Sunday, October 12

Paula: We enjoyed a quiet morning today catching up with our journaling, doing school work and playing with our new friend Zeus. Zeus (this is what we have named him) is a small gray kitten we have "adopted" during our stay here. He is a typical farm cat - already roaming the farm - and we had not seen him for several days. We were all getting a bit worried, when out of the blue he appeared at our door late last night. Of course, we just had to invite him in for the night! He is extremely playful and cuddly, providing hours of diversion. We didn't realize how much we missed our own pets until now. There is just no substitute for a purring cat on your lap! We also enjoyed taking some pictures of Zeus and his unique sleeping style…

In the afternoon, we headed into Arles for the Finale du Championnat de France de course Camarguaise. This was described to us as the French national championship bull-race competition. We didn't know exactly what to expect but knew that the bulls would not be hurt and that it was being held in the Roman Amphitheater in Arles. We have toured a number of Roman Amphitheatres now and were looking forward to attending an event in one. The town was crowded when we entered and it was clear that the event was an important one for the local community. In fact, there were no empty seats and the 2000 year old amphitheatre was very crowded. There were ports (doors) for the assigned seats but no obvious aisles up into the stands. We had to walk around and through seated spectators to get to our seats. Once the championship started there was no escaping.

The opening ceremony included traditional music, costumes and some dancing. A large number of bulls and then horses from the Camargue were first herded and then paraded around the ring. This display of the animals important to the region was quite beautiful and like nothing we have ever seen. There was also a wonderful parade of people in traditional Provencal dress. The ceremony ended with the contestants (called gardians - the Camargue version of cowboys) entering the ring and waving to the crowd.

After the opening ceremony, the ring was cleared and the first bull entered. Much to our surprise, with no prompting, he began pawing the dirt, lowering his head and charging around the ring. Soon, the contestants (about 20 in all) entered the arena and began to taunt the bull. The cowboys, dressed in all White, edged closer to the bull attempting to grab little ribbons and strings that were attached to the bulls' horns and ears. Each time the bull accepted the challenge and charged the cowboy at full speed. It was funny and frightening all at the same time to see the cowboys hurdle themselves into the protection of the outer ring. It quickly became clear that the cowboys need to be fast, agile and good hurdlers. The crowd clapped with approval anytime a competitor took extra risk and came close to being gored - of course, they always managed to get out of the way, and this often required desperate leaps over the wall and into the railings.

The French woman next to us tried to explain the rules but even after 90 minutes and 4 separate bulls we were not certain of exactly how it all worked. We could tell that the cowboys were trying to take things off the bull's horns and ears, but it wasn't clear how the scoring or timing worked. While the action was exciting at first, after several bulls we became bored and decided to leave at the intermission (4 of the 7 bulls - Gigi, Phoebus, Figaro and Michou - had competed, and we were fine at the prospect missing Scamandre, Virat and Camarina). Later in the evening, we learned from Phillippe and Beatrice that they really isn't anything more to this competition than immediately meets the eye. We did however learn that the cowboys win prize money and that the announcer during the event was providing commentary on how much prize money was being added as the competition was in progress. We also learned that the promotional materials that we had seen listed the bulls by name but not the cowboys-apparently the bulls have more prestige here than we realized.

As we watched the competition, we couldn't avoid thinking about what it would have been like to be sitting in these same seats 2000 years ago and watching gladiatorial events. It was a very strange feeling…

We ended the day by enjoying a wonderful meal with our new friends Phillippe and Beatrice Saltiel, the owners of the farmhouse where we are staying (Domaine de la Tourette). Phillippe and Beatrice were delightful hosts and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to spend the evening talking to them about life in Provence and to learn about their many travels. They have lived here for over 50 years, and have a great perspective about France and specifically the culture here in Provence. We enjoyed asking questions about everything from how accurate the book A Year in Provence was, to why the farmers are now burning their fields. Phillippe and Beatrice have also traveled extensively, and it was fun to compare notes about some of the common places that we've been (and to learn some things about destinations that we've planned for the future…).

Tomorrow we plan to spend the day in Avignon, and are looking forward to seeing what we understand is yet another very beautiful town here in Provence.

Distance Walked: 2.35 miles












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