Bullfighting en Francais

Friend of IT Amanda MacEvitt, a producer for National Geographic Digital Media, writes about an unexpected highlight of her vacation in France.

During my recent trip to France, my historian brother and I had planned to visit the little town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Camargue in the south, right on the Mediterranean. It’s a sleepy little seaside town where the local French people came for vacation. Since my brother is a professor of religious studies at Dartmouth, our itinerary naturally included a stop to see the medieval church dedicated to several biblical Marys who are believed to have come to the town to evangelize after the death of Jesus Christ. The church was lovely, with a subterranean chapel dedicated to Saint Sarah, the patron saint of travelers. Later that day, we walked down toward the sea, and found a small bullring with posters of bulls and men in white shirts. Since the event was free, we wandered in.

French bullfighting turned out to be very different

from the better known Spanish style,  in that it features neither

matadors nor blood. In France, a very feisty and un-bloody bull comes

into the ring and ten or so men dressed all in white take turns

provoking the bull to charge. Each of the razeteurs had what

looked like a knuckle duster in one hand with a curved comb jutting out

from it. Apparently the goal is to simultaneously stay away

from the horns, but run just close enough to the bull to brush the fur

between them with this comb. The escape from the bull’s charge was

quite athletic, and close encounters were the high point for the crowd,

judging by noise and applause.

After each razeteur approached the bull, they would dash off to the

side of the ring. There, what looked like a normal-size step wraps

along the inside of the bullring. A chest-high wall separates the

bullring from a narrow corridor circling the ring and ten feet above

that was the rail where the spectators sat. After making each dash

across the sands of the arena, the razeteurs would gracefully and

without losing speed, put one foot on the small step, opposite leg at

the top of the wall and then fling themselves to hang from the

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spectator rail. The bull’s horns appeared quite sharp and the razeteurs

had nothing to protect them but thin T-shirts and fast legs. The grace

and athleticism with which they flung themselves out of harms way was

quite extraordinary. The close calls were thrilling, but what was most

satisfying was that at the end of the day, the bull was lured from the

ring and survived to play another day.


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