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 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.