The streets were full of festivalgoers.

Mouries Olive Festival

Mouries Olive Festival

We all ate food from carts at the festival for lunch. Afterwards, the group divided up with Dan, Barb, Julie, and John heading to Abbaye de Montmajour. Catherine and Ganesan did a thorough inspection of Arles. Becky and I headed to see the Provencal-style bullfight in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer that we had scoped out two days prior.

On our return trip to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, we were a little ahead of time for the bullfight, so we stopped in to see Chateau d’Avigon along the way. The weekend was a French holiday and all of the sights are free to enter (entrée libre). Chateau d’Avignon featured a look at the then state of the art facilities and water works for an early 20th century estate.

Chateau d'Avignon

Chateau d'Avignon

Pictures for the Olive Festival and Chateau d’Avignon: http://picasaweb.google.com/wonderdog1/MouriesOliveFestival

Becky makes the move to join the razeteurs in fighting the bulls

Becky makes the move to join the razeteurs in fighting the bulls

When we reached Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, we purchased tickets for the bullfight or Course Camarguaise. This is not a Spanish-style bullfight where the bull dies. Instead, it is the bull that ultimately dies of natural causes at some later date and does its best to assure that the bullfighters do not. Our tickets say that this was “Ecole Taurine” or roughly “bull school”. We don’t know for sure, but we think this means it was a training event for the bullfighters, perhaps the equivalent of the minor leagues. Either way, it was very exciting to watch.

The event starts with an introduction of the bullfighters. Next, the bull comes out into the oval dirt ring of the arena that is rimmed by a fence of red painted boards. Two ribbons and a rosette are attached between the horns of the bull. The tips of the horns are capped with small, gold metallic looking balls. The balls might help a little if the

The arena in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

The arena in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

The bull with the horns tipped and ribbons attached

The bull with the horns tipped and ribbons attached

bullfighter was gored, though a bull we watched was still quite capable of putting a significant hole into the wooden fence with its horns modified. I doubt that there is much assurance to the bullfighter that there is an infirmary on sight and a doctor present.

When the bull enters the ring, it is clearly looking for action. It snorts and moves its hooves through the dirt in a pawing action that tosses dirt high into the air. Eventually a fanfare sounds and the amateur

Reaching back with the comb to pick the ribbons

Reaching back with the comb to pick the ribbons

bullfighters or razeteurs (from the word shave, perhaps because they are young or perhaps because they have close shaves with the bulls) reappear from behind the fence. The razeteurs are all wiry and lean young men, dressed in white shirts and dark blue pants. They compete for prizes offered by local merchants. The prizes are won by removing the ribbons from between the bull’s horns using a comb-like tool attached to their hand.

In the whitewashed arena ringed by

A razeteur grabbing for the ribbon

A razeteur grabbing for the ribbon

its red fence, the stands were partially filled. The audience was made up mostly of locals. One couple brought their dog. (Dogs in France are commonly allowed into places you wouldn’t think, including restaurants and stores and bullfights, as it turns out.) The dog was the most attentive member of the audience, watching every move of the bull closely. At one point, when the bull made a sudden move towards the fence in his direction, the dog barked.

The bull clearly knows what is going

A reach for the ribbon...

A reach for the ribbon...

on in the event. It is fixated on removing the razeteurs from the ring if not from the planet. It is savy enough to know its best chances are when the razeteur is in the middle of the ring where its closing speed advantage gives it a chance to reach the darting razeteur. The razeteurs, in turn, know that the bull will not charge unless it thinks that it can reach the razeteur before the razeteur reaches the red board fence. What results is a game of chicken. The razeteur runs laterally at a charging bull relying on the

...works this time...

...works this time...

bull to slow slightly as it cuts to follow. The razeteur then reaches back to pluck the ribbons or rossette from between the horns of the bull. Almost invariably, the close pass results in the bull being hot on the heels of the razeteur. With a leap, the razeteur hits the top board of the four-foot high fence with his foot and catapults himself towards the stands. Usually,

...as does the escape.

...as does the escape.

the razeteur ends up on a small ledge perhaps ten feet off the ground just below seating area of the stands, clutching the protective railing of the seats to stay up and out of the fray. Sometimes this move is done with grace. At other times, there is a desperate dive by the bullfighter to avoid the horns of the bull. The more graceful move leaping onto the ledge below the stands does have its advantages. An awkward leap can end up with the razeteur landing in the alley between the fence and stands. With a tailing bull that sometimes decides to leap the fence and follow, landing in the alley could be bad. All throughout, the athleticism displayed by both the bulls and the humans is amazing in this event.

None of the human participants in the ring ever take their eyes off the bull. Even the handlers, who hide behind protective high fences, always keep the bull in sight. On the occasion when the bull decides to jump

Escape!

Escape!

the red fence into the narrow alley between the stands and the ring, positions are quickly reversed. The razeteurs jump the fence into the center of the ring. The bull runs in the alleyway between the stands and the fence, where the razeteurs usually lurk, and past the handler’s protective barriers until it is led back to the central fight area. With the bull moving back into the ring, the razeteurs quickly relocate behind the fence.

The fight ends either when all the ribbons and rosettes are removed from the bull’s horns or the bull starts to tire. The fanfare sounds again and the gate to the bullpen opens. Sometimes the bull leaves of

The emergency exit

The emergency exit

its own volition. Other times, it is reluctant to give up the game and stays looking for more razeteurs to impale. In this case, the razeteurs and handlers move to get the bull out of the ring. If that fails, two steers are let into the ring and they calm the bull, bringing it into a small herd. I guess the theory is that this herd is easy to get out of the ring. In practice, it seemed that the bull is less likely to charge the handlers with the steers present. This allowed the workers to move the group more aggressively. It succeeded sometimes, but, as often, adding the steers did not to make a huge difference in the time it took to get the bull out of the ring.

Overall, there were about five bulls and the event took about two hours to complete. At the end, the razeteurs were looking pretty worked and replacements were needed.

Becky was pretty much fascinated by the event. When she learned that bullfighters were amateurs and seeing the exhausted razeteurs, she headed straight to the razeteur entrance hoping to join in. She figured she’s had plenty of close shaves, so she should be qualified to be a razeteur. Stay tuned for the next installment to see how it turned out.

Pictures:

http://picasaweb.google.com/wonderdog1/CourseCamarguaise

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