The sacred and the profane collide up against each other during the Easter bullfights, le Feria de Pâque. A million visitors pour in to Arles from all over the world for this weekend, which opens the season of la tauromachie. Have I been to a corrida, where the bull is slaughtered? Yes, I have. Remi and I try to not judge the traditions that we experience in our travels elsewhere in the world and so felt it was important to go at least once to witness this very controversial art (as it is defined in Wikipedia). I won't go back. Although I had to admire the courage and at best, the élan of the torero, or matador, there is nothing to be said for the bull--despite the audiences cheers to the contrary--nor of its heart-rending moans in its final moments. After two hours of watching man face his death, a palpable excitement bursts from the spectators in the Arena with the brashness of the trumpets that sound endlessly. Les aficionados, that have included the likes of Picasso and Hemingway, are ready to assuage their thirst for life. And so they drink it down, at the bodegas or open bars throughout the town. More come to party than for the bullfights and it can be as equally messy as the bull's blood. Think of Spring Break but amidst adults who are definitely old enough to know better.
There is one exception and that is the bodega of Les Andalouses, located in the desacralized Frère Prêcheurs church, the walls of which line our garden. Thursday evening draws those that follow the traditions involved with la tauromachie with a nearly religious fervor. Perhaps it isn't so strange after all that the event is held in a former church? As Remi was firing up the BBQ, we could hear the stomp of flamenco dancers resound. "Go" he encouraged and so I did for just a moment as I love to watch the proud swirl. It was an elegant crowd, one that was waiting patiently for the cue to pair off with their partners. Back in the garden, as the music echoed around us, the conversation turned to how surprising it is that this festival, which at its height becomes absolutely pagan, is held at Easter in a country that is still profoundly Catholic. So much so that last week a band of men, their faces covered in ski caps, burst in to the Collection Lambert in Avignon to smash Andreas Serrano's Piss Christ, which is being featured in a current exhibition. Another example of controversial art. The attack was a very organized affair, one that came the day after over two hundred protestors gathered to demand the photographs removal. This weekend is a revealing glimpse at the dichotomy of this country, one as surprising as the hole in the church wall that let us watch the dancers turn late into the night.