Monday, September 24, 2012

Of bulls, flamingoes and rice

A feature of our recent trip to France was the journeys we made around the area - we had a bus and driver at our command throughout (the driver looked to be about 12 years old). On the Sunday we went south, to Arles, arriving mid-morning. All we knew about the day was that we'd had to change our eating arrangements: a restaurant where we were booked for lunch had been obdurately and mysteriously closed after the booking had been made. When we  arrived, it looked as if Arles had also been closed, and the bus dropped us off at the end of a blocked-off street. The barriers were over head height, and wired together - you can make them out in the photo on the left. Apparently we had arrived on the Feria du Riz and had no idea of what might happen. We set off on our walking tour, accompanied by an excellent American guide. (Oh, the joy of a good guide, and oh, the tedium of a poor one). We were delighted by the garden of the hospital where Van Gogh was taken minus his ear, and by being able to snap the cafe he famously painted at night and see that it was much the same even if the street wasn't. And we loved the way the Roman remains were somehow mingled with buildings still in use, so that the whole effect was somehow casual and random.

We arrived at lunchtime. We'd already seen the huge vats of paella being cooked on ever corner, and the backstreet caf├ęs were tempting, but we had a notion to be close to the action. Having heard the wild roars from the Roman Amphitheatre, we had a taste for the excitement of the promised bull run; we wanted to see what was happening. We sat at a table beside the barricaded road. Bands played, vying with one another. Lines of horsemen - and women - paraded up and down the road with what looked like spears (they weren't). They wore the kind of hats that made them look special, and sat with their legs straight in long stirrups. They were Camargue cowboys, and they looked invincible. We waited for paella and action. A gun went off. There was a distant roar, and then the clattering of hooves on tarmac. By this time I was peering through the barrier, just in time to see a swirl of horses, dust, and - fleetingly - the small, black bulls corralled in the centre of the horses. This was how it worked, then: they had to keep the bulls under control as they all pelted along. Just where I was standing, a bull escaped, turned round, started back the way it had come. Great horsemanship, more swirling, and it was back in the equine corral. Youths dashed after them, trying to catch the tail of a bull. Later - for they did it about 10 times - young boys joined in and with the reduction in speed were able to catch up, wrestle the bull's horns. One of our party, wine-glass in hand, chased after them too. She spilled not a drop. I thought fleetingly of health and safety. I also thought more about how exciting I'd found it - I'd thought I might be crippled by disapproval. I even wrote a poem about it, which you can see, along with a great photo by a friend, here.

The afternoon saw us wandering the paths of a bird sanctuary in the Camargue. It couldn't have been more of a contrast. There were flamingoes, egrets and mosquitoes - though we only became aware of these the next day, when we realised that we hadn't spread the repellent under sleeves. One even bit me through my t-shirt. It was hot, and the tall grasses rustled in a gentle breeze. I loved it. And I loved the restaurant in which we ate the meal we hadn't had in the Camargue. La Cuisine de Dimanche in Avignon has inspired me now I'm home and cooking again - you can read what I wrote about it on Trip Advisor.

And now I feel I've written enough for now. I may have to share what happened with a Carousel, and in a modern art gallery. But I have another trip to prepare for ...

1 comment:

  1. Christine, you have just transported me straight back to my 16yr-old self, on a school trip to Provence, my first visit to France. We stayed just outside Arles and I still have fading Box Brownie photos of the arena, the bulls, the cowboys and of course the flamingos. To quote the inimitable Tom Lehrer, I'm just soggy with nostalgia. :-)