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

Salmon Tiramisu

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Salmon Tiramasu, an entre at the Piazza des Thermes, a restaurant built in the ancient ruins of the Baths of Constantine in Arles.

Salmon Tiramisu, an entre at the Piazza des Thermes, a restaurant built in the ancient ruins of the Baths of Constantine in Arles.

When I posted a photo of Salmon Tiramisu, or tiramisu au saumon, to Facebook, I received some interesting comments from my American friends. They simply could not imagine eating this as an entre with salmon.

First of all, salmon tiramisu is heavenly. And there’s nothing sweet and sugary about it. The French don’t eat sugar before a meal (as in never; it’s a sacrilege). They eat something salty, and salmon tiramisu satisfies that taste.

The Italian dessert tiramisu is made with mascarpone cheese, egg yolks and sugar. The cake-like ladyfingers layer are dipped coffee.

Salmon tiramisu is also made with mascarpone cheese and egg yolks, but rather than adding sugar, salt is added.

Tiramisu literally means “pick me up” in Italian and has the idea of something that makes you happy. There are several legends floating around about the origin of the Italian dessert. One refers to Venetian women who ate the dessert to give them energy for a long night of lovemaking.

Salmon tiramisu definitely makes me happy. It’s my new favorite entre.

Recipe for Salmon Tiramisu:
250g mascarpone cheese
3 eggs
4 slices smoked salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
4 sprigs chives
salt
pepper
lemon
almonds, slivered

Chop salmon into small pieces, about 1/2 inch thin. Lightly saute in olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and let it cool. Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Beat the egg yolks and add to mascarpone with a little salt and pepper and chives. Beat and fold in the egg whites. Place cooled salmon pieces in the bottom of a glass dessert dish. Drizzle a little lemon juice. Top with mascarpone mixture. Garnish with slivered almonds and a few sprigs of chives. Refrigerate for 12 hours. Serve cold.

Alternatively, you could use the same recipe with blinis. Toast blinis and spread mascarpone mixture on top. Garnish with smoked salmon and chives. Makes a great appetizer.

Fête de Theatre Avignon

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Street performers line Avignon’s main thoroughfare that leads from the city gates to the Palace of Popes. Flyers advertise free and paid theater products. It’s a week of celebration of theater and dance. Continue reading

Roquefavour Aquaduct

Though not nearly as ancient as the Pont du Gard,the Roquefavour Aqauduct, located near Aix en Provence, is equally as impressive.

I came upon it quite by accident, driving through the mountainous countryside. In route to Aix, we circled the mountainside on a small road, steep rock on one side and a drop into the valley below on the other. And then we descended into the valley, driving through the tiny village of Coudoux along more tree-covered winding roads.

Near Ventabren, unexpectedly and majestically, three stories of stone arches appeared above us. We pulled into a small parking area to take photos. Since, I’ve read that the best way to see the aquaduct is by hiking the area. From the road the view is only briefly visible as it is surrounded by the rising rocks. This makes sense because this portion of the waterway was built to traverse the narrow Arc River valley as it continues on its way to Marseille.

The three-level water conduit stands 83 meters (272 feet) and is 393 meters (more than 1200 feet) long.

In the early 1800s, the City of Marseille suffered a drought in which many people died from cholera. They decided to draw a fresh water source from the River Durance to Marseille. Built between 1841 and 1847, it was named the Marseille Canal and supplied nearly all of the city’s water until 1970. Today it still supplies a large majority of the city’s water.

Modelled after the Pont du Gard in style, the pont is newer, but longer and taller. Like the Roman aquaducts, from its source to its destination the gradient is gradual, taking advantage of the natural downward flow of water.  Ponts were built by the Romans to traverse low-lying areas and assure a consistent gradient. Building such massive structures across deep valleys required a large amount of building materials. The Romans develop the system of building arches as supports, reducing the amount of materials needed. The result was a functional, yet magnificent piece of architecture.