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.

Taxing Times

This post, Taxing Times, by Catherine Higginson caught my attention today. On this site dedicated to helping foreigners in France (like me) adjust to life here, she compare the benefits of high taxation in France to her home country.

She’s British, I’m American, so our comparisons are different, but she makes some excellent points regarding the benefits France offers with regard to healthcare and education in relation to higher taxation.

I don’t agree with all aspects of France’s social system, but my brief reply was to agree with Catherine: France may tax its citizens higher than some countries, including my own native home, but France’s citizens also have the comfort of knowing they will be taken care of health-wise and their children will receive free education (or a less expensive private education). This, I champion.

As an US resident, I was opposed to a social system; and while I don’t say I’m completely in favor of it now, living in France has opened my eyes to some of the issues, and some real benefits.

As of yet, I have not had opportunity to take advantage of free healthcare or education. I pay full price for my healthcare here in France and my son is in private school. But I can tell you that even at full price, I pay 1/4 for both healthcare and private education here in France compared to what I paid in the US. My point, even as a person who is not completely benefitting from the social system and yet paying higher taxes, I still feel I’m getting a benefit. If I were still living in the States, I would be paying taxes, plus insurance premiums, plus private education expenses. In France, I’m paying higher taxes, but paying much, much less for healthcare and private education. And I’m not paying medical insurance premiums.

So, maybe it’s a wash, at least for me.

Here are a few examples:

In the States it may cost (generally) $120 a month for health insurance (my portion, employer paying half or more). With insurance, it would cost me $20-$30 dollars to see a doctor and $60/month for some regular medications I take. In France, I have no insurance premium to pay, and I pay €23 (about $30 US) to see a doctor, and €16/month (about $20 US) for medication. Wow. That’s a big savings.

In the States, my son’s private school cost almost $10,000/year. In France, he’s attending an excellent private school for €1,100/year (about $1,400 US). And if he were in public school, it would be free.

Ok, taxes are significantly higher in France. Without doing all the math, at best I’m coming out ahead. At worst, it’s a wash.

What about quality? My experience so far has been that France’s healthcare providers are very knowledgable. In fact, I’ve been impressed. I’ve learned some things about my own conditions that were never told to me by a US doctor. I’ve taken some over-the-counter meds that worked far better than anything I had tried in the US. And I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes to see a doctor or get an x-ray (and the results of the x-ray were ready next day). I should also mention that going to a pharmacy here is almost like going to a doctor. Pharmacies here (unlike grocery stores) are well-staffed and the personnel are very knowledgable and helpful. Tell them your symptoms and they’ll offer you relief, as long as it doesn’t require a prescription, of course.

As far as the private school my son is attending, well, I can’t say enough about the high quality and the progressive and proactive philosophy of the school. Every student is required to have an iPad. Teachers send them notes to their iPad to reference in class and some of the textbooks are on iPad rather than hardcopy. I love it, and so does he. The students take notes on their iPads and then can share their class notes easily. Teachers encourage this. It helps them all have a better understanding of the material.

My purpose is not to say that one country offers better than another. They’re different. Our choices are different. Our experiences are different.

And our differences are what make us interesting.

Thanks to Catherine for that great post. See Catherine’s blog.