While driving through provence, I stumbled my way into Nîmes, an old
town with the largest, fully functional roman-built coliseum. I strolled
the streets, looking for things to take pictures of, when I finally read
the signs that were posted everywhere: there was a bullfight today at
5:30! Being 4:30 now, I figured there's no time like the present.
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The ticket line was hard to figure out. People seemed to be just standing,
facing forward and not really making any progress. It finally dawned on me
that I was just in the men's room. The box office was the next door over.
Yes, this seemed like the right place, but the line was still really long.
But, I figured, I'll do as they do and elbow my way to the front.
C'est la Guerre! Let the strongest man win! Imagine my embarrassment when I
realized I'd been in the crowd of children and women who were waiting
for their husbands to return from the actual ticket line with tickets.
Once I got in the right line, it was quite simple and civilized.
C'est bon: I bought front-row seats with my monopoly money and figured
the shrapnel they gave me as change could be exchanged for cash at a
recycling center. No such luck: the French don't recycle.
The bullfight was, needless to say, pretty incredible. I'd never seen
anything like it, nor did I expect such overt blood, guts and violence.
And that was just at the concession stand. The actual bullfight was
something you wouldn't even see on American television, let
alone a Sylvester Stallone movie. Yet, despite the fact that the American
Humane Society would have kittens if this sort of sport were in the USA,
there was a sense of elegance about the event. The costumes are opulent:
a virtual fashion show of color, glitz and sparkling apparel.
The bullfighers were decked out like they were going to a dance: their hair
perfectly greased back, taking delicate steps, toe-to-heel, as thought they
were dancers. The bulls were even elegantly dressed with beautiful
ribbons that frolicked in the wind as they hung from the spears that
were thrust into their necks and spines. (The ribbons, of course, were
perfectly color coordinated with bull's blood.) In the audience, men
chomped on cigars, women cooed, and children looked around, oblivious
to the whole thing.
When the spectacle began, I was surprised to find it was quite a bit
different from what I'd expected. The bull comes out quite angry,
since they pre-stab him with some little tooth-pick sized swords in
the back of his neck to get him aroused. Chasing several bullfighters
around the ring, the bull is teased and tormented with visual and
audible provocations, as only the French know how to do. When the
bull appears tired enough and has lost sufficient blood that he isn't
going to do any more "serious" damage (but don't underestimate this),
the main bullfighter takes the stage, and begins the elegant act of
"bullfighting." Stabbing the bull (again, in the back of the neck)
with various sticks and swords, all while luring
the bull closer and closer with his red or pink cape, dangling it in
front of the bull's eyes. Ah, the elegant dance between man and beast
unfolds. The sequence is slow, almost as though it were choreographed.
The bullfighter is precise in his steps and graceful in his movements
as if he were posing for a camera (so I took advantage of it).
Bullfighting is considered an art form, a combination of dance and
drama that begins with beauty and glimmer, and ends with blood and death.
It's almost like our political system here in America, but there's more
honor in bullfighting, and the loser doesn't launch a congresional
investigation with a blue-ribbon panel. (Well, the democrats don't.
But I digress.)
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