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

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.