“Cupid injured, replaced by Colbert”? Really? King Louis XIV’s finance minister is replacing the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection? How? Why? How far will this demoniac capitalism go?
Well, nowhere by this fine sunday afternoon in a small village of South of France, thank god!
Cupidon is a bull and so is Colbert. Both are major stars in the tradition of the courses camarguaises and their presence or absence is therefore worth mentioning. Phew!
Every summer, I like to go to at least one course camarguaise. I grew up here, in Camargue (technically it is not Camargue but we share traditions all the same) and I grew to like the atmosphere, the colours, the energy, and the fabulous silhouette of those bulls. And every summer, somehow, I manage to initiate a foreigner (read, anyone from another country or from any place North to Avignon) to this amazingly absurd event where people of all ages come together and cheer the brave bulls running after little men in white who try to brush their hair.
Before any animal lover starts dialling peta’s direct line, please let’s breathe. It is NOT corrida, bulls are not tortured nor armed. Ok, they probably haven’t asked to be here but they have been trained and progressively accustomed to the game, so much so that they show no sign of fear and seem even playful. If, however, they were getting hurt, the game stops immediately and a manadier (equivalent of a cow boy, i.e. professional looking after and breeding bulls) will check on his beloved bull. If the beast is indeed hurt, the crowd will gasp and it will be sent back and checked by a vet. If the bull is fine, the audience will “aaaaaah” and the game will carry on.
I am no aficionados but here are the rules in brief: a bull has rubans, pompoms and strings attached between the horns. Now that doesn’t sound so manly nor serious but if you were the guy in white trying to grab those cute little attributes, you’d feel differently. The bulls, which belong to a specific breed originated from Camargue, are smaller, more nervous and faster than the Spanish corrida bulls. But they are equally fiercely beautiful. So the bull, all tarted up, enters the arena and is left alone few minutes so he can assess his playground and be admired by the public. Enter the men in white, 2 types of them. There are the “tourneurs” which means turner and funnily enough, their role is to make the bull run around, and the “raseteurs” who get their name from the tool they use to grab the strings, rubans and pompoms, the raset (also called crochet, i.e. hook), some sort of hooky fork.
Now that all the protagonist are on the runway, the raseteurs have to grab the attributes, each of them awarding them points and cash. In order to reach those delicate pieces attached between the bull’s sharp horns, the raseteurs have to get the bull to run after them so that they can elegantly stretch their hooked arm back and try to comb the bull as they are running for their life. I haven’t mentioned it but the bull’s horns are not protected and are therefore lethal. Yes, that’s a dangerous game but all sports are, right?
The bull will pursue the raseteurs until the red barrier over which the man in white will jump as if he was weightless. At this point, my foreign guest stops breathing and I have to save him / her from fainting, which will not fail to amuse my naughty local friends.
Regardless of how many times my friends will have gone through apnea, all of them have always felt happy about the experience both mesmerising and utterly confusing.
As for me, part time vegetarian, animal lover and mild tree hugger, I am always excited to see my yearly bull race, i.e. course camargaise.