During our June 2006 visit to Provence, my husband, Dick, and I decided to check out a French bullfight in Mouries. Since we seem to be directionally challenged we had trouble at first finding the arena. However, since the town was so very small we decided to just park the car and walk around. After stopping for a beverage at the local bar we asked for directions and found we were just a few blocks away.
Before the bullfight began a man came out and sprayed water on the sand. The Mistral winds were still blowing quite a bit, but I'm sure they water it down very well every time to keep the bullfighters from slipping. The bullfights in Provence France are less violent then the more well known Spanish bullfights. Here the emphasis is on the bull, not the matador, and the bulls' pictures and names are on the posters and in the programs that were for sale. I'm sure there is more pageantry involved with the Spanish bullfights. Indeed, there may be more pageantry in the larger French venues such as Nimes and Arles, but we found the small town bullfight to be just right. We felt comfortable and at home, if that's possible when no one is speaking your language and you appear to be the only non-French people there. And if it is excitement you are seeking, a French bullfight won't disappoint you.
This afternon there were six bullfights, each lasting 15 minutes. At the beginning all 13 bullfighters entered from one side of the ring and strode to the other side. They were all wearing white pants, white short sleeved shirs with their names printed in red on the back and white tennis shoes. Then the first bull entered the ring and was allowed to be all alone in the ring. He looked around and pranced proudly around the ring, seemingly waiting for what he knew was about to happen. He occasionally got mad and pawed at the dirt with his head down. Then all 13 bullfighters entered the ring and spread out in different directions.
There was a string tied around the bull's horns and the object was for the bullfighters to get close enough to the bull to pull the string off. They did this by means of a special hook attacfhed to their hand. It took us awhile to figure out that some of the bullfighters seemed to try to hold the attention of the bull and appeared to be "calling the plays" like quarterbacks, while the younger and more nimble fighters would attempt to come at the bull from the side or back and get the string. The bullfighters had a plan and worked together. Of course, the bulls didn't follow the plan and then the bull would chase the fighters and they would run to the sides often having to jump over the fence by pushing off on a small ledge along the bottom of the fence and vault over the top grabbing a railing that was attacdhed to the arena wall. Since the fence was a couple feet from the arena their jump also had to carry them over this open area. Often this was accomplished by the narrowest of margins and by the end of the afternoon more than one bullfighter was sporting ripped pants. Also, a couple of the bulls got very angry and crashed into the fence breaking boards which had to be replaced while the fighters held the bull's attention in another area of the ring. In addition a couple bulls completely jumped the fence and trotted around the inner ring between the fence and the arena. At this point several fighters would be hanging from the railings trying to keep their fannys high enough so the bull's horns couldn't reach them.
Of course, during all of this there was cheering, clapping, and laughing. A running commentary by the announcer, the "play by play guy," seemed to also be enjoyed by the crowd; but, of course, we didn't understand a word he was saying. Our fellow sports fans seemed a bit skeptical of us at first, but when they saw we were clapping and cheering also, they became friendlier and asked if we understood what was happening. We conveyed that we were getting the gist of it and were appreciating the athleticism of both the bullfighters and the bulls.
After 15 minutes the door would open for the bull to go back inside and most of the time he would just trot off eagerly. Maybe snack time awaited him. However, one time the bull didn't want to leave and they sent in a cow with a bell around her neck and he followed her quickly through the door. After three "fights" there was a "halftime" and the kids in the audience ran out onto the arena floor and played bull and bullfighter and people went to the concession stand. Halftime was followed by three more fights.
This was a memorable afternoon, lots of fun and truly "living like a local."