We’re fast approaching the Tauromachie season; that’s bulls to you. The cult of the bull is very strong here, I’ve been told on several occasions that it came here from the Minoans, but they say the same thing about the garish,olive-leaf decorated tablecloths and even flamenco type dresses which are sold here.
People are obsessed with bulls in this traditional macho society. In the Camargue, just up the road from us, you sometimes see vaqueros herding the black fighting bulls of the region. They wear shirts which wouldn’t be out of place in a fifties western, hardly surprising, as the story goes that this is where they came from. Hollywood liked the Camargue style and decided to dress Roy Rodgers and the Lone Ranger in those embroidered shirts. Blue jeans of course are made of denim; de Nimes in fact. In a small rather awful museum in Nimes, they have a copy of a medieval illustration in which a 13th century peasant appears to be wearing a Levis denim jacket. As the rest of the museum consists almost entirely of sewing machines, it’s the highlight of the tour.
Nimes is an impressive Roman town with one of the most intact Roman arenas in existence along with ‘La Maison Carré, a 2,000 year old building which now houses exhibitions. It’s easy to find, as it’s just opposite the imaginatively named ‘Maison Carré,’ a Norman Foster designed mediatheque. The arena is still in use, with the likes of Elton John and Bob Dylan performing there in recent years. It also hosts Corridas throughout the summer. Bullfighting is illegal in France, but with typical local chutzpah, the organisers pay the fine of a few thousand euros and then pack 20,000 or so people in at about 80€ a time.
Unlike Montpellier, a cosmopolitan university town, the people of Nimes are not too fond of outsiders. When we lived in Paris, we used to see posters in the Metro, featuring smiling Nimois in traditional costumes extending a warm welcome to one and all. ’A taste of sunshine’ was the slogan. This image was shattered when I played for the first time at the Feria, one of the largest street festivals in Europe. There was a banner strung across one of the main boulevards with a badly drawn picture of a bull’s head and the slogan ‘Parigot, tête de veau,’ which loosely translates as: ‘Parisians, bunch of dickheads.’
Anyway, I digress. The bull thing is everywhere here and takes five forms: The Corrida, or Spanish bullfight, the Course Camarguaise, almost definitely a Minoan thing, where rasateurs try to take rosettes from the bulls’ horns, (there are one or two fatalities each year), the Abrivado, Encierro and finally, and I‘m not making this up, Taureau Piscine a throwback to ‘It’s a knockout, or’ jeux sans frontiers,’ if you’re not a UKIP enthusiast.
We have a couple of Abrivados here in Sauve every year. The Camargue cowboys arrive in in two large trucks, one full of young black bulls, the other with horses. They build metal barricades either side of the street and then let a bull out of the truck. It runs a couple of hundred metres along the route and goes into another truck at the other end. All this time it is surrounded by horsemen while the crowd jump from the barricades and try to wrestle it to the ground. Last year, my niece, who was visiting from America, watched the first run and quite reasonably asked: ‘Now what happens?’ I explained that they do exactly the same thing for about an hour. What fun.
The Encierro, which we have here from time to time, consists of more barricades and one bull being let loose in the town centre. Again, the locals attempt to pull its tail and wrestle it. This is easier said than done, as the bulls probably do this several times a week in the season. They are accustomed to stout country people trying to make their life a misery, so adopt the reasonable strategy of trying to keep out of the way. There are few sights more poignant than a bull trying to look inconspicuous in an urban environment. They normally make for the wheelie bins and try to insinuate themselves behind them in the vain hope that the baying mob won’t notice them there. Sometimes, they will react and a yokel will get his come-uppance. Occasionally, there is an incident. A bull got loose here, a couple of years ago, just as a couple of grandads were having a refreshing litre or two of pastis on the terrace of the ‘Café de Commerce.’ The result, of course was carnage, as the bull behaved like a crazed Millwall supporter and sent the tables and the two elderly gents flying. Luckily, no-one was seriously hurt.
As for the ‘taureau piscine,’ I’m not joking but some enterprising locals have been touring, presumably since the late sixties, with a large inflatable paddling pool and a collection of bulls imbued with a sense of ‘weltschmerz’. The indigenes can’t get enough of it. Where is Stuart Hall when you need him. Actually, forget I said that.