Monday night was fun, fun, fun! An outing with friends to see the Grande Course Landaise festival in St sever.
Now before any of you throw up your hands in horror and think, 'hell no, not a bull fight', panic not, this is something totally different and unique to this region.
There are no swords or other jaggy implements with which to hurt and madden the animal. These bulls (and cows too – oh yes, seriously wild cows that bear not a whiff of a resemblance to those laid back, doe eyed creatures one is used to viewing in pastures at home. Oh no, these gals have Attitude with a great big A all the way) charge at the ecarteur (bull runner) and he leaps with balletic moves to dodge those horns with literally millimeters to spare.
The cows are on long ropes attached to a small harness around the horns. There are other guys in the ring with hands like steel to hold on and stop the cow from going completely berserk. The nearer the cow and bull runner come together the greater the cheers. There were the big bulls too, no ropes or holds on them, they were the Big Boys, stars of many a festival and attracting the top men to "dance" in their presence.
The ecarteur wear are dressed to thrill in their sparkly bolero jackets covered in gold and silver embroidery, colourful sashes, and white trousers. The whole trick being to keep those trousers white and unscathed at the end of your round.
Other bull runners forgo the jackets and leap. These guys take your breath from your throat and leave you gasping for air. They wait for the animal to come at them and then leap into the air in a variety of stunning moves. Some somersault over in the 'Saut perilleux', others are backward spins and the 'saut de l'ange' with arms outstretched in an elegant angel dive straight over the charging creature.
Acrobatics at a level so fine and so far removed from the gymnastics one sees in competitions, where leaps are made over wooden horses and risks are just not quite the same.
Not only do the runners leap over the animals with so much grace and agility, they have to land on their feet and fairly fly to the other side of the bullring as the cow whips round to see where her target disappeared to.
The crowds gasp as each runner competes with the next to do the biggest, most dramatic leap.
All this leaping is interspersed with those guys in the jackets dicing with death and dancing danger. They keep the crowd on tenterhooks with their perfect timing (in most cases) and create gasps of horror and fright when a split second can shatter the balletic illusion and the grim reality of sand, horns and heavyweight bull can mean disaster to the ecarteur.
The whole atmosphere is electric with anticipation, the bands play rousing music, horns blair, and as the darkness falls the floodlit stadium almost glows with it's own incandescent power. The power of adrenalin almost lighting up the sky.
It is not just the ecarteur (bull runner) who is an expert in his field. The coursiere (bulls) are athletes in their own right, stars of a show that lasts all summer long at different towns and villages throughout the region.
There is no ritualistic slaughter here, no blood and gore in the ring. These animals are heros in their own right, applauded for their bravery and power.
Those horns may be long, but at least they are wrapped at the tips to buffer and major contact with human flesh.
However, this does not mean to say that accidents can't happen. Here the ecarteur is knocked clean over by the charging coursiere. The crowd gasps as the animal swiftly twists and turns to attack the fallen man. But he is on his feet in a blur of sparkles and ready to fight another round. Alas, the same cannot be said for his once pristine white trousers. Sand and ripped cloth show testament to the coursiere's triumphant rush.
Winners all, trophies and flowers. Proud men, brave men, men of great skill, athletic ability and amazing courage.
It was a night to remember, something I hadn't expected to enjoy so much. Had I imagined it would be tamer, less exciting? Yes, I think on reading that it was cows with safety ropes I had assumed that it would be less dramatic, slower and somehow more round up than rodeo.
This shook me up, took my breath and held me on a roller coaster of excitement all evening.
Thank you SO much Eddie for showing me this snippet of France, this joyous, exciting, breath taking spectacle.