Friday, April 22, 2011

Hole in the wall

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. 


  1. How wonderful to learn about traditions of others, even if we do not always agree or understand. Fascinating read!! The church is beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful weekend.

  2. If I ever understand us as a species, or for that matter, life in general, I think I'd want to be a bull. Just end it violently, in a fight, to the death. May I just say here that I am very glad I still do not understand any of the above, and that I like a man who will fire up the bbq and tell his beloved to "go" so she can dance with the evening.

  3. Tracy, if you did indeed come back in taurine form, I would garner that you would be one of those very rare bulls that are so wily, so brave that they are granted their life by the crowds. And they are never run again, just put out to graze in the Camargue...

    Thank you for the reminder about Remi as well. Trust me, I didn't quit my country for anything but an amazing man.

  4. laughing here.. I like how you think. I could definitely and happily be put out to pasture. In fact, I may already be there because I'm reminded of that Texas joke about the young bull who surveys the pasture full of heifers, and say
    "Let's run down and 'dance' with one!!!" ,
    to which the old bull says "Let's walk down and 'dance' with'em all".
    As Billie Holiday said, I'm built for comfort, not speed.

  5. I think I have enjoyed this little exchange on the reincarnation of Tracy as a happy bull almost as much as your extraordinary post!

    Well, the bull fight, ah, what can I say, it makes my heart shrink that as a species we still do this in the name of entertainment. For all our progress in civility, respect for animals and other species still has a loooong way to go. One of my children's favourite books when they were little was the "The Story of Ferdinand", the flower~sniffing bull, so you see I have indoctrinated my own children with my anti-bull fighting ideas and hope for progress!

    But the swirling dancers, ah, that is so very wonderful, and even more extraordinary, that is was a mere "hole in the wall" away.

    Have a wonderful Easter Heather! Thrilled that your sister is doing ok.
    Virginia x

  6. I agree with Angela - SO interesting. Dichotomies indeed - of many kinds, including the modern with the ancient, the organized religion with the pagan rituals and the beautiful aesthetics with the bloody gore. What an amazing mix!!

  7. We are literally out the door--champagne in one hand, a dark chocolate "hen" in the other--but I have, have, have to say that I am so excited to have such amazing people here! I really just started this blog for myself as a means to keep writing and being creative. I never imagined that I would be able to have such great exchanges with people from all over the world! What a gift...

    Again, thank you everyone for your kind words and well wishes.

    Happy Easter!


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