French Bullfights for the Faint of Heart

Course Camarguaise

In the South of France, in the western region of the Cote d’Azure, bullfights are a way of life. They are, in fact, to frenchmen, what football is to Americans.

The serious aficionados are faithful followers of the Spanish version of this sport; but for those who can’t stomach the kill at the end, the French have a milder version: the Course Camarguaise.

Recently, I visited the Arenes d’Arles to watch the Course Camarguaise, professional version, with two American girlfriends. We called it a girls night out and took great pleasure in attending a bullfight without our men tagging along. We had many laughs and gasps watching more than 100 young guys try to capture pom poms from the bulls’ horns, running around in the their white costumes, jumping fences to escape the bulls’ charges, and even ripping their pants when the bull got a piece of white fabric.

Literally translated, the Course Camarguaise is a “Camargue Race.” The participants, dressed in white slacks and shirts, enter the arena with the bull and play a game we might recognize as Capture the Flag.

In the Course Camarguaise, the bull, or toro, has a cord tied around his horns, a pom pom hanging from each horn, and a ribbon on his back to mark his earlier award in the judging of the bulls themselves. In the arena, the participants take turns approaching the bull at a run and attempting to remove the various attachments from the horns. Sponsors donate money toward the race, and the participants win the money as they “capture” the bull’s ornaments.

As the game progresses, the monetary stakes get higher, and the participants take more risks in approaching the bull.

As evidence that this is truly a sport that women can enjoy, the opening and closing ceremonies included choreographed dances and processionals from the Arlesiennes –women dressed in old-fashioned clothes and sporting parasols. The opening dances included choreography with horses and their Camarguaise Guardian. And at the end of the games, the Arlesiennes lined up with their parasols to salute the winners of the games. (Video of Arlesiennes, Arenes d’Arles, June 2013).

Arlesiennes open the ceremonies at the Course Camarguaise in Arles.

Arlesiennes open the ceremonies at the Course Camarguaise in Arles.

Here’s a link to a video that shows you the game in action:
FERIA ALÈS 2013 – Course camarguaise

Artist in Nimes

Jean Claude Portal is a modern day artist with a passion for ancient art. Bach and Michel Ange (Michelangelo) are his muses. And like all true blue-blooded Frenchman, the corrida (bullfighting) is “art” in the arena.

In his studio in Nimes, France, Jean Claude earns a living as an artist, creating old world themes for new homes and renovations. From table tops to counter tops; lavs to entryways; ornamental decor, sculptures, carvings, etchings in marble and stone; Jean Claude’s art is tastefully, modernly, old.

Last weekend, at my request, he gave me and some friends a tour of his studio and presented his work. It was like stepping back in time and a rare opportunity to visit the work space of a baroque sculptor.

I knew Jean Claude as a musician with a passion for Bach and an infatuation with Gypsy rhythms. He and my Frenchman play gypsy guitar together a few times every week, entertaining in restaurants, and local soirees. But during a casual conversation I learned that he earns his living as an artist, like his mother before him. I asked to see his studio. He said yes; and so Saturday, before we all gathered in a local pub to hear he and my frenchman strum and thump out some more gypsy music, we stopped by JC Portal Marbrier.

His work, all with an old world feel, varies from astrological and unusual etchings in marble to elaborate and traditional carvings in granite. A deeply religious man, his passion for the Christ is evident in many of his personal works, which include scenes from the Crucifixion and Virgin Mother and Christ Child.

Among the tools, marble, granite and works in progress, his two other passions are subtly represented: in his office, a guitar, and hanging from the wall in a back room, the head of a fighting bull.

Kate, I told him about you, my art professor friend; I asked if I could present him and his work to you when you visit. He said, bien sur, of course.

Saint Marie By the Sea

les saintes maries dela mer

Looks like a postcard, doesn’t it?

It is. But I’ve been there. And I’ll be there again in two weeks.

This is les saintes maries de la mer, a village on the Mediterranean, at the mouth of the Rhone, in the South of France, about 30 miles south of Arles. I’ll be living about 10 minutes north of here.

Saintes Maries is in Provence, in the region of Camargue. It is home to the Gypsies, the flower market, the flamingo, the toro, the bullfight, the Camargueiss horse, and the Abrivado-the running of the bulls through the streets.

Traditionally, it is known as a place of pilgrimage, named for Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome, mothers of Apostles, who arrived on the shores of this place. They were exiled from from Palestine and evangelized this once Roman-controlled provence. Sara was their companion and in the tradition of the Gypsies, she was gitan. She is known as the Patron Saint of the Gypsies. Some say Sara was the servant of the elderly saints. Others say she welcomed them to this shore and collected money in Camargue for support of this small Christianized community.

The tower of the Church of Saintes Maries de la Mer overlooks the sea. In May each year, the Gypsy Pilgrimage brings swarms of gitans to the this place where the statue of Sara stands in the Crypt.